Why do we hold grudges? Why is it so important for us to “get even” or “make them pay?” What’s the point of reserving valuable space in our mind and body for hate and resentment? I don’t know about you, but harboring negative feelings for another person has never done me any good. In fact, the only thing I ever get when I can’t forgive, is suffering.
Unfortunately in today’s society, it’s all too common to encounter people who have a list of sworn enemies. We are taught from a very early age that holding a grudge or seeking to prove people wrong can make you successful and that life is a zero sum game. Obviously, this idea is misguided and yet, anger and hatred persist.
When we get upset with someone or something our body releases a cocktail of hormones designed to make you ready for fight or flight. This is accomplished through your endocrine system and your endocrine system responds directly to your mind whether your thoughts are based on a real threat or not.
Immediately after experiencing anger our body dispatches dopamine and epinephrine (aka adrenaline) to the brain which subsequently triggers all the blood in ones veins to be rushing to the heart and muscles. These hormones were designed by evolution to prepare our bodies for confrontation and possibly a fight so their effects are immediate.
The body’s goal is to use energy efficiently so as your muscles tense and your heart begins to beat faster, you have fewer resources elsewhere. It’s no wonder that people who are angry tend to make terrible, and sometimes violent choices. The prefrontal cortex, which is where planning and thinking occur, is no longer in charge and the primitive endocrine system in now giving orders.
After the initial anger has passed we might notice that our bodies still haven’t cooled down. We might have a residual sense of irritation or maybe even stress. At this point, our bodies are still working on the anger and our minds are trying to process the emotions it experienced which causes stress. To make matters worse, we are now swimming in a pool of norepinephrine and cortisol which are stress hormones and only amplify the anger and stress. Thus, a vicious cycle has begun.
As you can imagine, back when humans were running from saber tooth tigers this was an incredibly important survival mechanism. However, today it seems as though we have out grown the need for a fight or flight response system but yet, one might argue that our society is facing more instances of anger and fear than ever before.
When your body is full of these chemicals it can be very damaging over time. Over exposure to hormones such as cortisol cause long term effects that can be harmful and even life threatening. Cortisol has been shown to increase inflammation in the body, leading to hypertension and high blood pressure. In addition, too much cortisol in the system can lead to the buildup of fat around important organs such as the heart and brain. Finally, those who suffer from chronic anger and stress also tend to be heavier or obese and many studies suggest those same people have a higher probability of experiencing depression throughout their life.
In the end, anger and stress do much more harm than good.
So, now that you know how anger and resentment affect you on a physiological and psychological level, my question to you is this:
What’s the point?
What’s the point of holding on to that anger? Why waste valuable energy keeping up with your grudges? Why would you want to spend time on them when you should be spending time working on yourself?
What if instead of worrying about what other people were doing, you worried about yourself? Imagine if you spent energy on reading books or learning a new skill rather than complaining about others and resenting them for what they did to you. What would your life look like then?
Ultimately, we shouldn’t forgive people for the sake of the person that is being forgiven. We should forgive people for the sake of our own mental and physical wellbeing. In other words, we forgive more for ourselves than for the person we forgive.
So, show yourself some love and kindness and forgive those who have wronged you in the past. They, like you, are human and are susceptible to mistakes - so let them be. Let what happened in the past be as it was and live your life today and through all of your tomorrows with no resentment. Harbor no ill feelings towards another person because in reality, you are the one paying the price.
A heart free of grudges is a heart free to love and grow.
Thank you as always for reading our blog today. We appreciate you taking time out of your day to read content that is aimed to inspire and improve the world as we know it. And don’t forget, we would love to hear from you! Tell us your story of letting go of anger. Let us know how it made you feel when you forgave someone for something you didn’t think you could forgive. How did that improve your life?
Until next time, many many blessings
Rick Hanson’s Buddha’s Brain
Mayo Clinic—Effects of Cortisol