Wednesday, August 02, 2006

To Grudge or Not to Grudge?

Dear Wanda,

I am curious as to your opinion on holding a grudge? This question doesn't come with any situation, just life in general. Do you believe in forgive and forget, forgive but never forget, or let it eat you alive?

Curious Kitty

Dear Kitty,

In response to your question, "D) None of the above," comes the closest.

Grudges* have a different definition to me than they do to most people. I define a grudge as a trauma that offends our basic values in such a way that we go into the freeze response. The offending trauma gets anchored to the freeze in such a way that whenever anything remotely looking, smelling, feeling, sounding, or tasting like the original trauma occurs, we freeze again and are unable to speak up for ourselves or get what we want and need.

You know how when there is a trauma or shock people go into fight or flight? Well, there is a third response: Freeze. Just watch a kid who has his hand in a cookie jar when he hears a noise behind him that might be Mom walking in to catch him. What is his first response? Freeze. Remember "Bambi in headlights"? What did Bambi do? Freeze. So the freeze response is a common reaction to trauma, shock, or fright.

In some situations, we experience trauma and the offending party also violates a basic value. For example, little girls love their daddies and want to be loved by them. Peggy gets a new dress and models it for her father, wanting him to tell her how nice she looks. Instead, he tells her that she looks like the dress was made by Omar the Tent Maker. Peggy is taken aback. What does she do? She freezes in that first instant. She holds her breath, her eyes get big, she flushes in embarrassment, her eyes tear up, and she turns to run to her room. (Of course, her father's behavior was abominable--but that's not the focus of this discussion.) Peggy's freeze response gets anchored to her father's offending remarks and she doesn't get what she wants from him; instead, she runs from the room as he laughs at his oh-so-clever comment. He's her father. She is stuck living with him. She may feel that any other response is unsafe.

Years later, Peggy goes on a date with Bobby. She dresses up to look her best for him because she really does want to impress him and wants him to like her and think she is pretty. He picks her up for the date. All is going well, until they arrive at the party where Bobby is interacting with a bunch of his macho friends and makes a disparaging remark about Peggy's appearance in order to show off for his friends. (Yes, of course Bobby is a pig and that isn't the focus of this discussion either.) Once again, Peggy freezes. She gets embarrassed. She might even tear up or leave the room, but she doesn't say anything to Bobby. She can't. Her freeze response in reaction to the first incident with her father locked in the grudge. Now she is stuck at the party with this pig and his friends who think it is funny to pick on her. Who knows...she might even end up marrying Bobby. (God forbid!)

However, there is hope for Peggy and there is a way to get rid of a grudge once it has taken hold. There is also a way to keep from having a grudge take hold in the first place. Speak up for yourself. When Peggy's father insulted her, if she had said, "That wasn't nice, Daddy. You hurt my feelings" or "I don't like what you said," she would not necessarily have locked in the grudge because she didn't get stuck in the freeze response. Years later when Bobby turned into a jerk, she would be able to say, " Take me home. I won't put up with your rudeness" or some other statement that would be clear that he crossed the line and had permanently blown it with her.
Grudges can take place in all kinds of situations. That is why a few days ago I suggested to Martha Graham that she and her troupe talk to the member who was backing out on the order not to lock in a grudge and carry it forward, making her life miserable. The one who backed out offended all the other members of the troupe by not keeping her commitment. Commitment is a value that the whole group held. How else can groups operate to get anything done unless everyone is committed? (Value = A principle, standard, or quality considered worthwhile or desirable. [See] )

So instead of freezing, holding your breath, or contracting, take a step forward, exhale, and speak up for yourself. Even if all you can say is, "This is not right," that is enough.

Forgiveness and forgetting (or not) are different issues all together. We can talk about those sometime if you want. And nothing is worth letting it eat you alive...nothing.

So remember--don't wait to exhale...whatever you do.

*Thanks to Dr. Helen Tuggy and Dr. Judith Swack for this concept.

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