It seems obvious to say, but it’s an idea much harder to internalize. Sometimes our grudges are really about us, and not so much about the person who hurt us. If we really want to let go of grudges, we first have to understand why we hold them in the first place.
Here are some reasons why we may hang on to a grudge:
1. Because they are a great substitute for self-improvement. If we keep the aggressor’s offence fresh and close at all times, then anytime we quietly ask ourselves if we’re behaving badly ourselves (or if the aggressor himself accuses us of doing him wrong), we just have to come back with, “Sure, I could do better, but what about THIS?” Yep, no point in worrying about doing the hard work of trying to fix ourselves, or our souls, when there’s THIS monstrosity around.
2. Because it’s easier to say “I’m angry” than “I’m hurt.” We’d rather be outraged than admit we’re woundable. We don’t want to admit that the really distressing thing is not the offence itself, but our own vulnerability, and the vulnerability of the human state in general. Taking a good, hard look at the human condition is legitimately terrifying, especially if we’re not in the habit of turning fears over to God. Being angry is a way of being in control, and it makes a great mask for fear, uncertainty, and other, more troubling emotions.
3. Because we’ve thought of ourselves as the victims for such a long time, we don’t know who we are if we’re not victims. This is a tough one to admit, but at a certain point, we have to ask ourselves, “What would it actually look like if I got what I wanted? And do I truly want it?” Would I be happy if I got the thing I’ve putatively been panting after (revenge, recompense, pity, or whatever)? Or, is it more to my advantage to be able to keep things the way they are, because at least they’re familiar? Shouldn’t we want something larger and more valuable than pity or revenge?
4. Because it gives us control over the person who wounded us. If we always think of that person as “That person who did such-and-such to me,” it’s a way of limiting him, of whittling him down to toy size, so we can keep him in our pockets and tell him what he’s for. It’s much harder to acknowledge that even aggressors are human, whole, complex, layered people, and that hurting us is just one of the many, many things that they can, and does do.
5. Because we’re hanging onto a childish belief that life ought to be fair, like an accounting book is fair, and part of our identity is bound up in keeping track of stuff and making sure it comes out even. Which is a sure fire way of making sure that we never learn much at all about love. Love takes root in the fertile wilderness of uncertainty and ambiguity, and languishes in the sterile, antiseptic laboratory of mathematical justice.