I have a problem with grudges. More specifically: I have a hard time with letting go of that angry, frustrated feeling that comes when you feel as though somebody’s wronged you.
Oh, I’ll talk a good game about not being angry. I’ll be civil in public. I don’t make pointed inquiries about them to mutual friends, I’ll make a show of being over it when I’m around them. I’ll even tell my friends, brimming with righteous anger for me to let it go, that it’s not worth it. But I haven’t forgotten. I’ll still hold on to that little kernel of anger and bitterness at my core and take it out and poke at it when the nights are long and I can’t sleep. I take quiet satisfaction when I hear second-hand about something that didn’t go well for them and stew with resentment that the universe doesn’t seem to agree that they must suffer some suitably ironic punishment for their crimes against me.
There’s even a perverse part of me that hopes that they hear about how well I’m doing – preferably through an unconnected third party for that extra “eau de fuck you” – and that it completely ruins their day.
And I know I’m not the only one who does this. In fact, I’m willing to bet most – if not all – of you are carrying around a secret resentment like this.
It’s time to let it go.
Love, Do You Remember?
We all have someone in our lives who hurt us, betrayed us, wronged us… someone who we still resent, who’s very name curdles our blood and makes us grit our teeth in frustration because they stubbornly refuse to evaporate from the face of the earth. Sometimes it was a friend. Sometimes it was a lover. Sometimes it was someone on the periphery of your life.
There’s The One Who Got Away. The One Who Cheated On You. The One Who Knowingly1 Broke Your Heart. The One Who Left. The One You Left But Now Won’t Take You Back When You Realized It Was A Mistake. The One Who Dumped You Unfairly And Now You Wouldn’t Take Her Back On A Bet But Goddamn She Needs To Understand She Was The One Who Lost Out, Dammit. And all the others; the ones who betrayed you, who manipulated you, who hurt you, who cut you open and pissed in the wounds…
… you know who they are.
And it’s not always even a rational anger or feeling of resentment. I know I bring my toxic early relationship fairly often, but in truth, I almost never think of her outside of the column. Even though she’s the one who ultimately did the greatest and longest-term damage to me, she’s not the one who builds up a sense of steaming cauldron of bitterness bubbling up in me that I long to spray around like an especially territorial junkyard dog with incontinence issues. Instead, the ones who most stir the most acrimony and rancor are ones who, in the grand scheme of things barely hurt me at all. Break-ups that may have shattered my dreams but were equally my fault, cynical and amateurish attempts to cause drama and strife in my social circle… these are the things that I have the hardest time letting go of, even when there’s no reason to hold on. Even in circumstances when I unequivocally won – in as much as one can win such bullshit – I still feel anger. Hell, one case is what put me on the path to who I am today, making me into someone I never thought I could be.
And yet. Sometimes it’s not getting your heart ripped out that hurts as much as the pinpricks and bee stings to your ego. Sometimes it’s the feeling of an unaddressed injustice that spurs us on. Sometimes it’s simply the fact that the universe seems to be taking it’s own sweet time noticing that you’ve been wronged and we want karma to finally come back around… sometimes violently and all over the place.
Look Up, Look Up (The Sky Is Falling)
It’s hard to let go of negative emotions under the best of circumstances. That famous thin line between love and hate exists because of how intense those emotions are; when you feel so strongly about someone when things are amazing, it’s only understandable how strongly you’re going to feel when it all goes wrong. These are people who have occupied significant space in our heads and hearts – sometimes for years; it’s natural that it can be hard to evict them, even when they deserve it. But sometimes we don’t let the wounds heal. We encourage them to fester and scar by constantly picking at the scabs.
And it’s entirely too easy to do that now. In a world where we are perpetually connected to one another through our phones, through our laptops, with social media becoming an increasingly omnipresent figure in our lives, it can be harder than ever to resist the temptation to reopen old wounds by looking in on Them As What Done Us Wrong. Where before you had to actively engage the help of others to find out what was going on with your ex or the one who shot you down – and thus invite the judgement of others (or worse, risk them finding out…) we have the great ability to anonymously stick our noses into almost anyone’s lives. We can stalk them invisibly on Twitter and Instagram, dig through their unsecured Facebook accounts to see if they’re single again, what they’re up to.
We tell ourselves that this is just so we know how to avoid them in social situations – there are few things quite as excruciating as running into that person at a party or in the old familiar places – but when we’re being perfectly honest with ourselves, the truth isn’t nearly as pretty.
Let’s be real here. Just between you and me, you know why we do it. We’re checking on them to see if they’re happy.
Their being happy is, in many ways, the ultimate insult piled on top of injury, the salt in the wound. They hurt us, dammit. They need to suffer. They need to be punished. Every time we check in on those old grudges and find that their lives are amazing without us, it’s another kick in the teeth, another stab to the heart, a reminder that the Universe ultimately doesn’t care about our notions of justice and sometimes the people who do shitty things are just never going to pay.
But because it’s hard for us to accept this, because we live in a culture that still believes in the Just World fallacy where good is supposed to be rewarded and malice will be punished. But the real world doesn’t work like that and as a result, we often start to internalize this frustration. Maybe there’s something wrong with us. Maybe we deserved to be hurt.
It becomes another cudgel with which to beat ourselves. Look at how much happier they are without us! Look at how they refuse to acknowledge they’ve done anything wrong.
