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Inventory of Positive Psychology Interventions Return to Positive Exercises

Name of intervention: Whos Bugging You

Source: Zone Positive* Tag: Grudges, negative emotion

Short description: How to eliminate grudges and get on with your life

Goal of this intervention:

At any given time in your life someone close to you does something that really bugs you. This could be
something significant or it could be something trivial. Question is, how long do you hold on to the grudge
you may feel? Are you annoyed for a day or even a week? Dwelling on the incident for longer than a few
minutes serves no purpose other than to make the situation worse!

Whats Bugging You is an exercise designed to create more positivity in your life. It uses gratitude to loosen
our grip on the grudge. The goal of the exercise is not to excuse, forget or minimize the transgression, but to
see the other person in their entirety and to remember and record as many things as you can for which you
are grateful to them. By shifting your focus from grudge to gratitude, the anger diminishes and your
perspective becomes wide again. Perhaps one way this exercise works is that the gratitude "undoes" the
effects of anger, just as films that elicit positive emotions undo the effects of negative emotions.

How to conduct this intervention:

Step 1: First, choose a person in your life that you know well and have a grudge against. On a piece of blank
paper, draw a frown in the center of the page and record a few words that capture the essence of your

Step 2: Fill the rest of the page with smiles - at least 15 of them. The object is for you to fill each of these
circles with a word or phrase that describes something about the person for which you are grateful -
something he/she said to you, did for you, something important about the relationship, small things, big
things, current things or events from the past.

Step 3: After you have filled in each of the circles, hold the page at arms distance and notice how the grudge
gets lost in the sea of gratitude.

Step 4: reflect on how your emotions and thoughts change as you focus on the person now.

Questions to ponder:

Are you able to see the person more fully?

Do your feelings for the other person change in any way?
Does the importance and meaning of the transgression diminish?
Are you in a better position to talk with the person about the transgression (if that is still necessary)?
Are you in a better position to problem solve?
Are there positive parts of the relationship that you now remember and would like to focus on and
Do you notice any changes in how your mood is and how you feel about yourself?

Expected outcome

One of the main functions of forgiveness is for ourselves, not for the person who trespasses against us. It
relieves our anger. For many of us, anger is an emotion we experience far too often. Small infractions
become betrayals. Betrayals become crimes. We hold onto our grudges. Anger and resentment lead to
rumination, vengeful fantasies and distortions in your perspective. It is easy to lose sight of the whole person
and to narrowly focus on the transgression. When this happens, the anger crowds out positive emotions, and
if we hold on to the grudge, it may undermine our ability to sustain the positive emotions that are necessary
for our own flourishing. Hopefully this exercise will put the situation into perspective for your client and allow
him or her to get on more important things in their life.

Things to watch out for

This may not be an easy exercise for you, especially if the event or circumstances are perceived as
egregious. Perhaps try this exercise first by identifying a more trivial grudge you are carrying around.
However, use common sense with this exercise. If the transgression is indeed significant (i.e.
spousal abuse), dont ask or expect yourself to attempt forgiveness (a different kind of process and
often best undertaken with the help of a psychologist).
This exercise may be more effective if it deals with present day events rather than history. Forgiving
your spouse for a minor transgression (i.e. showing up at the restaurant late last night) can go a long
way towards keeping harmony in the relationship.

Is there any science to support this intervention

A number of studies have been conducted over the past 20 years to understand the dimensions and impact of
forgivenessa way of letting go of grudges. Studies have looked at how the propensity to forgive develops
across the life span, the personality traits that are linked to forgiveness, the social-psychological factors that
influence forgiveness and the links of forgiveness to health and well-being. While researchers have only just
begun to conduct studies on forgiveness and physical health for example, there are encouraging aspects
related to reducing hostility through forgiveness. Hostility has negative effects on physical health and that
reducing hostility ought to reduce coronary problems. In a study by Kaplan (1992) forgiveness was an
important antidote to hostility in this efficacious intervention. Patients indicated that learning how to cultivate
the forgiving outlook was one of the keys to reducing their hostility.

Additional comments:

Do this exercise for several people that you can think of that you both care about and have grudges against.
Now in the future when you find yourself seething with anger at a new trespass, you have a new opportunity.
Wait until the anger cools a bit. Then do this exercise.


Reivich, K. Ph.D. & Shatte, A. Ph.D. (2002). The Resilience Factor. New York: Random House


Kaplan, B. H. (1992). Social health and the forgiving heart: The Type B story. Journal of Behavioral Medicine,
15, 3-14.

*Adapted from the Letting go of grudges exercise, Karen Reivich Ph.D. - University of Pennsylvania

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