4 Steps to Stop Holding a Grudge
by Gabriella Kroska - March 31, 2020
Are you good at holding a grudge? Many people hold grudges against others for various reasons. What is a grudge, and how can you get over it?
Do you deal with feelings of ill will or resentment toward someone that just won’t go away? Do you ever catch yourself telling the story of when “so-and-so” did “such and such” to me and later realize that the story didn’t have much purpose in the conversation, aside from providing you a chance to vent about someone else’s mistake? If so, you might still be holding a grudge.
Other signs you might be holding a grudge include easily becoming (and staying!) irritated with someone, harboring strong feelings of bitterness or resenting the success of someone.
What is a grudge?
According to Dictionary.com, a grudge is “a feeling of ill will or resentment” toward someone. Synonyms include bitterness, malevolence, enmity, hatred, malice (and the list goes on).
A grudge often begins when someone wrongs us, or at least we feel wronged. Over time, we hold on to the hurt and anger, and it affects our view of the person.
Even when the worst of the anger has passed, we can still harbor dark feelings of ill will toward someone under the surface.
Why holding a grudge is dangerous
According to the Mayo Clinic, holding onto a grudge can lead to depression and anxiety. It can damage current and future relationships and cause us to feel like we lack purpose and connectedness with others.
On the other hand, letting go of a grudge can reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, stress and hostility. It can lower our blood pressure and lead to a stronger immune system and heart.
While the physical dangers are compelling enough, the spiritual dangers of holding a grudge (and the benefits of letting one go!) are even greater. Jesus Christ taught that if we want God to forgive us of our sins, we must be willing to forgive those who have sinned against us (Matthew 6:15). God expects us to work through grudges and forgive others (Colossians 3:13). For more insight into forgiving others, read “When Forgiveness Isn’t Easy.”
So holding a grudge can hurt us both physically and spiritually.
4 steps for overcoming a grudge
1. Recognize the grudge for what it is.
One of the most basic steps to tackling any problem is first recognizing that there is a problem. Often, this includes honestly examining and evaluating our thoughts and feelings toward someone else.
If you find yourself easily and constantly irritated with or angry at a certain person, find you have a strong aversion to being around a person, or (in an extreme case) find you actually wish someone ill—then you have a problem.
Recognizing that you’re dealing with a grudge is the first step to taking the necessary actions to let go of it.
2. Recognize the spiritual danger of the grudge.
If you’ve recognized that you are holding a grudge against someone, then you’re ready to move on to the next step: deeply considering the harm it is causing (and will cause) to your relationship with God and others.
The Bible says that a grudge or unresolved problem between a husband and wife can cause their prayers to be hindered (1 Peter 3:7). Outside of marriage, resentment toward others is also dangerous. Satan uses anger and resentment as weapons to separate us from God and other people, and we must be vigilant to avoid allowing him a foothold in our lives through a grudge (Ephesians 4:25-27).
Studying examples of grudges in the Bible can help us recognize the spiritual dangers of holding one.
For example, Cain’s grudge against his brother Abel led to murder. God even warned Cain that he needed to rule over his anger, but he didn’t listen and held on to it (Genesis 4:2-15).
Esau’s rage against his brother Jacob over a stolen birthright developed into a grudge that spanned years (Genesis 27; Genesis 32-33).
We can also consider Saul’s grudge against David (fueled by insecurity and fear of losing power) and Absalom’s grudge against his brother Amnon (fueled by anger at the abuse of his sister and a desire for vengeance).
In the case of Absalom, while his anger at Amnon’s sin against his sister was justified, his handling of the situation was not. Instead of seeking justice according to God’s law, he held onto anger until a time when he could exact violent vengeance of his own (2 Samuel 13).
No matter what the origin, the Bible is clear that the fruit of a nursed grudge is never positive.
3. Seek repentance and pray for God’s help in forgiving the person.
God’s Word is clear that if we expect to receive forgiveness from God, we are accountable to forgive those who have wronged us (Matthew 18:21-35; Luke 6:36). God tells us to leave vengeance to Him (Romans 12:19) because He knows every situation perfectly. He sees all sides and knows the heart of everyone involved. He is incredibly patient with each individual—something we can be deeply grateful for!
God gives us the necessary tools to fight this spiritual fight and bring our negative grudges “into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). God’s will is for the best for everyone—ultimately that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). If we are bringing every thought into captivity, then we should also desire the best for others.
Christ set a perfect example for us by asking His Father to forgive those who were murdering Him—while they were doing it (Luke 23:34).
To learn more about mercy and justice, read our article “What Does God Require of You? Love Mercy.”
4. Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts.
The ideas and thoughts that we feed are the ones that develop and grow. So if we dwell on a hurtful or negative experience we had with someone, the negative thoughts and feelings will become stronger and more deeply ingrained. Satan would love for us to dwell on hurts and constantly relive painful experiences.
In contrast, God desires us to be “bearing with one another, and forgiving one another. … And let the peace of God rule in your hearts” (Colossians 3:13, 15).
What are some tools to help us replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts? Studying what God’s Word has to say about forgiveness, studying examples of forgiveness in the Bible, meditating on uplifting scriptures, and praying for God’s help can all be helpful.
What does positive thinking look like in action? A great place to start is Philippians 4:8-9: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Just trying to apply these principles can be a powerful tool for letting go of a grudge.