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How to (successfully) hold a grudge

Dec 9, 2019 by William Lewis.

Sophie Hannah argues that, used in the right way, grudges can transform your life. Brigid Moss finds out how.

Do you hold a grudge? Yesterday, I’d have said no. I’d have said holding a grudge is a waste of energy, bad karma. I thought along the lines of that old saying: holding on to bad feelings about someone is like taking poison and hoping they die. I assumed that the grown-up thing was to let it go. But, after talking to author Sophie Hannah and reading her new book, How To Hold A Grudge, I’ve changed my mind.

When someone does something bad or thoughtless to us, it’s natural to have bad feeling about it, Hannah tells me. The trouble is we don’t know where to put it. “It’s not possible to go through the world without collecting grudges,” she says. But people often assume there are only two choices about what to do with them. “You could think, ‘I’m going to hate them forever,’ which is not a great response. Or, ‘I mustn't be angry; I must move on and let it go.’ This is equally damaging – we can’t deny the validity of our negative feelings.”

What Hannah has invented is a process (see below for how to do it) that will take your painful, raw, emotional grudge and transform it into a useful package that’s no longer uncomfortable – a personal fable with a lesson. If your original gripe was a hard, unpalatable, raw chickpea, what comes out at the end is beautiful, spiced houmous. And who doesn't want more houmous in their life?

I tell Hannah about a friend of friends, who used to go out of her way to ignore me. I haven’t been upset about it for ages, but a shadow of her behaviour has stayed with me. Hannah tells me about a woman she knew, who managed to not look at or speak to her for a whole dinner. We work out this isn't the same woman – there are two people this pass-agg! Hannah confirms this behaviour is grudgeworthy and I feel relieved. I’d thought the woman was just a cow, but Hannah helps me clarify the simple grudge lesson: avoid her.

Hannah decided to turn her version of grudge-holding into a type of personal development when her sister remarked how many grudges she had, and Hannah realised each one was only adding to her life, not harming her or anyone else. As a bestselling crime writer, including the new Agatha Christies, you could say she specialises professionally in them. When she asked her Twitter followers and audiences at talks for their grudge stories, people were “delighted” and “gripped”, and told her their grudge stories in their hundreds, some of which are in the book.

This new kind of grudge doesn’t have to spoil a friendship (of course, the nasty kind can). That friend who takes the best room at the Airbnb and leaves you in the kids’ room in the bunk beds with no curtains? Valid grudge. The lesson? It might be you don't go on holiday with them any more – or maybe win the race to the next rental. “The crucial thing about a good grudge is you can like or dislike the person as long as the grudge isn’t causing you or them any additional harm,” says Hannah. If you want to try processing any of your bad feelings into grudges, here’s how to do it:

How to process a grudge so it becomes a positive and helpful learning experience

  1. Decide that the inciting incident was grudge-worthy – in other words, not OK.
  2. Allow yourself to feel whatever comes up as result of the inciting incident. Don’t judge any emotions as “bad” and don’t try to deny or repress whatever feelings you have.
  3. Wait until your feelings about the inciting incident have settled (ie your indignation/hurt levels have stabilised and do not change from day to day). This could take two weeks or two months.
  4. Then write down your grudge story, identifying what was The Right Thing To Do Then and what is The Right Thing To Do Now, and recognising the difference between the two.
  5. Process your grudge, including making a list of the all the great values and lessons that you will learn from keeping this grudge in your life.
  6. Place your grudge carefully in your Grudge Cabinet and allow it to enhance your life and improve your ability to forgive anybody for any transgression.