Carole Carson — Joyful Aging: Five ways to let go of grudges
Revenge is sweet, isn’t it?
Socrates said, “One should never do wrong in return, nor mistreat any man, no matter how one has been mistreated by him.” Still, isn’t it delicious when a wrongdoer gets punished?
Revenge tempts us. Like favorite pets, our grudges are cradled, fed and coddled.
Maybe we’re not going to boil someone’s pet rabbit or send an enemy a horse’s head, but the stubborn desire for revenge persists.
Psychologists use the term revenge addiction for people who feel compelled to get back at someone, even if they harm themselves in the process. Although you and I might not be addicted to revenge, we still have to rid ourselves of our accumulated inventory of grudges if we’re to be happy in our final years.
Minor gripes — like someone rudely cutting ahead of us in line at the grocery store — can wreck our day. A major grudge — like an unfaithful spouse — can depress us for months.
At some level, we know what Nelson Mandela said is true: “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” We know that when we forgive others, we free ourselves. And do any of us want to go to our grave unforgiving and unforgiven?
Though we know revenge begets revenge (to paraphrase Kahlil Gibran, if it’s an eye for an eye, the whole world will be blind), we still harbor hateful feelings.
Yet what do we do with this stored up venom? Calling the aggressor to account can sometimes resolve the grievance almost magically. But when that’s not possible, here are ways others have found to get beyond their resentments.
RADICALLY ACCEPT WHAT IS
Adjust your expectations and get rid of “shoulds.” Maybe your husband should have remembered your birthday. But instead of nursing a grudge, can you remember his other acts of caring?
Implicit, unexpressed expectations of what should have been done account for many grievances.
I’m not suggesting we lower our standards or that we lie about being disappointed. But at the same time, we need to avoid arrogant, childlike thinking that the world revolves around us.
Others aren’t obliged to live up to our expectations any more than we are obliged to live up to theirs. Radical acceptance will always be required.
RETHINK WHAT CONSTITUTES REVENGE
A woman told me she was furious that her boss fired her while she was in the hospital recovering from heart surgery. She had toiled long hours, traveling days on end to make his company succeed, always careful to give her boss the credit. Even worse, her heart doctor suggested the stress of her job had created her medical emergency.
We spent a long, tearful weekend discussing two options: suing her boss or starting a new career.
If she walked away as a victim, harboring a lifelong crippling resentment, then it made sense to sue him. In suing him, she could regain her sense of personal power and get what was owed her.
But given that it was her ability that made the company a success, maybe a well-lived life was the best revenge.
Instead of investing negative energy into a lawsuit that would drain her physically and emotionally and further damage her health, she decided to invest her efforts into starting a new career, this time as the visible chief executive.
Today, she’s realized success beyond what she could have imagined.
LOOK FOR THE LEARNING
If you can look back at the incident and understand more about yourself and the other person, then you’ve gained a valuable lesson. In time, you might even appreciate the learning. The gift of insight will allow you to forgive the transgressor. Offenses can be used to strengthen character.
LET TIME WOUND ALL HEELS
The concept of karma suggests that what goes around comes around. There is no need for revenge because the universe settles all scores in due time.
If you’re not a fan of karma, then take comfort in Robert Louis Stevenson’s notion that “sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
CONSIDER YOUR OWN FEET OF CLAY
Whenever I am tempted to come down hard on a person, I think about my own shortcomings. Since I wouldn’t like to be harshly judged, I must forgo harsh judgment. We cannot expect our own transgressions against others to be forgiven if we are not ourselves forgiving.
Some dissolve grudges by journaling, others by meditation, others by beating a pillow, some by watching a funny movie and yet others with loud primal screaming.
Mark Twain said, “There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.”
In the instant we have, we must decide between grudge or grace, victim or victor, revenge or release, criticism or charity. The choice determines whether our aging will be bitter or joyful.
Carole Carson, of Nevada City, is an author, former AARP website contributor, and leader of the 1994 Nevada County Meltdown. Contact: email@example.com
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