Releasing the Cold Comfort of a Grudge

One of the traits I’ve worked hardest to release in my life is the tendency to harbor a grudge. Listening to my clients’ stories of wrongs done by childhood friends, mistreatment by bosses, and ancient family wounds that have never been healed, I learned that forgiveness doesn’t come easy to many people. Grudges, in fact, are often one of the first signals I receive from a client that there is psychological territory to be covered. Sticky and smelly, a grudge continues to mark the place of an earlier injury to ensure that it is not forgotten. The cost of resentment Lately, I’ve found myself looking at grudges in a different way for several reasons. Dr. Judith Orloff, author of “Positive Energy”, talks about all of the ways that we “pour out our stores of energy.” Her point is that our personal vitality has to be consciously managed or renewed and that anything that saps us of that is ultimately harmful. With less energy to squander now than I had earlier in my life, I find I am no longer willing take the time and energy a grudge seems to require for its maintenance. “Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Malachy McCourt I was once privileged to work with a torture survivor who, at the age of 21 was imprisoned and tortured for the crime of marrying a man who was the political enemy of the government in charge. Repeatedly raped by some of the prison guards, she lost the baby she was carrying. The day before her slated execution, she escaped, aided...

Love yourself anyway

The Paradoxical Commandments Kent Keith wrote his paradoxical commandments in 1968 for a group of student leaders. It speaks to the decision that we can make every day to love people despite what they might or might not do. If you’ve never seen the original version, you can check it out here. Mother Theresa’s version of the Paradoxical Commandments, found posted on the wall of her room, is a powerful statement of the intentions that guided her life.   Yesterday, a friend and I were talking about the difference our spiritual and personal intentions and the actions we sometimes take. Gail shared the frustration she was feeling about a personal situation.   She had worked hard, really hard, to let a relationship go but still was not at peace with the outcome. Gail saw her struggle as lack of spiritual progress and–as I often do–was beating herself up it.   As I listened to her, I was struck with a thought. What if maybe, just maybe, our spiritual growth was less about the amount or speed of progress we made and more about our ability to love ourselves unconditionally—wherever we are on the path? What if the most important intention that we held on to was to love ourselves unconditionally? What if self love was the foundation of our personal and spiritual growth?   It seems to be a human paradox that we expect perfection of ourselves while lovingly accepting and forgiving others for mistakes that can far exceed our own. It was so easy to cherish Gail, even while she worked through her challenges. Why was it so hard to have compassion and love...

Moving Beyond Limitations

Most of us carry old stories from our childhood. As small beings on this planet, we watched our families and other important people in our lives for input about how we needed to act to get the love and attention we instinctively knew were critical for our survival. In the process of figuring out how to get and keep our early caregivers’ approval, we accepted information we were told—about our personality flaws, the nature of other people, or the way “the world works” as true. Three most common, self- limiting stories The late Debbie Ford suggests that information we gained in childhood solidifies into one of three core stories we come to tell about ourselves—“I’m not good enough”, “I might be abandoned or rejected”, and” I can’t trust” (people, life, God.)  Those stories, carried into adulthood, are at the basis of the limitations we set on our lives as well as at the core of the relationship and career issues we face. Think about it for a minute.  Do you hesitate to ask for what you want? That is likely the story that “I’m not good enough” to have what I want or “I’m afraid I’ll be abandoned or rejected” if I ask for anything.  Do you find yourself micromanaging or controlling others actions? That often is an “I can’t trust” story. Moving away When those self-limiting stories are triggered by an event or another individual, they typically bring strong feelings of anxiety, fear, or perhaps anger with them.  Because those feelings are so uncomfortable, we learned ways to make them go away—by stopping what we are doing and...

Five signs that you’ve crossed the line from caregiver to caretaker

Over 34 million people serve as unpaid caregivers for loved ones, helping them with the daily living and/or medical tasks they cannot navigate alone. One of the questions I frequently get from caregivers is how to cope better with the exhaustion and sense of helplessness that can come with managing the logistics of two lives—theirs and their loved one’s. When I speak with them, I’m always interested in how they’ve defined that precious boundary between themselves and the one that they are caring for. Healthy relationships require some separation of space—mentally, physically, and emotionally–but the frequent crises or watchfulness that caregiving often involves can make finding that line a bit difficult. It’s all too easy for people who care to become caretakers instead of caregivers. Consider these questions and decide if you’ve moved beyond your role of caregiver into the ultimately thankless one of caretaking. Do you think your loved should appreciate for what you are doing for him? Caretakers often believe that jumping in to help people will make those people love them more. After all, who doesn’t appreciate someone who has sacrificed for you? Many do, but hoping someone will value you more because of what you do for him or her can be a sign your sense of worth is too dependent on what others think—and that’s an bucket that can never stay full. Do you find yourself getting angry or resentful at your loved one? Frustration and irritation is common in many stressed out relationships but one early sign that you may be in a lopsided relationship can be recurring resentment. It’s is one of...

In a crisis–leverage your strengths!

Finding the center of strength within ourselves is in the long run the best contribution we can make to our fellow men. Rollo May, Man’s Search for Himself A few years ago, I began the process of interviewing senior business leaders who had experienced cancer for a book I am now writing. Generously, leaders from business, government, non-profits, and the judiciary met with me to talk about their dances with cancer and the wisdom they had learned on that journey. As I began to look back over my notes, one of the themes that emerged was the deftness with which they made use of their natural strengths as leaders. The capabilities they brought to their cancer fight were, in a large part, the competencies that had made them successful leaders—focus, discipline, delegation, communication, and other important leadership skills. It was if, in the moments following their diagnosis, they instinctively knew the assets within them that they could rely on in this crisis.  What are strengths? Marcus Buckingham, in “Go Put your Strengths to Work,” suggests that strengths have three components: talents you are born with, skills you have learned, and knowledge acquired through education, training or experience. In order to leverage your strengths in a crisis, you first have to figure out what they are. Once identified, you can begin to see how those strengths might help you in this current crisis. Here are some ways to start the process: Check your “life-skills” pantry. Our strengths don’t disappear in a crisis. The talent, skills, and abilities that have helped you be successful in your life up until now can...

Caregivers and Harleys: The Art of Letting Go

I had lunch yesterday with a woman I had met while her husband was going through an extremely rough recovery from cancer. They were a young married couple when he was diagnosed and she had been there, right by his side, throughout the rigorous protocol that ultimately saved his life. We spent lunch comparing notes about what we had both gone through and learned during the medical crises that devastated our families’ lives. We talked most about letting go—moving from patient advocate, decision-maker, head of household, and holder of hope to a time when our caregiving was no longer needed. Her husband had recovered, though with some ongoing medical issues. My son was thankfully healthy and cancer free, but my husband had not survived. Karen (not her name) and I talked about how surprisingly difficult it had been to shift from caregiver superwoman to just mom or wife. Though we admitted that we had never wanted to assume that heroine role, we both found it tough to give up the outfit. With that cape, those cool boots, and a clearly marked “S” on our chests we had discovered new strengths, resilience, and “grit” that had never been completely claimed in the past. And then there was the admiration we got, every time we jumped out of the phone booth in the service of our guys. It was hard, gut wrenching, scary work—pushing back when a treatment didn’t seem in their best interests, or sometimes just curling up next to them, trying to bring some comfort. Having people recognize both the difficulty and bravery we had to call on to...
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