- All of us are “wronged” every day and often multiple times. The wrongs may be real or perceived.
- Your choice centers around how you want to process them.
- Do you hold on to it them or let go and move on?
- You always have this choice. One problem is that the more legitimate your anger, the harder it is to let it go.
- Recognizing the nature of a “grievance story” is the first step.
I have held three and five-day workshops at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY with Dr. Fred Luskin, a Stanford psychologist and author of Forgive for Good,1 my wife, Babs Yohai, a professional tap dancer, and my stepdaughter, Jasmine, who is an expressive arts practitioner. The tightly-structured seminar is based on awareness, hope, forgiveness, and play. Most people experienced major shifts in their pain and mood during the week and continue to improve following their attendance.
There were three ground rules: 1) you could not complain about your pain or let the other participants know where you were hurting 2) medical care could not be discussed 3) no complaining – period. Most participants were initially thrown off by not being able to discuss their pain, but quickly realized how important it was in contributing to his or her healing. What I had not realized prior to conducting these workshops is how much people complain – not only about their pain, but also about life in general. How can you enjoy your life when you are continually upset?
Your Grievance Story
One of the first concepts that Dr. Luskin presents in his book, Forgive for Good,1 is that if you tell the same story of woe more than three times to others where you are the victim, you have a “grievance story.” He points out that this person or situation is “renting too much space in your mind.”
Directing your attention
Your nervous system will rewire and mature in whatever direction you place your attention. How much time do you spend thinking (obsessing) about your pain? How aware are you of other’s needs? What percent of your conversations are spent discussing some aspect of your suffering? Do you really enjoy discussing your pain? Don’t you become tired of it? Are you driving friends and family away?
BTW, talking to your dog or cat is OK. It is a variation of expressive writing, and they listen.
Recognizing your grievance stories
Grievance stories are common and every day, life does not go exactly as you planned. It becomes easy to look at “patterns” and feel that this person always does this to you, or your employment situation is adverse. The home is also a great source of grievance stories. Dr. Luskin defines a grievance story as being you telling the same story of being wronged to three different people. It is a simple yet sobering definition because we are upset, it feels good to vent and feel supported. Maybe once is fine, but how long do you want to remain a victim of circumstances? The only person who will continue to suffer is you. If you apply this simple concept to your life and conversations, you might be shocked at how many of these stories you have and how often you share them.
Bringing grievances home
People commonly bring their complaints about work or the day home. They somehow feel it is important to share and “download” the problems. Even if you are not upset at your family member or others in the house, it brings in an unpleasant energy and upsets your home. Home is a place to rest and regenerate and complaining about the day doesn’t create peace. Through the mirror neurons effect of the brain, you’ll directly fire up similar areas in other peoples’ brains. We all know that just being around someone who is frustrated is not great.
Frequently, the scenarios at work or with your disability situation are not solvable, the grievances may be legitimate (they usually are), and you’ll continue to remain upset and disrupt your family. All parties eventually get worn down. Whatever your issue is, you own it. It is not others’ responsibility to solve it or even make you feel better. So, what is the end point? It is you. You have a choice of how you relate to your troubles. You don’t have be happy about what is happening, but it is important to stop complaining. Recognizing your grievance stories is the first step. They are not only “renting too much space” in your mind, but they have also moved into your house.
One of the most dramatic turnarounds I have witnessed was a patient who came to me to treat her scoliosis. Her curve was about 60 degrees and she was suffering from chronic back pain. There is little evidence linking scoliosis to chronic pain. Since her spine was still balanced, I was not inclined to consider a surgical procedure. It would have involved at least 8 hours of surgery with a complication rate of over 50%. She had been wheelchair-bound for about 10 years and was taking a lot of narcotics. I told her that I would consider surgery only if she engaged in the rehab process as outlined in my book. I asked one of my colleagues to help out with her healing process. Within a couple of months, we realized that she was not taking any responsibility for her condition and was unwilling to put forth any significant effort. We decided to discharge her from our care, as we clearly were not being helpful.
About a year later, she re-appeared on my schedule. I have to confess – I was dreading walking into the room, since I had already given her so many admonitions to engage. I opened the door and she was standing there without any support, was off all of her narcotics, and did not have any pain. She was working out in the gym and getting back to re-engaging with her friends. I was stunned.
Of course, I was more than a little curious about what had happened. She admitted that she had been sitting in her house for years, obsessing about everything that had gone wrong in her life. Essentially, all of her conversations were focused on her problems that were created by her pain. She had been in a couple of car accidents and had gone through a bitter divorce. She resonated with the forgiveness section of the DOC project, and quit talking about her miseries. She decided to let go and move on. Within six weeks the pain began to abate, and by four months it was gone. And even though I saw her at a later date in the hospital (she had a fall), Georgia was still living the life she had always wanted to live and radiated energy and joy.
Recap – Stop it
Stop discussing your pain, medical care, or even any of your troubles with the world – NOW. There are no shortcuts. You are not going to move forward while hanging on to your grievances. Every day is an opportunity to begin anew. Behavioral patterns are so deep that changing your conversation to enjoyable topics may be difficult. It will initially be challenging, but you will be surprised at the effectiveness of this simple strategy. Can’t do it? Really? It’s time to ask yourself – how badly do you want to heal? It is surprising at the number of people who unconsciously hold onto the power of their suffering.
Questions and considerations
- Make a list of stories of woe that you often share with others and then focus on three that seem the most important. Then just stop talking about them. Eventually you’ll be less inclined to discuss them.
- A major aspect of healing is nurturing joy. Consider how often you are doing this compared to the amount of time spent complaining.
- Ask people who are close to you about how much time you spend sharing your problems and how they feel about it. What are some of the themes? You may not like the answers, but you’ll understand the importance of changing your patterns.
- Consider how you feel when one of your close friends or family is constantly complaining? How do you think you appear to others when you are in this mode.
- Are you being the person you would like to hang out with?
- Luskin, Fred. Forgive for Good. Harper Collins, New York, NY, 2002.