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Family Dynamics: Grudges vs.Toxic Relationship

Updated: Aug 7

Deciphering between a grudge and a toxic relationship can be challenging. In most relationships, especially ones that are longstanding or close (i.e. family), there are going to be differences, arguments and hurt feelings. Many times, people try to forgive and move past the issue, but sometimes a relationship gets stuck in a hurt space and a grudge forms. Some people only hold grudges for a short bit and quickly end their dispute; however, others can keep their resentment going for a lifetime. It gets to the point where you don’t know what you’re even mad over after several years have passed.

Somewhere out there, there's a family member angry with me over a facebook comment that they can't recall. Or a look that I gave them. Or, perhaps, just my mere existence. Or maybe they don't know; nonetheless, they are committed to seeing me in a negative light. Puzzling. Funny enough, the longer a person carries a grudge, the more difficult it is to identify the root offense. We don’t have to remember the root cause of a grudge for them to cause bitterness, heartache, and destruction. There doesn’t even have to be a legitimate cause. We can just decide to judge someone and harbor condemning thoughts against them for something we were told or just imagined took place.

Grudges within families are especially delicate because family is supposed to be our safe haven. Sometimes, however, it’s the place where we find the deepest heartache. Sometimes your family is stuck in negative sentiment override = the result of conflict and arguments distorting our view of others wherein we perceive ANY interaction, regardless of its intention, as negative.

Why do we hold grudges? The answer is simple: because it feels good. It feels good to be righteously angry, to have our victimhood confirmed, to believe that the other person is entirely at fault.

It feels good to brood on past hurts and resentments and to consider ourselves the injured party. But holding a grudge is also profoundly immature. It’s a sign that we haven’t yet developed the emotional intelligence to deal with conflict in a healthy way. Refraining from holding a grudge requires us to do something that can feel very difficult: release our attachment to being right and see the other person’s perspective.

Herodias held a grudge against John because he had pointed out sin in her life. “So Herodias was nursing a grudge against him and wanted to kill him…” (Mark 6:17-28)

Maybe none of us would go as far as Herodias with our grudges, but often they cause us to live with great bitterness that causes us to lash out at others. You deeply resent someone for something they said or did, and you refuse to forgive that person. You can’t forget it. You keep talking to others about it.

An unhealthy grudge, according to the author of Forgiveness is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope lists a few qualities that distinguishes grudges from merely being mad or annoyed.

  • Your anger is long-term

  • It’s deep-seated

  • It’s intense

  • You may sometimes wish for bad things to happen to the person who treated you so crappy

  • The person who wronged you lives rent-free in your brain.

  • The grudge becomes part of your identity. If your boss forgets to thank you for your contributions in front of his boss, for example, that’s upsetting and angering, considering how hard you worked and that he thanked your teammates on the same project. If you are holding a grudge being “the one who is taken for granted” starts to define you. It colors everything, including how you treat your boss and your coworkers, and what you're willing to do for him in the future, which might affect your career.

So what do we do when a family member is literally spoiling our lives with their toxicity?

First and foremost, you must accept the fact that not every family tie is built on the premise of mutual respect, love and support. This acceptance is vital!

Secondly, constant drama and negativity is never worth putting up with. If someone in your family over the age of twenty-one can’t be a reasonable, reliable, respectful adult on a regular basis, it’s time to remove yourself from the line of fire. Decide this minute not to be influenced by their behavior. Stop tiptoeing around them or making special pardons for their continued belligerence. Toxic people don’t change if they are being rewarded for not changing.

Third, regardless of how despicable a family member has acted, never let hate build in your heart. Fighting hatred with hatred only hurts you more.

You may not be able to control all the things toxic family members do to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them in the long run. You can decide not to let their actions and opinions continuously invade your heart and mind. And above all, you can decide whom to walk beside into tomorrow, and whom to leave behind today.

Finally and most importantly, remember that your kids are watching. They’re learning how to handle conflict in families and in relationships. There are no easy answers here, but at least be aware that what you do today may be what your kids do — to you or to one another — one day down the road.

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