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Grudges: Tough to Deal With
By: Carol Abaya, M.A.
Grudge: a feeling of deep-seated resentment or ill will
M. Michael Zal in his book "The Sandwich Generation" notes that Sandwich Generationer feelings toward parents are complicated and rarely black and white. "Some relationships improve..., others continue to be a mixture of love and hate; still others never improve or achieve a new balance;"
If the grudge is against a parent, Zal and other experts all agree that it is the Sandwich Generationer who has to take the first step toward resolution and "letting go". To many adults still live by the adage that the parent is the older one and should make the first move. They may not be able to change", Zal says. "They may just not know how."
Caregiving is extremely demanding and draining under the best of circumstances notes Bernard Starr, PhD, a psychologist and Director of Gerontology, Mary Mount Manhattan College. "If there are a number of siblings and other family members involved there should be a meeting to focus on dividing up and assigning tasks for the most efficient and practical management. Dont subordinate the task at hand to the quest for the psychological magic wand that will resolve possibly life-long issues that you have been unable to work out under less stressful circumstances. If you expect the magic wand youre more likely to discover that youve been engaging in a self deceptive trick that will backfire and make things worse to the detriment of the person needing care."
Jack Gesino, D.S.W., A Family Counselor, said, "do not expect parent to agree, understand or change. That is the biggest disillusion children have, that by confronting the issue, the parent will change. The process of admitting and dealing with your feelings about the resentment is more important than the end."
And Norman Vincent Peale in his booklet "How to Handle Tough Times" notes that many people are weighted down with resentment, self pity and ill will -- the elements inherent in holding a grudge over time. He comments: "Some peoples minds go around and around in their self pity, their fears and their hates, so they never get their problems solved..... and the mind refuses to work with the efficiency of which it is capable."
Such feelings interfere with care giving responsibilities, especially if the grudge is against the parent, the care receiver, or a sibling, to whom the primary care giver must/should seek help. Peale's advice: "We must lift up our eyes unto the high places, getting our minds off destructive attitudes toward other people. We must get our minds off ourselves, our hates, our failures, and our resentments... We must look fearlessly at all the gloom and remind ourselves that it is not permanent."
The Past Interferes with Present
Needless to say, often this is not easy.
Wendy Lustbader, MSW, a mental health counselor with the Pike Market Medical Clinic in Seattle, says that old feelings are difficult to separate from current ones. She says a person needs to identify current issues using a neutral evaluation basis.
In her book, "Taking Care of Aging Family Members," Lustbader says often grudges among siblings occur because one is viewed as the "favorite."
"In retaliation, they may try to load the majority of care tasks on the favorite. In another variation, a sibling who had always envied the love and attention going toward this favored person may take on too much of the care... Bitterness may arise if the parent fails to grant the long-awaited recognition.
"Jealousy can also arise if parent(s) choose their favorite to serve as a money manger or to be assigned power of attorney," she says.
Lustbader says that even if parents try to reassure other children (e.g. re POA), the grudge/resentment may remain.
When grudges are held against the parent who needs care, resolution is even more difficult.
Notes Lustbader in her book "Counting on Kindness," "The more hurtfully our parents treated us a children, the more crucial it is for us to try to ascertain the wounds of their upbringing. Otherwise, their weaknesses become holes into which we pointlessly pour our resentments.
"Turning the furor of our reactions into a reasonable quest for understanding is made easier when we are granted full access to our parents histories."
Gesimo notes, "children should not blame or point fingers at their parents. Children need to take responsibility for their own feelings. Children need to communicate in a way that doesnt point fingers. For instance, the children might say, "Mom, I missed out by not having a closer relationship with you." This tactic disarms people.
It is important to be courageous enough to approach parents before it is too late. it is much harder if a parent dies before you have the opportunity to address these issues, you are then left with a flood of resentments and emotion."
Starr recommends that a person "use the situation to recognize the need to deal with grudges and interpersonal conflicts and commit himself/herself to a plan for accomplishing this that will not upset the caregiving focus.
"Be thankful that you have had the opportunity to discover what is really important and to shift your energy to positive rather than negative, self-destructive behaviors."
And Lustbader advises "achieving communication, rather than resolution, may be the most productive goal... Having everyone... agree on all the details is usually impossible. Understanding and acknowledging each others point of view... smooths out differences and builds on the strengths each person brings to the situation."
Whether the grudge is with a parent or a sibling, maintaining it will interfere with parent/elder care giving.
It is not easy to "let go" of a grudge that has existed for many years.
Bernard Starr, Ph.D. is Director of Gerontology at Marymount Manhattan College. Starr has developed for The Sandwich Generation©™ a seven-step process "How to Let Go of Grudges to Focus on Caregving."