Finding Our Way

Dr. Larry Cohen  (856) 352-5428

No More Resentments, Create Boundaries, and Always Forgive

Tragically, unhappy people sometimes choose to hatefully attack others. When I am on the receiving end of such an attack, I am overcome by feelings of powerlessness. I often believe that nothing I can do (or say) will stop the unhappy, angry offender from attacking me. At first glance, it appears that some, often our loved ones, say mean and hurtful things to those around them without obvious motive. I think to myself, "They are just MEAN! They are true HATERS!" All too often, indignation, hurt pride, and feelings of powerlessness make us falsely believe that we are destined to be victimized and hurt repeatedly. And unfortunately, some people don’t just say mean things – they do mean things! I often mistake the MEAN ACTIONS of others as a personal affront and a sign of hateful disrespect. This meanie is someone to hate, and I WON’T STAND FOR IT ANYMORE! So why do I?

THE ROLE OF RESENTMENT – A SELF-INFLICTING WOUND.

During a certain part of each day I find myself unhappily experiencing resentment. I resent how others treat me, or I resent the disrespect others show me. I find myself swallowing my resentments whole, trapping the negative energy in my body, where it slowly eats away my soul. If this is true, why do I choose to harbor the hatred and intolerance of other people. This is illogical, as the hatred and mean-spirited nature of others are not my own. Harboring resentments, at the very least, wastes valuable life energy. Just how much of myself am I giving away to keep my resentments alive? How much happiness am I denying myself by being angry and resentful toward those who have “wronged me”? I find myself lingering in “victimhood” - doing nothing to change things, and silently hoping the nastiness will pass and never come again.

A human truth is that many of us live in pain, and most of us do not know what causes the pain. Are we in pain when we feel good about ourselves, or are we in pain when we aren’t experiencing an adequate and appropriate sense of self-worth? We’ve all heard that nasty people just don’t like themselves, and take it out on others. When we look at the evidence, it becomes clear that nasty people choose offending behaviors (by treating others badly through word and/or deed), because they lack a healthy sense of self-worth. They prey on those who also struggle with appropriate feelings of self-worth because they feel POWERFUL when they act abusive towards someone else.  That is, even though I feel bad about myself and who I am, if I make you feel bad about who you are, I win.

WHY BOUNDARIES ARE ESSENTIAL TO PERSONAL HAPPINESS

Individuals with a healthy sense of self-worth protect themselves from abuse by setting appropriate boundaries. They stand up for themselves, or don’t bother with lesser-attackers. Having an appropriate level of self-worth inherently protects individuals from verbal abusive. Those with healthy self-esteem know they have inner worth. They believe, at a core level, that they are valuable people. They understand that they make mistakes just like everyone else. Unlike individuals with feelings of low self-worth, they accept their mistakes, and view mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow. "I am not a bad person because I make mistakes. I just make mistakes."

Here’s the great news! Setting functional boundaries can be taught and learned. One doesn’t have to feel great about oneself to learn how to set boundaries. Boundaries are an incredible thing. Setting boundaries allows you to put an end to feeling victimized. Boundary setting is empowering. The act of setting a boundary is an act of self-protection – and acts of self-protection lead to increased feelings of self-worth. By protecting yourself, you have acted kindly toward yourself, and TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF inherently leads to increased feelings of self-worth. You begin to realize that you are worthy of protection from abuse, which can only mean one thing: YOU ARE A PERSON OF VALUE. We don’t protect things that have no value.

Successfully learning to set internal boundaries emphasizes the necessity of setting external boundaries. External boundaries focus on how to protect your physical self, including how close someone may stand next to you, and how you define and protect your sexual boundaries.

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Learning to set appropriate boundaries takes practice, and is not without its challenges. For example, setting appropriate boundaries does not mean that you should wall yourself off from the world. Boundaries need to be flexible and malleable. Walls are not flexible; walls may keep you safe from being hurt by others, but they will keep you isolated and alone. To practice setting your internal boundary, you will work on protecting yourself against the abusive words of others. A good way to visualize setting appropriate internal boundaries is to imagine yourself enclosed in a protective bubble. At the front of the bubble is a protective door. The door can only be opened from the inside, and not from the outside. You are protected from abuse, but you can decide to open the door to let in useful ideas, caring words, and love for another person. As this door cannot be opened on the outside, others cannot permeate your boundary without your permission. No longer a victim, you now have control over how you manage your life experiences, be they abusive or not. When abusive words come your way, train yourself to listen but not digest them. Let abusive words slide right off, and watch them as they fall to the floor, discarded.

Creating and using good boundaries empowers you to make your own decision about how the world will affect and interact with you. You can make a conscious choice NOT to open the door and let in harmful, abusive language and behavior. By practicing self-protective boundaries, you are now truly empowered and in charge of what you take in, and of what you reject and discard.

HOW CHILDHOOD TRAUMA & VERBAL ABUSE PREVENT HEALTHY LEVELS OF SELF-WORTH

Your mother says, “You are such a stupid child! Don’t you see how easy it is to do this?” Whether you’re a child or an adult, this mother’s comments were clearly abusive. We all understand that it takes varied amounts of time for individuals to master a task. We also know that children are not fully developed, either mentally or physically, and they may encounter challenges completing tasks that an adult would not. By calling you stupid, your mother is IN FACT calling you stupid. This mother’s opinion, that “I am stupid” is internalized by the child, taken as truth, and leads to low feelings of self-worth. Calling a child STUPID, just once, can scar a child for life. If the mother's verbal abuse continues over time, the child is likely to, at their core, believe it to be true. I AM STUPID. Sadly, the mother verbally abuses her own child – the person the child must trust fully, and rely on to simply stay alive. To children, parents are GODS – children rely on their parents for absolutely everything. This is an abuse of power in it's saddest form. Of course the child believes everything that Mom says.

These experiences lay the foundation for the child’s – and later the adult’s – struggle to find feelings of true self-worth. Pia Mellody (1989) writes that anything a parent says or does that is ‘less than nurturing’ toward a child is abusive. For many of us, Mellody’s definition of abuse may turn our so-called wonderful childhood upside down.

LET FOREGIVENESS SHOW YOU THE WAY

Forgiveness is essential in our lives and in our relationships. We must forgive ourselves, and those around us, for being human. However grievous the mistake, forgiveness is the only option. We will strive to do better, to be better, and to treat others better - with loving kindness and respect. The other option, RESENTMENT, is as destructive as it is painful. A great therapist once told me, “Larry, holding a resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Resentments eat at you, create anger and unhappiness, and waste your precious time on this earth. Resentments are ugly, bitter, and destrructive. There is too much hatred in our world today. We must commit to lessen it.

To find happiness, we must open our eyes and see the TRUTH. Too much pride leads to anger, and wounded pride can insidiously transform us into bitter, unhappy people. Pray to let go of the anger you feel for others, and never forget that the hurtful, hateful people who abuse you and those around you are living in their own special hell. Have compassion for those who hurt you. Continuing resentments and fear drive abusive behavior. Only freedom from resentment stops abusive behaviors. Forgive yourself, forgive others, and learn from those who choose neither.

Larry Cohen