How to preserve healthy anger
December 9, 2010 5:29 PM   Subscribe

Can I learn to hold a grudge?

I tend to be the sort of person who can't hold a grudge for very long. I might be incredibly angry with someone today but tomorrow chances are I'll not be angry at all and have almost forgotten what it was I was even angry about. This is fine most of the time because I happen to be surrounded by lots of nice people and they rarely give me much reason to be angry with them.

From time to time though, I wish I had a way to hold on to some of this reasonable anger and not be so quick to forgive people. Especially when it comes to dating I wish I had some firm lines, such that if I knew if a guy did x, I would never talk to him again. I just find it incredibly hard to actually be angry at someone for any length of time and I think that occasionally this gets taken advantage of. I don't want to imply that I constantly find myself in abusive relationships or dating crappy guys -- I am always on the lookout for red flags and am quite particular about that sort of thing. But if I genuinely like someone, I'll forgive almost any amount of flakiness -- I need some way of telling my brain, this person is super nice, but his flakiness means that he's not a good date for you/ not a good friend for you.

What are your strategies for doing this?
posted by peacheater to Human Relations (18 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
You don't have to feel angry about it, or hold a grudge. You just need to have rules for when to cooperate and when not to. For example, the third time someone blows you off, you could have a rule to stop making plans with them until they make a credible offer.
posted by tel3path at 5:35 PM on December 9, 2010 [10 favorites]

You don't want to learn to hold on to anger - most people would love to be clear of it so quickly and easily. What you do want to do is learn from experience and adjust your relationships accordingly - something that is much better done without anger. You don't have to be angry at someone to remember that you can't trust them with your money or cat or heart.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 5:44 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't stay angry, I just set boundaries. For example, I've got a cousin who's a total blabbermouth. She has screwed things up for some of the rest of us cousins because of her inability to keep her mouth shut. But she's a wonderful person and I love her. So I don't hang on to the anger about things she's screwed up, I just set the boundary of not telling her things. It's just become a rule of interacting with her; I don't engage my conservative uncle in political discussions, and I don't tell my blabbermouth cousin anything I don't want the whole world to know.
Similarly, a member of my social circle has been quite unpleasant to me in the past, but is nice to me most of the time and is still friends with everyone else. I see him once a week with the rest of my friends. I'm not mad at him anymore, but I've set filters so I don't get email from him unless they're addressed to the whole group, and I don't spend time with him except in the group setting.
I say this as someone from a family that is notorious for grudge-holding -- my uncle just turned 65 and we all still talk about an incident that happened the day he was born.
Anger is hard, and not good for you. You can let go of the anger -- or even forgive someone -- without giving them the opening to hurt you again.
posted by katemonster at 5:47 PM on December 9, 2010 [12 favorites]

Sounds spiritually enlightened to me, not holding a grudge.

Which is to say, not part of your problem. You simply need to be more pragmatic with these things. Flaky or unacceptable behaviour is a waste of your valuable time and emotion. Just as you would not invest in Perpetual Motion Motors Inc no matter how entertaining the sales pitch, you ought not to invest in draining people.

It's not personal, it's business. The business of your life. Surround yourself with taps, not drains, and the forgiveness thing becomes a non-issue because you don't waste time or emotion with the drains in the first place. Plenty of entertaining taps out there.

Anything else is just doubling down on bad bets. Life is too short.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:49 PM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Holding a grudge is not the only way to achieve what you want, which is to remember people's past behavior and react accordingly. You just need a different way to remind yourself when dealing with certain people. So, create a recording system; for example: rename a person on your phone with "flake" so next time you pick up the phone, you remind yourself. On email, create a tag for that person; and perhaps, when you meet that person face-to-face, imagine he walks around with a big L on his forehead?

Anger is good motivator, but it's also quite damaging to your health.
posted by curiousZ at 5:51 PM on December 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

People say forgive and forget. I disagree. I'm all for forgiveness because carrying a grudge is a waste of energy. Forget? Not so fast. Certainly, forget about stuff if the person changes their behavior, but you don't need to forget immediately.

