by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

I admit it. I’ve been a grudge holder. But I’m not proud to say so. Holding a grudge has never proven to be a good thing in my life.

Plenty of medical studies confirm grudge holding is not good for you — increasing stress, raising blood pressure, causing ulcers and producing a multitude of other harmful side effects. I suspect we all would admit to the lousy way we feel when we’re angry with another person.

I’ve never held a grudge toward someone that I’ve not eventually regretted.

Holding onto a grudge has generally proved to be the greatest waste of my time and I suspect caused me more grief than it did the person I felt injured by. I’ve never found holding a grudge to serve any good purpose, and it often has cost me a good friend. In fact, I’ve had friendships that never fully recovered, and for that, I’m sad and sorry that I ever let anything permanently hurt my feelings toward a friend.

When I think about where and how some grudges began, I usually can’t understand why I took offense in the first place.

Nineteenth century philosopher and author, Mary Baker Eddy, has a short writing she titled, “Taking Offense” that I’ve referred to when I’ve found myself feeling irritated by someone’s words or actions. She quotes English religious writer and philanthropist, Hannah More, in the opening paragraph: “If I wished to punish my enemy, I should make him hate somebody.”

Holding on to resentment, bitterness, hard feelings or hatred is emotionally draining and physically destructive. So why do we do it?

Once upon a time my defense for a grudge came when I felt a friend stuck her nose in where it didn’t belong. I not only didn’t want her opinion — I disagreed with it. And I guess my arrogance took precedence over patience and tolerance, and I lost a good friend. Another time with another friend, deep-seated hurt feelings led to my suffering with chest pains and headaches.

Eddy says we let pride, self-will and egotism cloud our reasoning and determine our reactions. But she wisely cautioned, “Well may we feel wounded by our own faults; but we can hardly afford to be miserable for the faults of others.”

We can’t be responsible for the behavior of others, but we are responsible for how we respond back to them. Every action we take has its consequence. And as with any action, we should think more carefully about the consequences before we act.

Of course, in any relationship there are times when honest and sincere discussions of feelings are needed. My grandmother advised me before I married to never go to bed mad. I’ve not always heeded her instruction, but I have tried. No doubt she got her wisdom from the Bible, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” (Ephesians 4:26) And I’ve learned that this is good wisdom for all relationships — not just with my husband.

Eddy’s message in “Taking Offense” is helpful to those who feel someone has “wronged” them. She wrote:

“We should remember that the world is wide; that there are a thousand million different human wills, opinions, ambitions, tastes, and loves; that each person has a different history, constitution, culture, character, from all the rest; that human life is the work, the play, the ceaseless action and reaction upon each other of these different atoms. Then, we should go forth into life with the smallest expectations, but with the largest patience; with a keen relish for and appreciation of everything beautiful, great, and good, but with a temper so genial that the friction of the world shall not wear upon our sensibilities; with an equanimity so settled that no passing breath nor accidental disturbance shall agitate or ruffle it; with a charity broad enough to cover the whole world’s evil, and sweet enough to neutralize what is bitter in it, — determined not to be offended when no wrong is meant, nor even when it is, unless the offense be against God.”

Some say it’s human nature to hold grudges. Perhaps so, but even still, we always have a choice.

We can choose to brood, ruminate and rehash the details of how we’ve been hurt or disappointed by someone — torturing ourselves by playing the same scene over and over in our heads. Or we can implement a simple, ancient practice — the practice of forgiveness — and dismiss painful memories and move forward with our lives and our relationships.