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MY mother tells me time and again that I have to learn to forgive and forget. “Let it go,” she says exasperatedly when I come to her with yet another grudge-worthy incident in my life. Truth be told, “Let it go” is probably the piece of advice I most frequently give to friends, yet fail to follow that same wisdom myself.

As someone who has been on a constant diet since last year, I find it quite difficult to be the “bigger” person voluntarily. More often than not, however, the universe just will NOT let me. I’m quite the expert holder of grudges, and for a long time, I’ve not been proud of that fact.

I’d nurse my grudges, revisit them and at times, the anger and hurt would resurface as I recall the stories that led to my grudges. Like a festering open wound, they stayed with me for years. “Letting things go” was difficult for me. But here in my hands, was a book that seems to tell me to do otherwise, contrary to what wise old Jo (my mother) had been advising me (complete with her trademark eye-roll) all these years.

So then, are grudges good for us? Author Sophie Hannah thinks so. She sets out to demonstrate that, far from producing damaging emotions, as most of us believe, grudges are “protective, life-enhancing and fun”. They just need to be seen in a new light.

A prolific crime novelist, Hannah, who isn’t a psychologist, used her personal experience — and lots of therapy over the years in which she discussed her grudges in detail — to write her latest book How To Hold A Grudge: From Resentment to Contentment – the Power of Grudges to Transform Your Life. “I’m not a psychotherapist and not a trained counsellor or mental health expert of any kind,” she warns in her book. “I’m someone with 47 years of active and regular grudge-holding experience and a strong interest in the subject!”

GRUDGE CABINET

So what’s wrong with holding a grudge? A grudge usually points out a dramatic mismatch between our expectations of others and the reality; an acknowledgement that someone disappointed us deeply. Giving myself permission to hold a grudge, means I’m saying to myself: “That wasn’t okay. That behaviour is unacceptable and I’m going to form a judgement in my mind about that behaviour. I’m going to create my grudge and I’m going to use it to benefit me and protect me in any way I can.” And in doing that, a commemorative symbolic grudge story is created.

If you do that and honour your experience, says Hannah, what you will soon find is that the negative emotions don’t feel the need to linger because it has been dealt with in a way that you feel is fair. You are now going to use these incidents to improve yourself and you’ll soon find there’s nothing to feel bitter about.

I’ve tried to entertain the idea (Thanks, Jo) that it’s mean-spirited and petty to hold grudges. However, wiping the slate clean time and again proved to be emotionally draining. A clean slate, as I found, can be dirtied again and again by a person incapable of behaving well, and who wants to keep pointlessly wiping? “Frame that dirty slate and put it in your grudge cabinet!” advises Hannah gleefully.

Our first task is to turn the events that cause our grudges into satisfying stories. Then we should grade and classify them. Hannah provides no fewer than 20 categories, from the “Ill-Judged Joke” Grudge to the “Betrayal of Trust” Grudge. (She has clearly spent much time thinking about all this.)

Once they are categorised, we should arrange grudges carefully in a mental “Grudge Cabinet”. If we follow what she calls, her “Grudge-fold Path” to its conclusion, we would need to accept its absolute, unarguable starting point and foundation that people will regularly hurt, inconvenience and infuriate us throughout our lives. Well, unless we are committed to living off-grid in a remote place with no people, connection or WiFi, that certainly is true.

Holding on to our grudges show that we care and are unwilling to brush aside some of the most important landmarks in our emotional and psychological history. “Grudges aren’t an impediment to feeling happy, putting positive energy in the world and forgiving those who have treated us poorly,” she argues. Have your grudges, she says firmly, process it, learn from it and put it in your cabinet.

LEARNING FROM YOUR GRUDGES

Having a grudge-holding system is a little reminder that pops up in our brain as a warning. Say you have a friend named Sheila. Sheila constantly borrows from you – clothes, money, shoes and rarely returns anything back. If you hold a grudge against Sheila because she’s been constantly living off you, you don’t have to stop being friends with her. You can, however, acknowledge your grudge: Protect yourself and stop lending her your things or your cash!

Sweeping bad behaviour under the rug and pretending it didn’t happen will only expose you to more of the same. A lively grudge can both console and validate — it can create space for you to acknowledge that something bad happened to you, and that it matters.

“We are justice-seeking creatures,” writes Hannah. Grudges serve as a monument erected to honour the memory of the injustice you suffered. “We’re constantly getting messages that our mistreatment doesn’t matter,” she said. If you don’t let things bother you, you’re robbing yourself of the opportunity to process negative emotions.

While Hannah isn’t a trained counsellor as she disclaims in the first part of her book, you find yourself nodding your head at certain parts and exclaiming aloud: “That’s exactly right!”. Throughout chapters chronicling grudges from history, pop culture and her own life, Hannah offers sage advice on how to classify and intensely analyse grudges.

She wants to make you better equipped to assess the significance of the person who imposes on you, the person whose politics don’t align with yours and the person who constantly underestimates your abilities, among others — so when someone tells you that you’re overreacting and should move on, you can push back and take your power from bad memories and experiences.

So “forgive and forget?”. Pffft. Not likely, Jo.

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HOW TO HOLD A GRUDGE:

From Resentment to Contentment – the Power of Grudges to Transform Your Life

Author: Sophie Hannah

Publisher: Scribner

260 pages

Available in all major bookstores

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