10 signs you’re holding a grudge against someone, even if you don’t realize it

Holding a grudge adds a lot of stress and bitterness to life, sapping energy we could be using for other pursuits. 

I know because for years I held various grudges without even stopping to think about it or realize how it was affecting me. 

Here are the top indications that you’re still holding bitterness and a desire for revenge against someone, sometimes even without realizing it. 

1) Past mistreatment still tortures you

We all feel pain about the past from time to time. 

It can hit before we try to sleep or while sitting in traffic. It can hit while listening to a certain song that brings us back or hearing something that reminds us of past trauma. 

But if you’re holding a grudge, past mistreatment doesn’t just hurt: it weighs you down like a block of concrete. 

You feel like the way somebody treated you was more than just unfair or cruel or stupid: it wounded you at a deep level. 

You may not realize your anger is even at a specific person, but something about a past situation won’t leave your mind and keeps coming into your head multiple times a day.

As Courtney Telloian writes:

“You might have intrusive thoughts or rehash what happened again and again.” 

2) Your inner voice reinforces the wrong done to you

The worst part of holding a grudge is that many times your own inner critic continues the pain. 

The inner critic takes on the voice and attitude of the person who hurt you. 

You are attacked from inside by your own doubts, telling you that maybe that cheating partner or abusive parent or bullying boss was right:

You’re not good enough, you’re incompetent, you deserve to be treated like trash and it’s all you’ll ever find in life anyway…

This is especially bad because it internalizes the harm done to you and makes it even harder to break through to the other side of bitterness about the past.

As a result, you may begin to self-isolate. Which brings me to the next point… 

3) Self-isolation becomes an ongoing habit 

Self-isolation is different than enjoying solitude:

It’s a process of keeping oneself alone in a toxic way that inhibits growth. 

It’s basically an attempt to freeze yourself in time and hit the pause button on life. 

If you’ve been treated terribly and it went on to trigger your own inner critic, self-isolation is often the next reaction. 

You aren’t aware of holding a grudge, but you’re not living your life at this point and it’s essentially because of what was done to you. 

There’s bound to be a grudge somewhere under this self-isolation, including a grudge at yourself for not being “stronger” in the way you may think you should be.

4) Your overall stress levels are inexplicably high

A grudge often disguises itself under general stress. 

You may think you’ve moved on from the past and the way somebody hurt you, but your emotions and body hasn’t. 

You’re tense, you’re irritable and you feel like you can’t ever get truly relaxed. 

No matter how much fun you’re having, there’s this feeling that something’s just not right under the surface. 

In more cases than not, this feeling of something being wrong is the stored up tension and the grudge. 

5) You find yourself having proxy rants 

Proxy wars are when great powers use smaller countries to harm other allies of their enemies. 

Proxy rants are when somebody gets angry about a subject or issue that’s actually a subset of a person (or people) who harmed them. 

Proxy rants often occur over political, religious and social issues, but they can crop up in almost any context. 

You may find yourself getting furious about how bad restaurant service is somewhere, or work colleagues being lazy. 

If you dig under the surface to the dominant emotions of your rant, don’t be surprised to find if they go right back to the person who hurt you badly and unexpressed feelings you have towards them. 

6) Posting angrily online about similar subjects

Online posting is a close cousin to the previous posting. 

You may find yourself ranting online and picking fights with strangers without even really knowing why. 

You feel sure that you just have strong opinions, and maybe you do, but again if you dig down under the surface you’re likely to also find specific wounding. 

You’re using the digital space to hit back at proxies or ideological representatives of the person who hurt you. 

It can be as simple as telling somebody they look bad on Instagram with a sarcastic comment, all the way up to an extended argument on Twitter. 

The roots are often an unexpressed grudge. 

7) Hearing about their success sickens you 

Another sign of a grudge that is lurking just below the surface is feeling sick to hear about success of this person. 

I had this in the past with people who had mistreated me, as well as schadenfreude at hearing about hardship in their lives (the opposite symptom). 

It all points to a grudge, and it all makes you weaker, pettier and connected to a limiting dependency on what happens in the lives of others. 

On a related note:

8) The desire to ‘one-up’ this person consumes you

Focusing on what’s going on in somebody else’s life and hating to see their wins also leads to toxic competitiveness. 

You feel the constant need to “one up” this person or prove that you’re better than them

You also want others to see this and applaud you for it. 

You want to rub it in this person’s face.

That’s the grudge talking, trust me.

9) You choose beliefs and lifestyles in opposition to them

Many times a grudge is disguised in life choices. 

Instead of pursuing your purpose or what you really want to do, you make choices in your career and life that are reactive. 

The basic emotion is “that’ll show them!”

The classic example is a young man joining the military to show his strict and abusive dad that he’s tougher than his dad realized. 

But there are many other examples: 

The preacher’s daughter taking up with the worst guy in town to show her dad she can’t be controlled…

The son of the CEO becoming a Rastafarian nomad to give the finger to his dad’s corporate ways. 

10) You cut off ties to people close to the one who wronged you 

This is a classic sign of a grudge being held, often without your full knowledge. 

You cut off those close to the person who wronged you. 

You justify it to yourself as no big deal or these people being tainted by association. 

It’s not a grudge, it’s just you being sick of being reminded about this person and what they did to you. 

You’re hurt yes, but you tell yourself there’s no real grudge there. 

But there usually is. 

This action usually has a grudge at heart and is part of a desire to punish the person who hurt you. 

You want to punish them by excluding and rejecting anybody close to them, even their family members or casual acquaintances. 

Doing what’s best for you 

There’s a lot of truth in the statement “forgive, but don’t forget.”

I’m personally not a believer in forgiving everything, but I do know that the desire for payback or holding grudges usually ends up hurting us much more than anybody who hurt us. 

Letting go of a grudge is about doing what’s best for you and clearing the air so you can move on to the best of your ability.


Winning is the best form of revenge. 

And you can only win if you focus your time, energy and intention on something other than those who mistreated, betrayed or harmed you. 

How to let go of a grudge

The best way to let go of a grudge is to realize that the way somebody mistreated or wronged you is about their deficiency and poor character, not about yours. 

It could be a partner who cheated on you, an old friend who cut you off for no apparent reason and made you feel abandoned, an employer that underpaid you and then let you go without notice. 

It’s also to realize that if you really want to come out on top and win here, letting go of the grudge shows your power not your weakness. 

With all this in mind, try the “shout at the devil” exercise which Lachlan Brown talks about in his book “Hidden Secrets of Buddhism.”

This basically involves writing all your grudges on slips of paper and putting them inside a pinata and then smashing it to bits in a remote area while listening to loud music. 

The point is to vent and let it all out. Clear the air and get ready to move on. Holding grudges is only holding you back from embracing your full power. 

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