Let It Go: How Holding Grudges Affects Your Health

Hold a grudge and you'll slowly poison yourself with toxic thoughts. Instead, learn to forgive, lose the anger, and set yourself free.
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Forgiveness Is About YOU

I'm lounging in my hairstylist's chair, draped in a silky kimono, sipping a mug of tea. "What do you think?" the stylist asks. I force my eyes open. Behind me in the mirror I see a woman in the waiting area. My heart starts to pound. Adrenaline pours through my veins. It's her: Marya, the woman who destroyed my marriage 15 years ago.

Even though I've been happily married to someone else for a decade, I've held a grudge against Marya since the moment she crashed into my life. I fume about her by day and confront her in my nightmares. I still refuse to eat in restaurants where they shared cozy romantic dinners. I won't hike in the park where they went for romantic walks.

Marya's eyes catch mine in the mirror. Her face turns red. I think she's actually starting to sweat! Her gaze darts around then returns to me, as if I'm a train wreck she can't help watching.

Then I have an epiphany: She's the one who's squirming in her seat, trying desperately to disappear. This is her train wreck, not mine.

I never stopped blaming Marya for my divorce -- even after I learned that her relationship with my ex lasted a mere 10 months. In fact, I'm sure I've spent far more time torturing myself with images of them than they actually spent in each other's company.

Now, looking at her reflection, my perception of the situation flips. In the wake of my divorce I put myself back together and forgave my ex, at least enough to allow us to continue raising our kids in joint custody. Poor Marya had a harder job. She had to forgive herself, which she clearly hasn't done.

"Hel-lo! Earth to Meredith," the stylist says, scrunching a stray curl and declaring, "you're perfect now."

I pull my eyes away from Marya's to check out my new do. "It looks great," I say. Marya is still staring at me in the mirror, dabbing her face with a Kleenex, looking miserable. My anger melts. I've thought of her as the embodiment of evil but suddenly I realize she's human, just like me. I realize I forgive her.

"We're done here," I say to the stylist, to Marya, to myself. Holding my head high, I walk out of the salon, leaving more than my split ends behind.

Forgiving Marya replaced my cold fury with a lovely, warm feeling. I'm not sure how she feels but it turns out that that doesn't matter. Despite my fears, forgiving her isn't about making her feel better about what she did. "You can let go of a grudge you've held against someone, even if you never see or speak to the person again," according to Frederic Luskin, PhD, senior consultant in health promotion at Stanford University and author of Forgive for Good. "Forgiving takes place inside the person who has the change of heart, not the person who is forgiven." In other words, it's all about you. And that's fine with me.

Continued on page 2:  The Mind-Body Connection


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