To Grudge, or Not to Grudge, That Is the Question

Mary Ribeiro
Special Education Teacher

I could lie and say I never hold a grudge…but that would be a big, fat, juicy lie.

Or, I could be very vulnerable and say I DO hold a grudge and risk being fodder for dinner table conversation.

If you knew me well then you would know I don't much care what people think of me. Not because I think I'm better than anyone, but as a person of Christian faith, I see that I need to work hard at following a specific moral code, which is basically a pretty easy one: love one another with all my heart, with all my soul, and with all my might. Sounds easy.

It's not.

Okay, okay, okay, I'll be honest and get to the nitty gritty: yes, I hold grudges. Sometimes they're only a few seconds. Some, a few minutes-as in when a student makes a mistake on something we have spent weeks learning, and they seemed to master. In this case, I hold the grudge, waller in a it a while, then just let it go because I know my kids often need more support and it's really a matter of brain wiring, not anyone trying to drive me crazy purposefully.

Sometimes I hold a grudge for a few days, like when someone has hurt my heart by saying or doing something and my perception is that I have been wronged or that the other person has attempted to make me feel unloved. It takes me some time to process through this…is the person being spiteful because they know how I will react? Am I being codependent when I don't need to be? Yeah, that last one is probably "it."

Then there's the mother of all grudges: the kind where I have to spend hours contemplating, praying, and journaling my way through. This is the kind none of wants to own; this is the kind people often refuse to lay claim to hosting in their heads.

Um. Don't point your fingers at ME and say, "Oh, girlllllllllll…." As my grandma used to say, "There is one finger pointing to someone else, but three fingers pointing back at YOU." So, yeah, ya do experience this, too!

Even if we've worked hard to learn to process these feelings, rooted in frustrations of one kind or another, we do experience them. It's really about letting them go that matters.

We all hold grudges to varying degrees. We're humans. That's just how it is. You can call it whatever you want-you can call it a "sting," a "foul," a violation of your organizational social contract" and you must not let it go unaddressed.

In the midst of your righteous indignation, just like me, you're holding a grudge.

For me, though, this grudge-holding should be an issue of psychology. Through all the years of schooling which I have come, through all the reading of psychology books, through conversations with therapist-types and great friends who offer friend-therapy, one may be misled into thinking that my meta-cognition would render me to a higher plane of thinking and that I would not be a grudge-holder because I know better, and if we know better, we do better, right?

Usually. More often than not. Much of the time.

But for me? Not always.

As a woman of faith in a religion to which I am deeply committed, I know that holding a grudge is wrong. Yes, I should have gleaned all the from the psychology classes, but it took a higher power to convince me that I JUST NEED TO DEAL.

In the classroom, being a grudge-holder can be a super-impractical way of existing because kids are going to tick us off every day. Multiply the number of children in your class plus or minus any paraprofessionals you do or don't have, multiplied by the number of administrator expectations, subtracting the positive integers given you by the lunch ladies, and you have an algebraic formula for self-created stress. Factor in a little "they're out to get me" paranoia, and BOOM!! You'll make yourself miserable quite quickly.

But every once in a while, a little one comes along who, even for the most patient saint among us, can rattle our cages (so to speak) and make us feel like we are going to come unglued in a totally for-real, totally vulnerable-as-I-admit-this-but-know-if-my-peers-are-being-honest-they-will-own-the-feeling-too kind of way.

They can come in a variety of personalities-they can be sweet students who work hard and are loving, but they push a particular button we don't want pushed. They can be behavior issues who keep us on our toes every single day. They can be inquisitive beyond the norm asking, "Why?" 759,204,249 a day. Or they can just sit there, staring at us without responding to any of the planning, teaching, supporting, or attempts we make.

So, how do we deal with this as professionals in the classroom, especially a Special Education classroom, when we love our job, love what we do, love our students, and enjoy our peers?

As I sit here, staring our my office window at a beautiful day, thinking through the times I've allowed myself to feel "grudgy" this year, I realize one thing: it's all my own choosing. Those whom I believe have wronged me really didn't. They shared their point of view and went about things in the ways they truly believed to be right and what I've come to understand today is kind of journal-worthy: if someone really believes what they've done is right, why am I trying to think they'll change just for me? Maybe they are right and I am wrong? (I sure hope my family read that. They'll know how truly self-actualized I have become! More than likely, they'll just roll their eyes and walk away because they're much smarter than me,) Maybe I'm the one who needs to expand my horizons and figure out or, at the very least, realize there's more than one way to do something.

