Holding a Grudge Can Be Bad for Your Health

Some people are able to forgive more easily than others. Small errors in judgment, little white lies, and backhanded comments can quickly be forgiven. But resentments that run deeper, such as those caused by infidelity, sexual abuse, and addiction can leave physical and emotional scars that are difficult to overcome. These transgressions can cause anger that ranges from mild to severe. Holding on to that anger prevents an individual from being able to forgive the perpetrator. Research has shown that the stress that accompanies suppressed anger resulting from unforgiveness can lead to mental and physical health problems. Some studies have even suggested that trait anger directly increases a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease. In addition, research has also found a link between anger and self-forgiveness. People who hold grudges against others may be able to forgive them at some point and time. But forgiving oneself has been shown to be more difficult. This is especially true for individuals who struggle with high levels of anxiety.

To better understand the relationship between anger, forgiveness, mental health, physical health, and overall life satisfaction, Ann Macaskill of the Psychology Research Group at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK recently conducted a series of studies examining these dynamics. In two separate studies, Macaskill and her colleagues found that individuals who were unable to forgive other people had no declines in life satisfaction or mental health. However, those unable to forgive themselves experienced reductions in both psychological well-being and life satisfaction. Macaskill also discovered that anger was directly related to a person’s ability to forgive others but not themselves. However, shame, guilt, anxiety, and anger were all predictors of self-unforgiveness.

The findings suggest that people who harbor resentment and anger towards others and themselves are at increased risk for poor physical and mental health. Those who internalize their feelings even more can experience even poorer outcomes that result from shame, guilt, and anxiety. Macaskill believes that the results of her studies demonstrate the need for addressing anger in people who have trouble forgiving themselves and others. She also notes that while the findings from her studies confirm a relationship between anger and unforgiveness, the results do not support a direct and strong connection between anger and overall health. She added, “While self- and other-unforgiveness are associated with poorer mental health and lower life satisfaction, the search for a causal link must continue.”

Macaskill, A. (2012). Differentiating dispositional self-forgiveness from other-forgiveness: associations with mental health and life satisfaction. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 31.1, 28-50.

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  • Alyson

    April 10th, 2012 at 3:34 PM

    Why hold a grudge against someone? It is not like this is going to change their past behavior nor is it in any way going to improve future relations. We see here and in many other sources that this only serves to worsen our own health. How on earth is this possibly worth the physical and mental anguish and distress that we are causing ourselves? This hurts no one but us, the other eprson is probably blissfully ignorant that you are even angry at them. The best adice? Let it go.

  • sean deason

    April 10th, 2012 at 4:41 PM

    I know that holding a grudge against someone is not good for me, I get that, but I don’t know how not to when someone has really done me wrong. It’s not so easy to forget. I want to do all that forgive and forget stuff but I’m not sure I’m hardwired that way! I want someone to pay when they have done me wrong, and aren’t we told and eye for an eye? Sometimes nothing makes you feel better than to hurt them the way they have hurt you!

  • Zoe

    April 11th, 2012 at 4:12 AM

    There just is no point in letting someone who has already hurt me once (or more!) continue to hurt me by me holding on to all of that anger

  • Travis g

    April 11th, 2012 at 1:17 PM

    Sometimes, you hold on to that anger for so long that when someone asks what all of the animosity stemmed from you have no idea. Now that is carrying the grudge to the extreme!
    But someone who wrongs you should not just be allowed to be let off the hook. Let them know that they have hurt you, and that this might impair your judgement of him or her for a long time.
    But I completely agree that you don’t have to dwell on that. Speak your mind and eventually you will be able to make your peace with the situation without having to live within that constant turmoil that holding this kind of grudge toward a person can cause.

  • Friend As Thyself

    April 11th, 2012 at 5:54 PM

    These are good comments. Unlimited forgiveness seems like a huge effort but really is a true source of freedom. Imagine how relaxed and delighted one can feel when one is no longer responsible for judging all people and things. What a relief!

    Much love to you all. You are my perfect teachers!

  • eliza

    April 14th, 2012 at 12:18 AM

    while holding a grudge can bring about negative thoughts about that person all the time and in turn trouble you and make things difficult, it is not really necessary that you go out and forgive everybody. what I believe is that forgetting that incident and moving on with your life is just as good. you don’t have to be a saint to feel happy!

  • Cynthia

    December 5th, 2012 at 11:53 AM

    Personally I can never tend to forgive people who hurt me. And as Alyson said maybe it wont change ones behavior etc. But one day those people will need you and realize how they did wrong. Its easy to say you forgive but never forget what they do. Holding a grudge is the worst thing anyone could do. Emotionally, mentally, and even physically, but i cant help it and there are other people that are the same. Why are you going to let go of something just so they can do it over and over and over and make you feel like you dont matter.

  • Kim D.

    August 22nd, 2014 at 4:15 AM

    You can forgive anyone if you only know how you have been forgiven. How sinful natured we are. Seriously.
    Forgiveness. pass it on.

  • D.S.T.

    February 25th, 2015 at 7:33 AM

    Grudge is devastating and so one need to understand that as we are all vulnerable to it. The thing about life is accepting reality and live with it. Try as best as you can to leave at peace within yourself and with others reflecting to the life Jesus lived on earth. He prayed for everything and worried for nothing. The fact is you hurt people and people will also hurt you. Endeavor to settle all hurt done to you and the hurt you do to people.

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