Friday, July 8, 2011

Grudges and Boundaries

Do carry a grudge? Or Do you set Boundaries?

Over the past few weeks, I have had several deep discussions with my daughters in various topics- social issues, relationship issues, finances, personal accountability, personality and identity. You name it, we have talked about it. (Many of the topics may spur their own posts!)

One was particularly poignant. Understanding the difference between grudges and boundaries.

It doesn't really matter what spawned the conversation, but the content brought me to a parenting moment and an obligation - a passing on of a lesson that took me a long time to learn in my own life: understanding what it means to hold a grudge and what it is to set a boundary.


A grudge is much like the heavy door that you see in the photo above. It is a barrier that only has two options, access or being locked out. It is a barrier that locks in our own anger, pain and hurt, while at the same time locking out relationship with the other person and the opportunity for us to reclaim our freedom from whatever it was that hurt us. Conversely, ignoring the issue that causes us pain is like the door being swung wide open, leaving the treasures of our selves vulnerable to raid.


Boundaries are different. Boundaries are like a picket fence. It is a clear defining line of an area that needs permission to be entered into by another yet it still allows for a clear view of the parties on either side of the fence. A boundary allows the freedom and breathing room to recover from and feel safe from those things that may have hurt us. It gives us room to move and find our footing while at the same time, making it clear what can or cannot happen within our space.

Understanding the Difference

When we are young, we don't always have the maturity and life experience to understand the difference between them. We think that we either have to close and lock the vault door or keep it wide open. As a result, we may either shut out another or continue to get hurt. As we age, we start to know ourselves more, become more confident, and see more interactions and examples of how people interact. We understand that there can be a healthy alternative to holding a grudge.

We replace the heavy door with a picket fence.

The picket fence tells others that they are welcomed, but there are things that are allowed within the fence-line and things that are not. The fence creates a healthy boundary for interaction that benefits both parties. It lets the person setting the boundary feel safe in interaction and self disclosure. It sets the clear ground rules for interaction for the other person, eliminating uncertainty and anxiety in interaction, allowing the relationship to move forward.

Easy to Hold and Weighs Us Down VS. Courage and Work to Set, but Frees Us
Holding a grudge is easy. It in essence allows us to not truly deal with an issue. But in the long run, we carry the anger, anxiety and fear of recurrence with us. It weighs us down. We stay fixated on the barrier that the grudge puts between us and the other. Even though we think it is a way to keep from being hurt, the energy we expend holding onto it eventually takes its toll.

Setting a boundary is not as easy in the short term. It takes courage and work to set. It is not always comfortable. As we move through life, some of our boundary setting is subtle, and some of it must be bold. That's ok. That is healthy. There will be times when a look is enough to say "You crossed the line with me." There are times when we actually have to verbally express what our boundaries are. That may require mustering up the courage to confront the issue and the person, but it frees from the fear of recurrence as it empowers us to hold our ground and feel safe.

I hope she took away some understanding of the difference. I also hope she understands that it is OK and a very healthy thing to set boundaries, even with those that you love. It took me many years of adulthood before I understood the difference between the two. Once I did, I found myself feeling a lot less hurt by others, a lot more empowered to control my own happiness, and much more confident in who I am.

What do you do? Do you hold grudges or do you set boundaries?


  1. Thank you Mom, I've taken a lot from, not only this conversation, but every other one I've had with you. I'm working to break down those grudges and replace them with boundaries, something I wouldn't be able to do with out you.

  2. Girl on a Mission: :) Love you baby! I am hear for you any time!

  3. You put it so well: Holding a grudge allows us to not truly deal with an issue. That's why we do it - because we don't want to face our pain, our guilt, our fear of rejection ... there's always something. And, as you pointed out, healthy boundaries enhance our relationships. When you set healthy boundaries with kindness and compassion, then good relationships get better. The other gets to know you better, and the two of you can find a better way to relate to each other. And bad relationships become obvious ... which, although painful, is a good thing in the end.

    In answer to your question, I like to think that I set boundaries rather than holding grudges. But if I felt hurt enough, I suspect I would hold a grudge. At least for a little while.


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