It's about finding a balance you can live with comfortably. You don't want to nurse grudges over every tiny snit. You also don't want to be a doormat who people can repeatedly flake out on. When someone treats you poorly, it's okay to decide that you aren't going to exert any effort on their behalf. Acknowledge the issue and make a decision about how you'll deal with it. Once you consciously make that decision, it'll be easier to stick to it.
posted by 26.2 at 6:07 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

You don't need to learn how to hold a grudge. Grudges are diminishing and corrosive. You just need to learn how to draw particular boundaries and stick to them, either in general or in respect to specific people (e.g. "Bob is perpetually late so I'm not going to make any time-sensitive plans with him from now on"). This doesn't require anger or spite or passive-aggression to carry out, it just requires knowing what matters to you and having the self-regard to hold to it.
posted by scody at 6:11 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I understand what you mean- you need a metaphor or a label or a frame of reference to put things in the right place in your mind. Someone once told me to think of it this way, when I had the same problem: Imagine they're children. Children mean well, and don't know any better, and if you trusted them with an important task that they flaked on, you might be fleetingly angry but you (hopefully) wouldn't express it and definitely wouldn't feel a grudge. You would just calmly and rationally go about making other plans and cleaning up the mess. You might tell them, briefly, that you weren't going to trust them with this thing again, but it's not even necessary to mention it.
posted by Nixy at 6:28 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Joining the chorus. You don't want to be angry or carry a grudge. What you want is to be mindful. I used to get angry at people and stay angry. It was not good, however "right" I was. One day I was riding my motorcycle and a car cut me off so badly, I almost crashed; as usual, I became enraged, and started to chase the driver... and then, suddenly I thought "is it better to be right, or be alive?". From then on, I stopped holding grudges or getting road-rage. Sure, I may have the right of way, but if I'm dying in a crushed vehicle, fat lot of good it does me to have "the right on my side".

It's exactly the same with people. Yes, you are right and they are wrong (for the sake of argument). But so what? What does being angry accomplish? My attitude is to think of it as "nature". It's in the nature of a shark to bite. Do you become angry at sharks, because they bite? When I discover that someone's nature is to be a flake, after the initial burst of anger (which is natural), I immediately tell myself "s/he's a flake", and from then on act accordingly. It's like remembering someone's name/job/occupation/hobby. I meet Bob, and I remember: Bob/language teacher/likes beer/is a flake.

Say someone crosses a line. There are some lines which should not be crossed. Obviously, if someone attempts a date rape, you wouldn't give them a second chance, would you? If your date lies about something important - drop them like a hot potato... just classify them as "unreliable" and go from there, just as you would classify a given fish as "shark", and then not put your hand in the aquarium with it. But anger - long term anger - has no place here.
posted by VikingSword at 6:37 PM on December 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: All right, I'll accept that holding a grudge and feeling long-term anger is not the best way to go about this and that I should work on setting boundaries with people and stick to them. But how exactly do I best about this when I seem to literally forget what people do to me the next day (and again I'm not talking about anything akin to lying or cheating -- just inconsiderate behavior). Strategies like curiousZ's and Nixy's above would be very helpful to me.
posted by peacheater at 6:46 PM on December 9, 2010

Response by poster: And thanks for all the responses so far!
posted by peacheater at 7:09 PM on December 9, 2010

Well, I'm a lot like you in temperament, tho you'd never know it from any of my online personas, which tend toward the seething, snarling misanthropic. I genuinely think the best of people, until I can no longer, and I am very apt to simply forgive and forget.

The strategy I use is to make the "trigger" so memorable, the one who triggers it will not soon forget it. Be honest, emphatic, and ceaseless in your honest emphasis that what they did was Not OK At All. Let them know why you're angry, why they should not have done what they did, and why they should feel bad for having done it. Listen to what they have to say in their defense, and then rip it to neat little shreds while they watch helplessly. Do not let them interrupt, and if they succeed in interrupting, interrupt their interruption. Now is not their time. They wasted their time with something that was Not OK At All. Now is your time to explain why, and then you make them explain why they did what they did, even tho they knew it was Not OK At All.

