OK, it’s confession time. People often make me cross. I am quite a temperamental person, prickly and easily irritated – but I tend to bottle it all up rather than getting outwardly cross. Usually. I can spend a lot of mental space going over and over how annoyed I am and what I’d like to say to whoever it is. And I’ll admit that when I’m doing that I am really all about me – I’m not thinking about why they might have said or done it and whether they might actually be feeling really bad about it. And that’s despite the fact that I also know that I sometimes say the wrong thing to people and worry that I’ve annoyed them.
I think feeling cross with people isn’t a bad thing – in fact it’s sometimes perfectly right. If someone’s done or said something mean to you, whether accidentally or on purpose, it’s fine to feel cross. Personally, I think it would be weird not to. But feeling cross for too long is not good for us. If we can learn to let it go, we’ll feel better and be able to focus on things that matter more.
Think about it:
If you’re angry with someone, you’re suffering. If they don’t even know you’re angry, they’re not even suffering – only you are. What’s the point of that?
If they DO know you’re angry, that’s OK at first – and maybe that will make them say sorry. But if they don’t say sorry and you carry on feeling angry, then it becomes like a battle. And is that really how you want to spend your energy, being eaten up with bitterness? While they swan around getting on with their life?
So, let’s think in a bit more detail
Close your eyes if you want to so you can concentrate on this without being distracted by any people around you.
Is there someone who once treated you badly and you’re still cross about it? Someone who let you down, insulted you, teased you, made you feel really upset and they didn’t seem to care? Maybe it was last week or last month or last year – sometimes people hold grudges for years. And there are really sad stories of friendships and families being wrecked by grudges and sometimes the people can’t even remember what caused it.
First, if it happened quite recently it’s not surprising you still feel angry. Maybe they are even still treating you badly or maybe they don’t realise what they’ve done or how upset you are.
Second, work out whether there’s anything you can actually do about this? Might it help if you told them how you feel or would this make things worse for you? How would you feel if you told them? If telling them wouldn’t help or would make you feel worse, I say don’t do it. You might think telling them is the honest thing to do but honesty isn’t the biggest virtue of them all – wisdom is better in my opinion. Don’t say anything if there’s nothing to gain.
Third, work out how important it is in the grand scheme of things. Is it the most important thing in your life? The worst thing that’s happened to you? Is it even in the top ten of bad things that’s happened to you? If it IS, I’m really sorry – that’s a tough thing to think about. But I’ll tell you something: you won’t feel the same about it one day. I can’t say if that change of feeling will happen tomorrow or next week or month or year, but it will happen – unless you block it from happening.
And you don’t want that, do you? Do you want to feel this bad, this angry, for ever? Do you want it to spoil your life even a tiny bit? Are you going to let the other person take over your life and your emotions and control you? Because that’s what they’re doing if they’re making you still think about this once it’s over.
My advice isn’t about sorting out the problem – I can’t do that because I don’t know what the problem is. My advice is about your wellbeing, how you can have the best possible mental and physical strength and health so that you can get what you want and deserve out of life, so you can have the best life possible. And I don’t think bearing grudges and being eaten up by bitterness or jealousy or hatred is any way to success and happiness and wellbeing.
So, if you have someone in your life who has done something to upset you, whether recently or ages ago, take a decision.
There are two parts to the decision
First, think whether there is something you could actually do to sort it. Can you talk to them, write to them, get someone else to mediate, anything that might help? If there is, try it.
Second, if there isn’t anything you can do to cure the problem – and there probably isn’t – choose not to give it headspace any more. If it comes into your head, let it out – in one side and out of the other. Don’t let it hang around. It will keep trying to come back – that’s normal – but each time just push it gently away and think of something else. After a while, the thoughts will stop coming. Trust me. Or when they do, you’ll just think, “Oh yeah, whatever. That was then and this is now – I’ve moved on.”
There’s something else you could do: forgive the person. You don’t have to tell them – this is for you, not them. And if they don’t want your forgiveness, you giving it to them is only going to make things worse. But tell yourself you’ve forgiven them. Only really strong people can forgive and if you can do it you should feel really proud. You should also feel a burden lift from your shoulders. You don’t bear that grudge any more – you buried it. It can’t harm you any more. It can’t get to you.
I think this is really about being practical. We can’t make everything in the world perfect and there’s no point in trying. Sometimes people will annoy us (and probably we will annoy other people even if we don’t mean to). Sometimes people are nasty or cruel or rude or thoughtless. Not everyone can get on with each other. So, someone upset you – it happens. Someone did something appalling – yep, that too: people do appalling things; sometimes they can’t help it – they’re too weak or they’re ill or damaged or hurting. Or it was just an accident, a moment of madness. You can’t stop that happening but you can stop it affecting you more than it did at first.
Some people like to write their grudge or anger down on a piece of paper and burn it or shred it – you can do that if you want to. Or you can go and write it in the sand on a beach or in chalk before washing it away. You can write it in pen on your arm and then wash it off. You have to wash it away, though. You have to get rid of it, not just bury it somewhere you’ll find it again another day. You have to destroy it.
Remember: if your grudge is small, it’s small – not the most important thing in your world. Focus on something positive and don’t let it get to you for one more moment. If your grudge is huge and genuinely is really important, you might need some help to let it go – you might need some counselling, for example. But most grudges aren’t like that; most of them are possible to move on from and to leave behind.
Be brave, be bold, be strong, be on the side of right. Let it go, for your own sake and for your wellbeing. It’s not worth it but you are.
For the other episodes of 52 WAYS, put “ways to wellbeing” in the search box. If you want the podcast versions, see here. (Only some episodes are podcasts – I ran out of time!) The podcasts make excellent school assemblies – all are under 10 minutes long and all the written versions will be a similar length. All are suitable for all ages but pitched in a way that’s great for secondary schools. Tell students to take the same messages home: these are strategies for anyone and many parents need them, too!