Mental & Emotional Health

Holding on to Old Grievances

Most of us have narratives of our life stories that include some pivotal event. It could be meeting the love of your life or a special teacher who changed your life for the better. Sometimes the pivotal event is a tragedy such as sexual or physical abuse, or an accident or death in the family. For example, Ohio Governor John Kasich’s narrative revolves around the death of his parents in an auto accident in 1987. However, some people’s narratives involve old grievances that are not tragic, but the people have been carrying the old gripes around for years. Something that was done to them that was unfair, or even cruel, changed their life and that explains to them why they are unhappy and never got what they wanted. They may be right that someone did do something that caused pain and grief. But old grievances fester and prevent personal growth and development.

Bob has been harboring a grievance against his mother and sister for ten years. His widowed mother gave his sister a down payment for her house and did not give an equivalent amount of money to Bob. He feels self-righteously angry and there is a feeling of satisfaction in having been victimized and deprived. Why would someone want to hold on to that painful feeling? What makes it so difficult for Bob to get over this grievance?

Sometimes when someone holds on to an old grievance, there are older grievances for which there has been no recognition or apology. People often transfer early experiences on to later ones like a format. Bob, for example, has been angry at his parents and his sister for most of his life. As painful as it is, Bob holds on to the anger about the down payment because he feels it validates his earlier feeling of having been treated unfairly as a little boy.

When Bob was five years old, his elderly grandmother came to live with the family in their three bedroom home. His parents could have moved Bob into his sister’s room (she was seven) and given his room to his grandmother; or they could have chosen to have his grandmother share his sister’s room since she was the same sex. Instead, his parents moved his grandmother into Bob’s room. From ages five to ten, he shared a room with his grandmother, while his sister had her own room.

For Bob, having to share his room with his grandmother indicated that his parents loved his sister more than they loved him. Hence, when Bob’s mother gave his sister money for a down payment and did not offer it to him, his old grievance about having to share his room with his grandmother emerged with renewed force.