Joseph Cramer, M.D.: Holding a grudge makes our arms tired

Published: Tuesday, April 17 2012 4:00 p.m. MDT

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Have you ever held a grudge?

I have, and it was a real pain. First, your arms start to hurt. Next your fingers go numb and pretty soon they tingle with pinpricks. Subsequently comes a kink in the neck. Don’t forget blurry vision.

Grudges are heavy and ugly as heck. They vary in size and shape. Some we put them into handbags, backpacks or if we are professionals, briefcases. Other grudges we hold in our fists. Still others are small like little pebbles in our shoes. With every step we are reminded of all the wrongs thrown at us by an unfair world.

But with all their downsides we still hold on to them as if they were a life jacket on the Titanic, and we know how that movie ends.

Grudges are pesky burdens. They are like the boulders of Sisyphus. The crime of that condemned king was of hubris. For his just punishment he had to repeatedly push giant boulders up a steep hill only to have them roll back again. Grudges of arrogance also keep rolling back on us unless we stop our own practice of pride.

In spite of the burden these charity-draining life jackets have purpose. Otherwise why put up with the weight? The answer: There are emotional needs they fulfill in spite of the tonnage.

One need is they make us feel powerful. Another is to feel justified. They are protective, acting as shields of self-righteousness. A creation of the past, grudges project forward to anticipate danger in the future. Grudges instill a feeling of victimhood that further infuses the bearer with hair-trigger temper.

Suppose someone offends us. We never want that to happen again. We reach down and pick up a grudge. By holding on to the animosity, regardless of whether the offense was real or intentional, whenever that person is in our line of sight we are ready to bean him or her.

The grudge transports us over and over to the scene of the original crime.

Acknowledging the need and advantage to collecting routine grudges, some of us can hold them longer and tighter than others. These versions of grudge grabbers are like gravediggers who always have a spade on hand to dig up something rotten from the past. Then they lug it around. On a golf course it would be — hit the ball, drag the grudge, hit the ball, drag the grudge. You probably know of people who could fill a Suburban.

All grudge holders have a serious complication. We don’t have normal vision. We hold our resentments up to our eyes. This causes us to see through muck. So we judge and react to the world through darkened, distorted lenses. We struggle seeing the positive.

Getting rid of grudges takes effort. They are weapons, so letting go makes us vulnerable. We must change. It takes faith. First, we must recognize our arms are full. Then we must decide to let go of the boulders, empty out the rocks and toss aside the stones. We have to remove them from off our eyes to see the world differently. Substitute something good in their place. Consciously fill our emotional holes and arms with gratitude — not grudge. Forgive. Repent.

The tougher task is what to do when we are the objects of another’s grudge. We must reexamine our own behaviors. Maybe we are the problem. Call time out, and ask forgiveness for past wrongs. Take the bull’s eye off our backs. Learn from mistakes. If we don’t, we play dodge ball with boulders. Still we can’t force another’s forgiveness.

Being hit when someone casts the first stone hurts. Let the throwers know their hardball pitching does perhaps unwarranted damage. Allay their fears. Getting angry just reinforces their prejudicial worries.

Reach out with arms of love. Hopefully, they will relax their grip.

Drop the grudges, but watch out for flying rocks.

Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for 30 years, and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at jgcramermd@yahoo.com.

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