“My peer at work tries to help. But whenever he gets involved in my assignment details, it makes things worse. He is caring and means well. It disturbs me to say that I wish he would stop bothering me, and just go away.”
“My brother is a devoted family-man. But his jokes are often in poor taste, and always at someone else’s expense. My relatives pretend to laugh along, knowing that that this is his innocent way of livening things up. But he grates on me so much, that I’m the first to leave. This is sad, because I look forward to visiting with everyone else.”
“When I was growing up, my grandmother looked after me. After school, it was always reassuring to see her. She was always so peppy and helpful. Ten years later, all that is left is this nursing home resident with nothing to talk about. So, when I try to talk about my life, she interrupts after a minute and starts complaining about her bunions. When I say I’m not the person to help her, she will cry about no one caring about her. I told my parents there is no point in visiting if I no longer enjoy her company, and she no longer enjoys mine. They said I’m an ingrate, and should be ashamed of myself.”
It can be confusing when we find ourselves avoiding the company of someone highly regarded. Before being honest with others, it is safer to start by being honest with ourselves.
In the above examples, underlying emotions are anger and guilt. This was also featured in the movie “I Never Sang for My Father” (1970). It examined the relationship between a middle-aged man (Gene Hackman) and his declining father (Melvyn Douglas). Decent individuals can still possess unappealing traits. And for some of us, the severity of those traits may cancel out their virtues. The father was an immigrant success story who enhanced quality of life in his community. But during his more obnoxious moments, this was easy to forget. As the son poignantly observed: “I hate him, and I hate myself for hating him.” Credit the son for being honest as well.
Neurotic guilt are unpleasant thoughts/emotions about our overall character (“My bad feelings must mean I’m a bad person.”). They can consume, or even paralyze us.
Healthy guilt can deter us from what we should avoid, while motivating us toward growth and maturity. All four are examples of this latter form of guilt. For instance, they all tried to avoid harming the source of their resentment. But resentment can only be suppressed so long. A means of safely releasing it can ease (un)healthy guilt for the one party, while preventing harsh criticism of the other.
So, after recognition, who can you trust with your inner conflict? Someone else at work? Another relative? It can be liberating to safely ask, “How do you put up with them?” More precious is when the response is one of awareness and understanding.
Now when that kind of response is not guaranteed, therapy can be of guidance. In the first example, the therapist might try to help the employee in learning to say, “No. Thank you.” without diminishing that coworker’s dignity. The therapist may also encourage this employee to elaborate on these pronounced negative emotions toward someone so seemingly “nice”.
In the second, there is a fair chance that another relative will be sympathetic. If not, the sister could examine with a therapist why she is determined to hide her true feelings from her brother. Would the family be affected by newly developed candor?
In that third, are there ways for this young adult to express gratitude toward her grandmother beyond these tense or tedious visits? Also, is the dread of these visits intensified by unease with the process of aging?
As for the film, the son’s sister was that precious confidante that helped him sustain his composure. Beyond that, I encourage you to rent the movie.
Learn more about the author of this post: Eric Lindquist, LCPC