I kind of already feel like I thought that way…but I sometimes find that I just. Can't. Let. It. GO. I want to, but darn it all, I would rather drag this bag of rocks around with me and allow myself the pleasure of a victim? At the hands of a student? A parent? A colleague? A family member?

In her Psychology Today article posted March 4, 2015, Nancy Colier, LCSW, Rev., our pain becomes a "construction of the mind." and if we continue to feed the grudge, it can eventually deprive us of the empathy which is necessary to release it (

If "Grudges are worse enemies than pain" as Erin Forbes has postulated, then I really need think this through more thoroughly and completely, and put this mess in its place. Am I really going to allow a snarky comment, perhaps rooted in some semblance of truth, to completely ruin my hour, my day, my week, or longer? Why do I even have to THINK about that??

A long time ago, a friend challenged me to read the book The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, a Toltec Wisdom Book by Don Miguel Ruiz. When I started to read it, it seemed way out of my comfort zone, but as I pressed on, the four agreements began to make me very uncomfortable as I realized all the self-inflicted mess-making I've done.

As life seems to have its own sense of humor, I was cleaning out the leftover boxes which have sat for six months waiting to be unpacked after my move into a new home. At the bottom of the box, I noticed my copy of the book. I put it aside, but every time I walked by the book, it would somehow come flopping to the floor. Apparently the Universe wanted me to re-read it.

Flipping through the first few pages, my eyes settled on to the list of the Four Agreements and suddenly I realized why nature needed me to review the principles. BECAUSE CLEARLY, I DIDN'T GET THEIR MESSAGE THE FIRST TIME!

They are seemingly innocuous. Yeah, really they are. But just go ahead and try to apply them for ONE DAY. I DARE you!! You'll see.

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don't take anything personally.
  3. Don't make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

It's easy to say we're always doing one or the other of these four, but always is a huge word. If we were always doing something, things in our lives might look a bit different. Own it: we don't ALWAYS do anything. That means every single minute of every single day.

Am I even usually impeccable with my word? Not even on a good day can I say that I am free of my usual Foot In Mouth disorder.

Can I honestly say that even OFTEN, I don't take anything personally? Hahahahaha….that's funny!

Don't make assumptions? Wait, what? Darn it…still no.

Always do your best. Hmmm. Did I really do my best with my lesson planning last year? Maybe. Did I do my best at record keeping last year? At doing progress monitoring? At maintaining organization in my classroom…?

Okay, okay, okay…fine. Clearly I'm being reminded that this grudge thing-well, as the saying goes, "It's not you. It's me." So, do I want to break up with myself? No, but clearly there is much work to be done during the remaining days of summer…

I am one of those people who is constantly trying to eat right and be healthy by doing The Right Things. However, sometimes the deviation toward Taco Bell and the Dairy Queen calls me like the Sirens from afar and I land myself Blizzard deep into calories I don't need but which are oh-so-tasty. It feels like living by the Four Agreements is yet another effort in the world of Progress, Not Perfection. In accepting wisdom from another culture, working within its principles, my faith and my humanity will only be better.

Being the best teacher, and best person, we are intended to be is not easy. In fact, it can be downright hard some days. I'm glad I've been blessed with a long vacation in which I can decompress from the challenges I BELIEVE I experienced over the past year, both personal and professional, and because the Agreements have made their presence known once again in my life, my heart and my mind will be able to refocus on what is good, what is right and not be bothered with the noise coming from life's periphery.

Enjoy your summer vacation. Find a place of peace and quiet where you can meditate and restore your mind. Our babies need us to be the best we can be…and we need that, too.

Learn more about special education degrees.

Mary Ribeiro

Mary Ribeiro

Mary has always loved learning, but was a struggling learner who couldn’t read until one day, the right teacher came along with the right methodology, and everything clicked for Mary. Understanding the struggles of children who just “don’t get it,” Mary has spent her career supporting children with learning difficulties and finding ways to excite them about education. Over her career, Mary has taught Second Grade, Third Grade, and served as a Middle School Administrator in Michigan, most often in the urban setting. In 2015, Mary relocated to Arkansas in search of new opportunities and is excited at all that has been placed before her. She currently teaches Special Education in a self-contained setting for children in grades 2-4.
Mary Ribeiro