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Clearing the Slate for a New Year: Handling Resentments

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My client Tiffany is feeling the stress of the holiday season and she's mad at everybody. You see, Tiffany never tells anyone what she wants, yet is always angry that they don't give it to her, and I'm not just talking presents. She does this both with her family and her husband. This situation makes the holidays difficult for everyone. She lives a very comfortable life and most of her friends would kill to be in her place, so she never gets any sympathy. She basically feels like the world is treating her badly, but there is no evidence of this that anyone can see. Money has never been a problem, she has great children, and has a great social life. Yet she's filled with resentment and you can often see that bitterness in her face. She believes that justice should prevail. She's a real giver with others and thinks that others should reciprocate without her having to tell them what she wants. And they actually "should," but that's not how the world works. And she's always pissed about it. Most people don't even know this side of her because they never see it. She only takes it out on her family -- her husband, sister, and parents. She feels that they've done her wrong over the years and she can't get over it. But since they don't know what the issues are, they try to be nice to her and then when it doesn't work, they feel like they can't win and stop trying. And she believes that since they're family, it doesn't matter what she says to them, so she justifies going off on them -- especially during the holidays.

She recently had a fight with her sister because she criticized her sister's single lifestyle. She admitted to me that she's jealous of her sister's freedom and irresponsible life. We had a conference call with her sister in which Tiffany admitted her jealousy to her. Her sister asked her how this is her fault that she chose a different lifestyle from her. And I asked Tiffany, "What do you want me to do about that?" There was no way her sister could resolve an issue like that. After much conversation, they both accepted the fact that they couldn't be more different and that to get along they would have to agree to disagree -- about their lifestyles, as well as just about everything else in their lives. Tiffany finally realized that her jealous resentment is her own problem, not her sister's. She also admitted that she does treat family different than everyone else since she never would talk to her friends like that. She promised to try and remember this the next time her resentment rises up. In the meantime, Tiffany and I are talking about how to resolve her resentments from the past -- and make sure she doesn't end up creating more in the future.

First of all, Tiffany needs to think about why she's so jealous of her sister's freedom and lack of responsibility. Her sister never had children and Tiffany is at home with two young children every day. I suggested that Tiffany needs to make some changes in her own life and possibly create more freedom for herself. For instance she might try to get some babysitting help and get out more with friends.

Secondly, she needs to realize that justice does not prevail and that others can't read her mind. She also has resentments toward her husband that he doesn't spend more time with the children. He of course works full time, so when he takes them for a few hours from time to time, he thinks he has done a great thing, but gets no reward. In fact, she goes off on him that he thinks that's a big deal when she has them all the time. He feels like he can't win. I told Tiffany to tell him exactly what she wants, i.e. "I want you to take the children one night a week from the time you get home until they go to bed," or "I want you to take them every Saturday afternoon." He may argue, but at least there's a place to start to make a deal so that she can stop resenting him and feel more free in her life.

Thirdly, Tiffany needs to clean up some of the resentments from her past. And if she thinks one of her family members owes her something because of a sacrifice she made, she needs to tell them the issue and what she wants from them to get over it. For instance, she still resents that she had to move because of her husband's career, and she needs to tell him what he could do to make that up to her instead of just continuing her resentment. She could ask for 4 trips a year back to her home town or something even totally unrelated. But the best thing Tiffany can do for the future is to learn to make a deal at the time that she feels treated badly so that these resentments will stop building up and she can enjoy her life.

The holidays are a time when buttons can get pushed and the reality of how different we are from our family comes to the forefront. Issues do need to be resolved, but blurting out jabs in anger from old resentments is not the way to handle it. Promise yourself this year that you will clear up old resentments so that you can have more warmth toward your family during the coming year, and future holidays can be more like you want them.

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