Many of us carry grudges. Over time, the burden can get heavy, using lots of our mental and emotional energy. Our lives can become so wrapped up in the perceived wrongs done to us that we can no longer enjoy the present.

The weight can also create the impression that life is completely out of our control and unjust because the past pain is still alive in us, skewing our sense of balance. Eventually, this focus can lead to bitterness and distance from those we love.

The decision to drop our burden is within our control. We can’t change the offender or the past; the reality of the situation cannot be undone. Letting go is a decision we can make; we can gain some control over our thoughts and feelings. Like trying to collect long-overdue bills, continuing to carry our grudges often costs us more than just writing them off.

So, how do we lay down our load?

As usual, we start with taking several slow, deep breaths. As we do this, the body begins to relax. Our relaxation allows more blood flow to the reasoning parts of the brain. From this calmer place, we can revisit the incident(s) that felt hurtful. Our natural tendency is to run from facing the memories directly and dispassionately. But if we’re still carrying grudges, we haven’t really gotten away, anyway. It’s important to allow ourselves to acknowledge the impact the past bad behavior of others has had on our lives.

Now it’s time to make a choice: Are we willing to continue feeling hurt and angry toward family and friends? Is our resentment helping us? Or should we bite the bullet and do the work of accepting difficult past incidents?

It may be difficult to let go of our anger, of the comforting feeling of being the blameless victim of the thoughtless person. It can help to imagine what we’d rather be doing with the energy and time we now use in replaying our hurt. Picturing how we’d like our days to flow, being well-rested and focused on our own life, for example, can pull us through the change we’re making.

Dropping our resentment is not excusing any harm done to us. Our pain is valid. And certainly, we should not stay in situations that are currently hurtful. Letting go of our grudge burden is about reducing the ongoing impact on our lives of past hurts. This actually reduces the negative power the offending person has in our lives. The hurt no longer defines us and our relationship with them.

Now we can create a phrase that sums up our current feelings and our decision to make peace with the situation. An example might be, “I can’t change the past and I’m moving forward with my life”. We can then use this phrase as a reminder whenever the familiar thoughts start, until the old hurt no longer has such power over us.

Might we still wish things had turned out differently? Absolutely.  But releasing resentment is not about letting the offender off the hook, it is about giving ourselves the gift of putting the situation into perspective and moving on with our lives.

To ward off the creation of future grudges, expect a certain amount of imperfection in those we love. Expect some social clumsiness and inexpert communication, even with family and friends.

Part of getting along with others is being willing to let go of the grudges we hold for past behavior. Dropping our burden of resentments can change our relationships to bring us more peace and happiness. Summer’s a great time to off-load unnecessary resentment baggage, leaving us free for playing.