Almost everyone has been wronged at work in some way. Maybe you were passed over for a promotion, had a coworker steal your idea, or were given more work than everyone else on your team. Sometimes it’s easy to let these things go, but other times, it can feel impossible to move on.
Getting angry or upset when you feel you are wronged is natural, says Spring Washam, meditation educator and author of A Fierce Heart. But feeding hatred and rage associated with a grudge is toxic for the body, mentally and physically.
The phrase “to carry a grudge” says it all, she says. “There is something really energetic to that [phrase]. Like, ‘Am I willing to carry this torment? How long am I willing to carry it?'”
Grudges can have real consequences on your body. These feelings manifest as stress, which can lead to anxiety, depression, and other physical symptoms, like high blood pressure and poor heart health. Anger affects the immune system and can interfere with focus and productivity, preventing you from reaching your full potential. Inevitably, grudges go home with you, affecting family relationships, friendships, and even self-esteem, Washam says.
Even if you know the consequences of holding onto this anger, letting go of these feelings can still be hard. Here are five strategies for moving beyond your resentment:
Don’t ignore your feelings
Simply ignoring grudge-related feelings could be a short-term fix, but it won’t help you truly let it go. Instead, try shifting your focus says Christian Conte, anger management specialist and author of Walking Through Anger.
He uses the analogy of the mind as a bucket, which can only hold so much. Visualizing things this way can help put everything into perspective. “If you’re filling your bucket, [or] your mind, with the things you don’t like, it really does seem kind of silly that we do this to ourselves,” Conte says.
Avoid living in a world of ‘shoulds’
In dealing with grudges, Conte says people often live a “cartoon world,” which emphasizes “shoulds” over reality. Overcoming this is one of the biggest challenges in dealing with a grudge.
Rather than using language like ‘he shouldn’t have said that,’ or ‘this shouldn’t have happened,’ think about the reality of the situation, says Conte: “It did happen, and now, the question is, why choose to consciously carry it into your present moment?”
Rather than letting the past ruin your present, Conte suggests learning to realign expectations with reality, and focus on the present instead.
Center your mind
Grudges grow over time, mainly because grudge-holders continue to think about the incident and replay the events over and over again, Washam says. Meditation or other awareness-generating activities, like yoga, tai chi, or going for a walk, help center the mind by forcing you into the present.
“[Ask yourself] ‘What am I thinking right now? What am I feeling right now? Am I feeding this grudge again?'” she says. “We replay stories over and over, and every time we replay it, we might add to it like another log on a fire. We do that unconsciously, of course. So, when we’re meditating, we’re becoming aware of what’s happening in our bodies.”
Washam suggests finding a local meditation class or using meditation apps to get started. Another mindfulness-based stress reduction technique to calm negative feelings is called STOP. It stands for “Stop in that moment, Take a breath, Observe what’s happening internally, and Proceed with awareness.” This technique heightens emotional awareness so you better understand what triggers grudge-centric feelings and physical reactions, like shaking or sweating.
Consider the effect you have on others
Grudges may be easier to handle at work when you’re busy with meetings and daily tasks, even if work caused the grudge. At home, when you have more free time, it’s tough to put the grudge out of your mind, and this could lead to problems in your personal life, Conte says.
“We have a tendency to minimize the pain we’ve caused others in life and maximize the pain others have caused us,” he says. “There certainly could be people out there holding grudges against us. The problem is we become so self-centered when we’re holding grudges that we fail to see that we also have impacted other people.”
You may not realize how your grudge affects your relationships with family and friends. Conte says thinking of a grudge with that perspective often triggers grudge-holders to work toward a productive resolution.
Address the perpetrator head on
Communicating with the person causing anger may help you move past a grudge. But Conte warns against being too aggressive or angry when confronting someone. This could make the situation worse.
Going off on someone who hurt you may make you feel better short-term but doesn’t often lead to a solution. Conte suggests finding out the person’s learning style, meeting them where they are, and getting around the fight-or-flight reflex to speak in ways that can be heard.
“Absolutely be assertive; say what you want to say,” he says. “But, ask yourself, what is your ultimate goal? If your ultimate goal is just to say words so that you can show that you’re right and the other person’s wrong, that’s all ego.”
Most important, Washam says, you need an awareness about your emotions and to skillfully engage the person causing pain. “Communicating with compassion and wisdom can often dissipate many workplace grudges,” she says. “You have to be open to letting it go, though. I think that’s the key. [Ask yourself] ‘Am I ready to carry this on, or am I really ready to resolve it and free up my own mental space so I can be creative and feel happy when I’m at my work environment?'”