They may or may not be contrite. They may or may not be defiant. They may or may not sulk. They may or may not appear indifferent. They may not have even realized they were doing something Not OK At All (most likely).

They will not pull that shit again, at least not more than once.

They will be very, very thankful you don't hold a grudge.

So long as you control your temper, you can make it work for you. Do not use this for evil. Always assume there was a simple misunderstanding, and not a fundamental lack of respect, or brute inconsideration. Your trigger should be pulled very, very, very infrequently. If it keeps getting pulled, realize they're fucking with you, and cut them cold, even tho it may feel cruel and you've already forgiven them. You're nobody's puppet - and sadly for them, they have to understand this.

But be true to yourself. You're awesome as you are.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:24 PM on December 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

But how exactly do I best about this when I seem to literally forget what people do to me the next day?

If you like to write at all, you could keep a journal. Not as a list of wrongs, but as a record of your days. If you don't just write in it, but read back through it occasionally, it will help jog your memory of both good and bad things. And periodically looking back over the events that you recorded can sometimes make things clearer to you, either for the good or for the bad.
posted by colfax at 8:25 PM on December 9, 2010

For me, I just try to register the one major thing about each person that I know I need to set boundaries on. For example, I have two friends who are mentally labeled "Always Late." They're good enough friends that I don't get angry about that anymore, but every time I'm planning something with them, I have that little mental awareness reminding me that I shouldn't do something time sensitive. Similarly, I have another friend whose label in my brain is "Talks About Herself." She's an interesting person, but I know not to go to her when I have something I want to talk through, because I'll never get a word in edgewise. The trick, I think, is to just have one thing per person, and keep the label pretty simple so that it's easy to remember. (Not "this one time he said something rude about my cousin" but "Slightly Sexist" etc.)
posted by marginaliana at 8:20 AM on December 10, 2010

If the problem is that you literally forget, why not write things down that you wish you could carry in your brain?

For instance, when you are angry (and before you've forgotten) write down the thing the person did that upset you. Maybe only one sentence. You could have a specific document on your computer titled "Grudges" and just have the name of the person (and, increasingly, people) and the date and what they did and how what they did made you feel. Make sure you write down how hurt you feel in the moment.

You could look in this document every month or few months to remind yourself of your history with certain people.
posted by PersonAndSalt at 9:18 AM on December 10, 2010

I tell my partner and generally keep him updated about my social life. He's protective and a good judge of character, while not being overly tetchy.

Not sure how this applies to you.

I also keep notes in phone contacts; only for positive things ("good at making friends" or "knows a ton about music") but I don't see why you could do this for "super flaky" or whatever. On my blackberry I put it as their company name so it comes up when they call & in the contact list.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:35 AM on December 10, 2010

I am exactly the same way (I have thought of posting this question to AskMe myself . . .). I have the additional problem of not realizing something someone did was really shitty until far after the fact. So what I try to do is rehash the event in my head, decide how shitty the behavior, and then try to relive it over and over to burn the event in my memory. It doesn't really help with establishing anger or any of that, but it does at least help me remember that it happened so I can lay out boundaries in the future.
posted by Anonymous at 12:08 PM on December 10, 2010

I have a friend who compared it to a dog she had, who bit her in the face when it was still a newly rescued young thing. She didn't hate the dog. She didn't stay angry at it for more than a couple minutes. But she also didn't ever again put her face near it's head. As in, "Note to Self: Don't put face near Fido's head. Fido is unpredictable."

Sounds like you need more "Notes to Self"?
posted by small_ruminant at 3:05 PM on December 10, 2010

« Older Where to stay in Melbourne?   |   Stern Re-Signs, I celebrate by car radio shopping.... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.