September 7, 2012

Nursing the Grudge

My friend used that phrase a couple of weeks ago as we talked about a fellow he knew. He said something to the effect that his acquaintance was “nursing grudges that should have died years ago.”

I got a kick out of the colloquialism, “nursing grudges” but later on in the day I found myself thinking about sick friends or pets who were “nursed back to health” and it brought me around to the idea that somebody who nurses grudges is doing something specifically to keep them around. It wasn’t long before I began to wonder whether I might be hanging onto some old angers that should have “died years ago.”

My friend’s comment and my own subsequent thinking about holding grudges, versus letting transgressions die away, led me to some thinking that might be worth mentioning for others to use:

All of us, at times, perceive ourselves as the victim of someone’s negative or damaging behavior, and at times we’ve all been the perpetrator of damage or negativity to someone as well. The degree of damage I’ve done to another person is something I have a hard time assessing—mostly because I think of myself as a good person, and really don’t ever want to hurt or be unkind to anyone. It’s hard for me to imagine that anything I would do might cause any lasting harm. Hard for me to think of my small failures or tiny acts of inconsideration might be of serious hurtfulness. After all! I’m a good guy!

On the other hand, the degree of damage that someone else does to me is EASY to assess because, well, because it was done to ME! I know all the ways it was inconvenient, or discouraging, or costly, or painful, or… you get the idea. And along that same line, I don’t have the benefit of knowing all of the dozens, or even hundreds, of very good things that person has done. I only have (or, maybe, only focus on) the really bad thing that person did to ME!

If I find myself thinking about the negative experience I’ve had with the person who has “done me wrong” I can easily elaborate on it a little. I can often remember past transgressions done by the same person, and think of ALL the ways it made my life harder. Elaborating gets easier when I think of the past, and makes the current damage all the worse for being a repeat offense. It makes each one BIGGER somehow. Now, I can think of more ways that I was inconvenienced, or perhaps given cause to worry, or to dread our next meeting. All this ruminated “enhancement” of the wrongs done to me by another will likely become “fact” by the time I review it in my mind at a later date, too!

Anger, anxiety, depression and other negatives of thought and emotion have physiological repercussions as we know. Thus, nursing a grudge may keep that grudge around longer, but may be likely to shorten the lifespan of the grudge holder.

In future blogs, I’ll want to return to the tremendous importance of apologies, as well as the forgiveness of another—or even oneself—for the large and small transgressions of life. Psychologists have been exploring how apology and forgiveness benefit us, and what is likely to help it along. You might never forgive me if I didn’t tell you all about it!

April 1, 2012

Happiness–it’s all relative!

Einstein said it best when he noted, “It’s all relative.” It’s heartwarming when my new puppy finally figures out the paper training, and it’s a relief when a son or daughter pulls grades out of the cellar and into respectable B or C territory. And we’re glad when the boss provides a five percent raise. A ten percent raise sends us out for champagne! The same is true with respect to other aspects of incremental positive change, too. The doctor says to lose weight, so we make an effort for a while and take off a few pounds. The accomplishment feels good and it feels even better to have the doctor provide a little professional approval. In these situations we “feel happy.” But the question is, how long does that last?

The answer is: not very long. For most of us, and I certainly include myself in this, the great feeling of accomplishment or delight does not remain forever. In fact, when I’m honest about it, I sometimes slip into nearly instant discontent about some OTHER thing that needs improvement! That’s not all bad, however. To be delighted that the pile of dishes in the sink have now been washed and put away is good, but the joy should not remain so long that laundry collects for weeks and the grass is never mowed. That is not what is meant by lasting happiness. As humans we often hope to come to the point where we have “arrived,” and we can feel completely content with everything. It seems like that would bring great happiness, but those who study human emotion would disagree with that assessment. (more…)

Posted in: General @ 10:06 am

August 21, 2011

From Boxed-In Boys to Healthy Men

Several times a week I hear from a man, usually in mid-life, wondering why his family life looks the way it does. Often he’ll mention that his grown kids call home and ask to speak to Mom, or that “they think of me as the Checkbook, and that’s about all.”

This isn’t unusual, but it is unfortunate, certainly. It makes me want to illustrate in simple terms, how differently society is still treating boys and girls—something we may believe has changed dramatically over the decades, but hasn’t evolved all that much—leading to the situation that brings men (and women) to consult with me. (more…)

Posted in: General @ 6:36 pm

April 18, 2011

Command Performances

I’m fortunate to have so many friends and relatives to use as examples of bad behavior in my blogs, but of course my favorite example is my wife, I wouldn’t say that behind her back, or if she didn’t already know it. And I also wouldn’t say it if my wife couldn’t cite just as many examples of my own bad behavior as soon as she reads this blog!

Kidding aside, each of us is pretty good at spotting the bad behavior perpetrated by the other—as is true in most marriages and other experiences in life—and when it comes right down to it, that bad behavior can often be summed up by the word “demanding-ness”. In terms of her demands, it’s not as if my wife must have diamonds or other luxuries, and my demands on her are not anything you’d call a superhuman feat, either. And yet, we want what we want, when we want it. (more…)

January 31, 2011

Half Full or Half Empty?

