There is one person in my life whose face I couldn’t shake off my mind for many years. I first encountered Mr. G in an ad agency that was at that time newly established. I was one of the first to join it, and even had a minor share. Then a short time later, he was recruited to head the agency. Before that he used to be a formidable hot shot in a top multinational agency with international companies as clients. Then suddenly he stepped down from that agency. Rumors had it that he had been eased out by a more formidable rival, another rising star. He retired with a hefty separation package, but eventually he put up his own shop, which did not last long.
I was ready to look up to him and learn from his extensive experience. But alas, we didn’t hit it off from the very start. I don’t know what I did to rub him the wrong way but he gave me that disdainful look and constantly singled me out during meetings, belittling my talent at every chance, scoffing at any idea I would present during internal creative sessions. Yet my fellow creatives laughed at his ideas behind his back.
I was the only one treated that way by him. I suspected that he looked down on me because I came from a medium agency with limited experience. Did I make him uncomfortable? Or maybe I was an obnoxious reminder of someone in his past.
Then in one creative session preparatory to a big pitch, I couldn’t take his disparaging attitude anymore and left the meeting abruptly, packed my stuff and never came back. I left that agency with a heart heavy with rancorous feelings, but it helped me breathe freely again.
Four years ago, I learned that Mr. G. had passed away. Upon hearing his name, a flood of painful feelings came surging again. But it quickly subsided because by that time, I was enjoying a boom in my career as a writer and I had already forgotten all about him.
Is there a person you too can’t shake off your mind, for whatever reason? A lingering hatred towards somebody, perhaps? Are you holding a grudge against someone, which has been smoldering within you for the longest time? Is there a friend or relative who has borrowed money and promised to pay it back soon but has apparently forgotten about it while you can’t?
Who hasn’t been hurt by the actions or words of another person? The wound can leave lasting feelings of resentment, bitterness and anger—sometimes even hatred building or eating away at you. One Japanese master of the art of brokenness says it’s OK, learn to respect that wound, no need to rush-force the healing.
Imagine yourself being a landlord giving room to a tenant and not benefiting from it? This tenant occupies a lot of space, which could be used for someone or something else more beneficial for you. Yet, you’re not doing anything to make the said occupant move out.
Remember the maniac who was exorcised by Jesus in Mark’s gospel? When Jesus asked for the name of the entity possessing the man, the answer was: “My name is legion.” It turned out it was not just one, but a multitude of demons.
In many cases, our minds are occupied by a legion of “demons.” We have an unwritten list of people we dislike, hate, envy, jealous of, and obsessed with. We can’t seem to get them off our mind.
These people are all “living rent-free in your mind,” which is one of the new slangs I picked up from social media postings. Advice columnist Ann Landers coined the original phrase “lives in my head rent-free.” It was used primarily to refer to negative feelings toward another person.
For example, my wife continues to bring up negative experiences from the past, and summons up the same intensity of outrage no matter how many times she has told me already about them. I could probably say, “They’re living rent-free in your head.”
On average, adults hold onto a grudge for five years—but some far longer, 11 years or more. Around a third admit their mental health has suffered as a direct result of ongoing feuds, and they regret holding grudges for a long time.
The thing is harboring resentful feelings against someone does not take place out in the open. It is a deep-seated emotion and hidden away. Many would not even admit they are holding a grudge, which makes it more difficult to overcome it.
Holding onto a grudge can significantly affect your mental and physical health. As Nelson Mandela said: “Having a grievance or resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill the enemy.”
Or to paraphrase an Irish proverb: “While you secretly harbor grudges, you’re carrying the burden while the other person is out dancing.” Worse, that grudge or resentment has a tight grip on you. You are in effect under its control, at the losing end.
Try to see it from another perspective. What if you’re the one living rent-free in someone else’s mind? Have you considered the possibility that someone might be harboring feelings of hate or resentment against you for a long time and never told you about it?
Yes, you’ve been hurt. But you also must have hurt somebody in the past. Realizing this, why not work on being more understanding? It can help loosen the hateful feelings’ grip on you and gradually free you from the control of the person who deeply wounded you.
Keep in mind what one of my favorite writers, E. H. White, said: “One of the most time-consuming things is to have an enemy.” Or an object of your hate and resentment.
Time to transform the negative meaning of living rent-free to a positive one. Like an astute landlord, make productive use of every inch of space in your property to make you richer in old age. Invite new occupants such as good memories, good people and new learnings and the blessings you now enjoy. Let them squeeze out and push away memories of toxic and obnoxious memories of people you’ve hated or disliked all these years.
There will always be people who will hate and resent us. Don’t give them space in your mind. Instead, remember the prayer of the late Cesar Chavez, religious and spiritual figure and community organizer: “Help us love even those who hate us, so we can change the world.”