In forgiving our perpetrators lies the pathway to peace and joy.
When pop sensation Taylor Swift had a bitter break-up with John Mayer back in 2010, she was so hurt that she wrote the song Dear John, from her third album Speak Now. The song talked about how John had messed with her emotions when she was still a young girl. We all know that didn’t go too well with John though.
Other famous international celebrity rows were not as much about love as they are about the love lost between two artists. Who’d forget Kanye West rudely interrupting Taylor Swift’s victory speech during the MTV VMA in 2009, igniting what would turn into a long list of feuds between the two? Then, there are couple of other famous scuffles that come to mind, including the ones between Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton, and the recent one between Liam Payne and Piers Morgan about the latter insulting Kylie Jenner after Forbes named her the youngest self-made billionaire.
Closer home, Bollywood feuds that topped the charts were the brawls between Karan Johar and Kangna Ranaut, ugly spats between Hrithik Roshan and Kangna Ranaut and ever-entertaining and ridiculous grudge between Salman Khan and Vivek Oberoi.
But outlandishness of some of the unending celeb spats apart, people behave differently to being hurt. So what does one do upon being wronged by another? Many, most naturally, identify with a need to address the “why me” anxiety even as some others fantasise revenge. However, research has shown that a grudge can be lethal, to none other than the one harbouring it.
A recent NYT article by Tim Herrera spoke about how holding on to a grudge can destroy a person and do him or her absolutely no good.
The taxed effect
Research has proven that holding on to negativity taxes a person’s physical and nervous system tremendously and contributes to various health issues such as chronic inflammation. Resentment weighs us down and drains our energy. So resentment can create havoc in our body while anger and mistrust over toxic relatives or soured friendships can affect our future relationships.
Mumbai-based holistic lifestyle coach Luke Coutinho believes that holding grudges, hate, anger and resentment can affect one both physiologically and psychologically. But does that mean that having these emotions is not natural? Not quite. “We are humans and each of us is born with varying levels of anger, bitterness and resentment. And it’s all okay as long as these emotions don’t start taxing us physiologically and overpowering us mentally. A body that is stressed faces challenges in digesting food, which affects one’s gut health. You see, if we’re in a constant state of resentment and anger, our body perceives it as a stressful situation and starts releasing cortisol, a natural stress hormone in our body, to cope up with the stress. This is why one feels drained out and tired after a stressful meeting. And increased cortisol level has a connection with most diseases from weight gain and diabetes to cancer,” says Luke.
According to Luke, every emotion or thought creates a certain biochemical reaction in our body as well. “While a happy thought can create a positive reaction, a negative thought can elicit a negative reaction, changing the vibrational energy of trillions of cells in us and affecting our health at a cellular level. All the energy to our brain and body and the glow in our face, skin, hair, liver, kidneys and lungs starts at the cellular level. Hence, it is best to not hold or bottle up any sort of grudges. Releasing is healing,” adds Luke.
The negativity downhill
Negative emotions brought on by excess stress have a strong relation with diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, gall bladder issues. “For example, people with anger and rage have problems with their heart and liver, and people who are filled with bitterness and resentment have problems with their gallbladder. Gallbladder stores bile, which helps break down fat in the human body. When someone is struggling to lose weight and burn fat, it means one is not able to produce enough bile. This is why it’s so important to simultaneously work with our physical, nutritional and emotional health. When we get angry, it injures the arteries and produces inflammation. No amount of cholesterol medication will heal an artery, which is destroyed or injured by anger and rage. It is the emotions we need to work on,” he explains.
Negative thoughts also affect the energy we radiate and what we attract in life. Life coach, healer and numerologist Sheelaa M. Bajaj adds to the theory. “When we hold a grudge against a person or action, it is because we judge their actions as wrong and ours as right. But by holding a grudge, we block ourselves from receiving anything else that shows up (love, affection, knowledge or money) from that person even after they may have made amends. Also, holding on to a grudge means holding on to the past. It doesn’t let you move ahead. This starts building toxicity in the body because negative emotions cause chemicals reactions, which releases toxins that cause pain and stiffness in the body and muscles. Happy chemicals like serotonin are blocked, so the sense of peace and happiness goes out of the window,” says Sheelaa.
But grudges have also gone insane. A classic example is the case of American lovers H. Beatty Chadwick and Bobbie Applegate, who got married only to realise that they couldn’t stand each other. The divorce settlement required Chadwick to fork over $2.5 million in alimony, but Chadwick, who didn’t want to pay a penny to his ex-wife, insisted that he had lost all his money in a bad overseas investment. Bobbie’s lawyers presented evidence that Chadwick was just hiding the loot in foreign bank accounts. The judge agreed with her, but Chadwick insisted he didn’t have any, so he was jailed for contempt. But Chadwick’s grudge for his ex-wife was so strong that finally in 2009, a judge ultimately ordered that he should be released because imprisoning him was having no effect. If that 14-year-old grudge is not madness, then what is?