It’s just not fair.
It Don’t Get Any Better
That’s the hardest part to accept: that it’s not fair, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Part of why we hold on to this anger with the people who’ve wronged us is because we desperately want validation – not just of our pain but their role in it. And, frankly, we may never get it. There is never a guarantee that you will ever, ever get them to admit their involvement or culpability in the hurt they’ve caused – and trying to force the issue doesn’t help.
Sometimes their refusal to confess their guilt and take responsibility is a matter of protecting their own ego. We are all the heroes of our own stories and ideally we like to keep that vision intact. For plenty of people, admitting fault means that they have to cede the moral high-ground and give up the cherished illusion that they’re not petty, self-involved and occasionally just mean. They will have perfectly legitimate (([Citation needed])) reasons for why what they did was totally not wrong and why they’re not the bad-guy. Nothing you say is going to get through to them. They’ll deflect and dodge any hint of accountability or turn it back around and try to make you the problem.
Other times they’re simply oblivious to the fact they’ve done anything wrong in the first place. Some people are just assholes who fuck people over and proceed on with their lives, completely oblivious to the damage they cause in their wake. Whether they’re sociopathic or simply self-absorbed, there is no way of actually getting them to see things your way – as far as they’re concerned, there was no “crime” committed and you’re just being dramatic. And to be perfectly honest, it does become embarrassing rather quickly; when you’re making a fuss over someone who isn’t reacting at all, you end up looking like a fool… no matter how right you may actually be.
And to be perfectly honest: sometimes they’re not the only ones to blame. Just because you were the one who was hurt doesn’t automatically mean that you were in the right. It’s amazing what a little lack of self-awareness or willful blindness can cause us to overlook. Yes, assholes frequently do act unilaterally and fuck us over… but sometimes the situation isn’t quite so cut and dried as we think. One break up in my past hit me seemingly out of the blue and left me devastated for literally years… well out of proportion to the length of time that we were actually together. I held on to that anger for far longer than I should have because as far as I was concerned it was the classic “I don’t want to be dating anyone2 right now” dodge that lead to her dating someone else within weeks… an asshole hat-trick of lies, unfairness and a solid nut-shot to my self-esteem. By God I wanted her to see how she’d hurt me… mostly by being passive-aggressive, leaving emo blog-posts where I hoped she’d see them, following her LJ anonymously to keep up with her life. You know. The classics.
It was only with time and a willingness to look back at my failed relationships and be honest that I was able to recognize that, frankly, I wasn’t the innocent victim I wanted to see myself as. I had missed – or ignored – the glaringly obvious signs that the relationship was in trouble… or, more accurately, why it wouldn’t work in the first place.
It wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t fun. But it was necessary.
And it helped me realize something important – there is no such thing as closure.
We Will Win
So here’s the hard truth: closure is a myth. The need for “closure” is – nine times out of ten – the need for a validation, for vindication, for explanations, to make things line up with the way you feel the world should work. And sometimes that just is never going to happen. Going back and rehashing old battles and re-opening old wounds in the name of “closure” is a recipe for misery.
Closure doesn’t come when you’ve had “one last relationship talk” with your ex or that confrontation with your scheming, vile nemesis that you feel has been brewing for ages. It doesn’t come when you’ve reached some level of success or achieve an amazing lifestyle that they can’t help but be jealous of. It doesn’t come when you “win” the break-up or prove you’re happier than they are. In fact, the obsession with “winning” or “getting the power back” only gives them greater mindshare in your life. It lets them continue to poison your soul, no matter who was actually in the wrong. All that obsessing about the hurt and betrayal does is continue to give the phantom in your mind more power to hurt you.
Closure can’t be given by others. Closure only comes when you decide you have it. Period.
Learning to let go of the hurt and the bitterness and the anger is hard… but it’s important.
The first step is to take the nuclear option and cut all ties with them – block them on all your social media accounts, delete their numbers and texts from your phone, erase their emails and any other form of contact information you have on them. Excising them from your life as much as possible makes it harder to pick at the scab and reopen old wounds. Sometimes this is easier said than done; there will be those who are somehow part of our social circle which means that you will inevitably see them again. Accept this and simply… disregard them. To make them an issue is to give them power to continue to hurt you. To lessen their importance, to make them no more significant than a random face in the crowd, steals their ability to fuck with you – whether they do it deliberately or whether the pain is self-inflicted.
The next and most difficult part is to forgive. Forgiving them can be tough but forgiving yourself is tougher… and far more necessary. Blaming ourselves – for being part of the drama, for not knowing better, for letting ourselves be hurt – is what keeps us from being able to let go. It’s only when you can forgive yourself for getting hurt that you can start to heal.
If you can, learn from what happened. The key to getting past any mistakes you’ve made or failures you’ve experienced is to learn how to avoid them in the future. Even in my worst break-ups, where my heart was ripped from my chest and devoured in front of me, I’ve found things that I needed to know to keep something like that from ever happening again.
And finally: move on. You may never find yourself in a place where you never think of them again…. and that’s ok. The point of closure isn’t to eradicate them from your memory banks, it’s to simply end the pain. And you can’t do that when you let it be part of your present.
Accept that you’ve found your closure, put your stamp on that old pain and leave it where it belongs… in the past. Go and live your life, however you decide to.
Because the only real way to “win” is to not hold yourself hostage to old pains.