Most of us know someone who seems to be perennially pessimistic about things—a spouse, co-worker or friend. And it’s also true that most of us have an acquaintance or two who is rarely discouraged by anything that comes along. To an observer it looks as if they are on two ends of a continuum, and in some ways that is accurate.

From those who do research into this kind of thing, we’ve learned that such dispositional differences are influenced profoundly by heredity, some say as much 50-80%! Whether on the positive end of the continuum or the negative end (or more likely near the middle), each of us seem to have a dispositional range where we operate. As individuals, we’ve had the experience of trying hard to appear happier and more optimistic (or maybe even more pessimistic) than we really feel, just to get through a situation or event. Or we are up or down for a period of time depending on circumstances. It changes for a little while, but over the long term, we all have a dispositional style that we generally return to. In other words, those with a half-empty perspective can work toward the middle, but they’re probably never going to see the world in the same way as those born with more rose-colored glasses. And those who are higher in optimism may drift lower, but are never going to become a Chicken Little (The sky is falling! The sky is falling!). (more…)

Dirty Lenses

I’ve worn glasses since the third grade. At this point in my life, putting them on is the first thing I do in the morning, and taking them off is the last thing I do at night. My vision is so poor that my glasses are probably the most valuable items I will ever own. Believe me, I’ve gone through enough lens cleaning cloths to blanket a football field. Or so it seems.

People who wear corrective lenses will tell you how lost they’d be without them, and yet all of us—the clear-sighted and the vision-impaired—walk around every day with the dirty lenses of our biases, childhood experience, powerful advertising influences, and a vast assortment of other impediments to clarity. (more…)

December 12, 2010

Another Look at Taking Action

“Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.” – Mark Twain

In a recent blog (July 6th, 2010), I focused my writing on “tips for taking action.” Because any lasting change requires some kind of action, I’m returning to this topic with more ideas.   “I’ve had the symptoms of depression (or anxiety, or problems in marriage, or whatever) for a long time now—I’m in a total rut and I don’t know how to get out of it.  How can I make changes when things have been going badly for so long?”

It’s true that the longer a problem has been in place, the more creative you have to be in dislodging it, but that’s only because humans are creatures of habit, and often don’t notice the potential benefits for changing.  For those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest, a good example can be seen in winter driving.  When the roads are icy, and a car gets stuck, it can become entrenched unless the driver uses a few skills to generate even small movements.  Snowbound on ice, a driver will need to get the vehicle to move forward, or backward, even inches at a time—the direction is not so important as the momentum built by simply generating movement.  Back and forth, back and forth, just a bit of motion overcomes the rut and the slippage that may occur in this kind of circumstance.  In just the same way, small movement, even in directions that seem unproductive at first, can build the momentum needed to get on track and moving in the right direction. (more…)

Being and Belonging

Some of you may know that I took some time off this summer.  I had a great time in a wonderful setting on a lake, with my wife and a group of friends.  It was a time of sharing lots of activities and really good food, as well as just having some time together when we didn’t have to do the things from our everyday lives.  I enjoyed it tremendously.

And some of you may also know that I took a trip to Austin, Texas this fall, and I went by myself.  It was the trip of a lifetime for me.  I got to see great music played by people I’d admired for years, and great music played by people I’d never heard of before!  And I enjoyed that trip tremendously.

I talk about this with patients, and even my students in classes, because the idea of being independent and doing things apart from one’s partner or spouse is sometimes looked at as a negative.  And for some, the idea of only doing things with one’s spouse or the family, or close grouping, is also thought of as a negative.  In general, boys are brought up to stand apart and assert their independence, while girls are encouraged to blend in, and associate more closely with friends and the family; what researcher Shelley Taylor calls the “tend and befriend” response. As we grow up, these values and skills are continued, and if we aren’t careful to learn how to do both, our lives are less full, perhaps less rich and rewarding.


November 9, 2010

Self-Help Books

Every so often a patient comes into my office carrying “the book” that has all the answers they need for a wonderful experience in life.  Whether it is a metaphysical book or the latest pop-psych bestseller, I listen patiently while they describe how everything is going to work out smoothly now because they know the secrets to success!

But, they come back the next week, with a different book—or they come back disappointed in the last one—because they only “knew ABOUT something” they didn’t really “know”.  This thought is not original to me, of course—not many thoughts are—but rather comes from years before I began my psychology training.  Someone made the remark to me that “knowing about something is not the same as knowing”.  The remark puzzled me—aren’t these two the same things? (more…)

Apologies: Thawing the Ice that Grips Relationships

Apologies are interesting.  There are people who offer apologies in order to smooth things out for the moment so that a conflict can be avoided—maybe even a conflict that would do their relationship some good.  There are those who offer an apology, in hopes that next time the misdeed will be forgiven without any notice or further apology.  And, I hope, there are apologies that come from those who take responsibility for poor behavior, regret their actions, and have a desire to refrain from (or limit) inconvenience or harm to another in the future.

When I look at dictionary definitions, as I often do in thinking about a topic, I notice that “apology” comes with some contradiction that seems to be borne out in the way people offer their “regrets” about things they’ve done: (more…)

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