The grace of exiting
Therapists and spiritual gurus have long claimed that forgiveness eases pain and makes one live a more fulfilling and happy life. And while some find it hard to let go of grudges, there are others who don’t feel vengeful and are not hate-filled. They’re the kind of people who don’t seek revenge and often know to look at the bigger picture. And as if with changing times, some of our celebs back home have started embracing this principle too.
In a recent interview to a film magazine, Bollywood heartthrob Katrina Kaif, who’s seen a fair bit of heart breaks, from Ranbir Kapoor to Salman Khan, was quoted as saying, “You have to respect anyone who has been in your life in the past. You’ve shared something with that person and you respect that. Also, holding onto past bitterness weighs you down. Life’s going to have its share of obstacles and ups and downs. I’d rather go through the journey with a light backpack than a heavy suitcase of grudges and resentment. It ages you faster because your cells hold on to so many things.”
Actress and singer Shruti Haasan is another who does not seem to have had big grudges. “I am not that kind of a person who holds on to things like that. I do believe that when you hold onto a grudge, it just emotionally and mentally drains you. But I guess as human beings most of us feel bad if we’ve been taken for granted or hurt by the people we love or trust. I’ve always let things go because I believe everyone has their own narrative and reasons for the way they act.
I’ve realised it really isn’t about you when someone chooses to behave with you in a certain way. That understanding always makes it easier for me to not hold a grudge,” says Shruti.
The art of letting go
So, how does one let go of a grudge especially when one is adamant about seeing someone punished for one’s suffering? Sheelaa shares her perspective.
“The best way to let go of a grudge is to be in allowance. For example, if a scorpion or snake bites you, you don’t hold a grudge or resentment against it because you know those creatures were made that way. So you have no other expectations. Allowing for people’s discretions will help you function from a greater level of clarity where you are able to see people for who they are and not live in the illusion that they are pure and honest. Acceptance and allowance of such strange, weird and mean people around you will also ensure that you don’t hold grudges,” she elaborates.
Shruti goes on to share more of her beliefs on being unable to let go of deep-seated grudges. “What you have to care about most is how you choose to live your life. Let people go their way and you go your way. It makes things easier. We cannot control another’s behaviour, so it’s better to start focusing on how we respond to others. And if you’re expecting an apology from someone who wronged you, sure that would feel fantastic if it comes by, but what really matters, is that you learn about yourself from these situations.”
Katrina had stated something similar in one of her interviews. “It’s better not to be bitter,” she had said, adding, “Either you allow someone to make a mess of your life or you believe you know better than the whole world.”
Moving on from grudges can happen through lessons over the years or in a miraculous instance. Singer Sonu Nigam is one such who learnt the art of letting go through the proverbial flip of a button. “To begin with, thankfully, I was never the kind of person who held a long-term grudge against anyone. But I still got upset by people’s shallow, unreasonable, impolite and incorrect behaviour. Soon, I realised I was looking at people’s behaviour very subjectively and not objectively. I realised I was holding them responsible for their erratic behaviours. One day, it hit me that I could change my perspective. I began imagining unfair and hurtful people as children, infants even. The moment I imagined a mean adult as an innocent child, my approach to that person changed instantly. I wanted to treat the person with more kindness and love perhaps, as I would a child. Soon the person’s viciousness would look like ignorance to me. So that’s my mantra. Unkind, angry people who are out to hurt me, I choose to treat as ignorant kids who deserve my kindness, and that works for me.”
Another perspective that Sonu settles into is to move on from negative thoughts about people who have hurt him is by looking at the bigger picture. “I believe in having gratitude for the universe that’s given birth to me. Instead of thinking of what is not coming my way, I like to think of my parents, the house I live and all that I am grateful for. And I believe in karma and I trust in god,” adds the soulful singer.
Peace in forgiving
Letting go is easier said than done and requires a lot of inner work. But from tackling the grief to finding the strength in letting go of the hurt, there’s special relief and peace in forgiving. Of course, it does not mean that you’re condoning the other person’s behaviour; it just means you’re doing yourself a favour by forgiving the wrong-doer.
Deepa Guru was in her early 20s when she found out that her boyfriend of four years had been cheating on her for a year. “I found out from someone. But I’m not the kind to seek revenge. I looked at him as a weak person who could not tell me the truth and I forgave him and moved on,” she reveals. But not everyone can forgive as easily especially when they’ve placed their trust in their partner, invested time and their emotions and may even have gotten physically intimate with them.
Even so, as per Luke, forgiveness is a powerful thing to practice. “It is so much more liberating than holding a grudge and its residue in your heart. So, start by doing this little but powerful exercise of forgiving because forgiveness is very important for our emotional health and for spiritual survival.”
Like the late Louise L Hay, author of the hugely popular self-help and thought book You Can Heal Your Body, had said, “Forgiveness is for yourself because it frees you. It lets you out of that prison you put yourself in.”
Even as Shruti reveals she believes in forgiveness, she talks of the lessons she learns about such people. “I do forgive but I don’t forget the actions and behaviours of those people because there are important lessons to be learned from unpleasant situations,” she says, signing off.