The internal state of grievance is highly unpleasant for most of us. It may be a legitimate resentment for some wrong done to you such as a major betrayal like that experienced by the partners of sex addicts. Or it may be an ongoing situation that is unfair and feels impossible to live with. Either way it can become a source of major stress that can hijack your life.
It is worthwhile to give some thought to unloading that kind of resentment for a few reasons:
-Being in the grip of a grievance takes up space in your brain that could be used for something worthwhile.
-Grievance is a kind of stress that feeds on itself and can get obsessive.
-Perpetual grievance means being immobilized, or at least ineffective.
-Being stuck in grievance is being stuck in a victim role which saps your sense of control.
-Grievance is draining.
What I am not saying
Let me be clear. I am not saying that one should somehow “get over it”. A resentment is a feeling that must be honored and looked into like any other feeling. There is no really effective way to just swallow it.
I am also not saying that one can go from feeling victimized directly to “forgiving” and “moving on”. Not only do I think this is most often impossible but I believe it is not even logical.
What I am saying is that recovering and forgiving and moving on happen later, after we have made sense of, accepted and grieved the harm done. We cannot will ourselves to forgive.
A grievance involves a loss
I am not here talking about the grief that arises from the loss of a loved one or any other death. Scientists have recently studied prolonged grief, complicated grief and the like as well as testing appropriate treatment modalities. I am talking about the grief and loss that underlie more common resentments.
Being stuck in a resentful, angry state is debilitating. I believe it represents a state of being “stuck” in one of the stages of grief. (You remember the stages of grief: Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.)
Working through grief to acceptance involves coming to see and accept a loss. Anything short of this process means being stuck in a stressful state.
The definition of stress is “a loss or the threat of a loss”. Unresolved, this stress is a kind of illness. This includes the PTSD symptoms experienced upon discovery of a spouse’s sexual betrayal. But even if the stress is about unfair treatment at work, being cheated by someone you trusted, or any other form of betrayal, the loss is real and the feelings are real.
Failure to fully grieve a loss means feeling endlessly resentful, ruminating on the injustices, fixating on the evil of others, and obsessing about our own victimization. Even self-blame is a form of denial. If it was actually my fault then I don’t feel so much like a helpless victim. Partners of sex addicts who blame themselves may be seeking to dodge the fact that they have been grievously harmed– not the kind of painful awareness any of us would welcome.
Awareness, Acceptance, Action
The point of this shift from resentment to grieving is to stop fighting a battle or litigating a case in our own heads and understand the reality of what has happened. I see this as beginning with awareness of what we are feeling (i.e. the pain of a harmful event). But to get to that awareness can itself be a 3-stage process. Take for example the betrayed spouse. The three steps are:
-My loved one did something bad.
-What was done was harmful (abusive, wounding, destructive, etc.)
-This event harmed ME and left me in pain.
The next step is to accept the reality of the hurt and grieve the loss resulting from the damage. This may initially take the form of anger or bargaining. But eventually it involves acceptance of the loss of the relationship as we knew it and acceptance of our own hurt.
If we are stuck at any point in the process we cannot take appropriate action and are at risk to engage in pointless reactive behaviors. This amounts to acting out our feelings instead of becoming fully aware of them.
The reality of seeing our own wound and our own pain is difficult. And while seeking support and comfort is never wrong, the process of grief is sometimes a lonely one.
Find Dr. Hatch on Facebook at Sex Addictions Counseling or Twitter @SAResource and at www.sexaddictionscounseling.com
Check out Dr. Hatch’s books:
“Living with a Sex Addict: The Basics from Crisis to Recovery” and
“Relationships in Recovery: A Guide for Sex Addicts who are Starting Over”