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  • Writer's pictureSonya Braverman

"You're sick of hearing about it, aren't you?" I asked my husband over dinner one night.

"Yeah. And you should be, too," he shot back at me. "We've talked about it a hundred times, toots. You need to let it go."

"Why should I let it go? She was our friend. She said she loved me. Then out of nowhere she proclaimed, 'I'm moving on.' Just like that. Friends and then, poof, she was done with us!"

"Wise up, kiddo. There's two kinds of friends in the world, givers and takers. When she no longer needed us she was gone. Whatever motivated her has nothin' to do with you or me."

"Whaddya' mean?"

"She was telling you about how she deals with relationships, and how little we meant to her. Stop chewing on it, for God's sake, and just say 'Arrivederci!'"

"But I feel bad."

"I'll bet she doesn't feel bad! Dredging up your anger and hurt again and again about something you can't change is flooding you with stress hormones and harming your physical and emotional health. And crowding out the positive and loving experiences with the friends who truly care about us. When are you going to let go of that grudge?!"

That's my husband for you. Pretty different, he and I. He doesn't hold onto negativity. "Everything's gonna be fine," "Chill," "Relax," and "Don't worry about it." To him, the glass is always full and nothing's worth agonizing over.

And I . . . a much different story, I'm afraid.

I chew on old hurts and disappointments like a dog chews on his most beloved bone. Rehashing things over and over, I try desperately to understand a situation, the people involved in it, and myself more fully.

"Forget about understanding," he chides. You can't get inside anyone else's head but your own. Let go of all the bad feelings that are polluting your system!"

"Does that mean I have to give up my oldest and most cherished grudges?"

"Yep. What does holding onto them really get you?"

I hate to admit it, but it's kinda exciting to hold a grudge. There's a certain pleasure in entertaining people with the shockingly specific antics of supposed friends or relatives. It makes for amusing conversations and stranger-than-reality stories about the unkind and shallow nature of others.

My husband says I remember every heartache or betrayal in great detail, and hold onto my grudges so long that I can't even remember what happened.

"It can't be healthy to stir up those stress hormones each time you regurgitate old memories," my husband observes. "Your nervous system is already fragile from the wear and tear of real-life. Why put unneeded stress on yourself?"

Maybe he's right. Is it time to push the eject button?

When I look at what grudges I hold close to my heart, they're often about people who had their opinions and passed judgment without knowing what they were talking about. Or bitter dissolutions of relationships and offhand, yet cutting, remarks from people who thought their words were amusing or harmless.

What are grudges anyway, but petty tchotchkeswe store in our emotional pockets. For some people, they're like little pets, lovingly tended to, and kept alive for no reason other than to say,

"I haven't forgotten how much you hurt me."

A Stanford University study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, found that holding onto grudges increased stress and adversely affected physical health, particularly the immune and cardiovascular systems. Carrying grudges into old age is associated with higher levels of inflammation and decreases the body's ability to fight off acute and chronic diseases, including cancer.

So how does that process work?

Well, something happens and you can't deal with it. Rather than dismiss it, you let it gnaw at you over and over. The result is a constant wearing away of one's store of health and well-being. Holding onto a grudge is simply a highly ineffective strategy for dealing with a life situation you haven't been able to master.

I know people who have held grudges for decades. One 70+ year-old, a guy whose grudge stretched back to second grade, still remembers the girl who said something unkind about a new pair of glasses he had started wearing. The girl's insult wasn't particularly vicious, but he's been quietly seething ever since childhood. Just imagine the damage that's done to his body and mind.

Giving up my grudges sounds like a great idea. But how will I do it? I mean, really give them up? Let them flutter away like November's lifeless leaves.

Giving up a grudge isn't about forgetting or pretending something didn't happen. It starts with dealing more skillfully with difficult issues from the get-go. But what if that doesn't work? How do I avoid holding onto the grudge that plagues me even when I can't resolve the situation?

"Assign a reasonable explanation to it, push the nasty feelings away, and be done with it. Once and for all." That's what my husband says.

I need to apply some of the other things I've learned from counseling others to myself:

  • There are some situations (and people) I can't fix. Like the kinks in my so-called friend's character.

  • Common sense tells me that if I've held onto a grudge for a long time, I'm still pretty emotional, or I would have let it go long before. I need to calm down and put it all in perspective.

  • Focus on the good things in my life as a way to balance the harm. And remember one simple truth: Life doesn't always turn out the way we want it to.

  • I'm not a victim of circumstances. I can do something about what's burdening me. Carrying around a grudge year after heavy year requires a lot of energy. What purpose does that serve?

I would be doing myself a big favor if I were to dump all my old grudges right here and now on this page and never ever look back. While doing so doesn't obligate me to forgive any damn fool who's hurt me, I'd have more peace if I tried to focus my attention on my current, loving relationships, the kind-hearted, generous people in my life, and how good all that makes me feel.

I'm trying. Really I am.

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  • Writer's pictureSonya Braverman

On a stunning morning in early June, thousands of dominoes stood back to back in a narrow line. They weren't touching, mind you, but they were close. Very close. It was a beautiful sight. One jet-black line of loops and swirls, sinuous as a sleeping snake, with no end in sight.

Although dominoes delight in togetherness, they're forbidden from touching; physical contact between dominoes generally means that one of them has become unsteady and in danger of falling. Just like their human counterparts, some dominoes are unbalanced, others pretty shaky, and a few, frankly unstable.

Even so, every domino is aware that if one of them loses its balance, all the others would have trouble keeping theirs. There's always the possibility that something might happen to cause all the dominoes to tremble -- maybe one of them shimmies just a tiny bit -- or another one quivers ever so gently. That simple motion might cause the entire line to collapse. The dominoes are usually able to rebalance themselves, and the dreaded chain reaction, which each domino fears it would be powerless to reverse, never begins.

Most of the time, dominoes simply stand at attention, straight and tall, without so much as the faintest wobble. Even a slight shift of position can cause the downfall of all of them. Every single domino recognizes that soon or later the day might come when the unthinkable could happen. Thousands and thousands of dominoes lying belly-up -- you get the picture, don't you?

And, on that exquisite morning in early June, happen it did.

Domino 551, a rectangular trouble maker, perhaps a bit more shaky and insecure than the others, teetered forward and back, stumbled ever so barely, pivoted on a corner, righted itself and, straining hard as it could to remain upright, fell flat against its neighbor.

The neighbor, Domino 552, was so thoroughly unprepared and dizzy with shock that it couldn't think clearly, and immediately fell against its neighbor, too. The neighboring domino prayed it would be strong enough to stop the whole line from floundering once and for all.

But the sequence repeated itself again, and Domino 553, swaying precariously, tried desperately to stay calm and focus on remaining vertical, but it, too, finally gave in to the frightening series of developments and keeled over.

And so it went. The pattern duplicated itself many times over before all the dominoes realized the

uncertain state of their existence. The endless pitch-black turns and twists were destined to crumple.

As the unfortunate processcontinued, some of the dominoes gave in with a valiant fight. They held on the best they could, trying to remain strong and positive, but, most of all, erect. Others pretended it wasn't happening. They put on their blinders and feigned obliviousness to their eventual fate. There were a few dominoes who became so anxious, panicky, and confused that they were unable to contain themselves, and fell over before their time.

A sizable number of dominoes courageously tried to hold up or push back their falling neighbor. But the increasing force of the blackout became too much for each domino's weight and size. Caught off guard and with the weight of the world on their backs, most of the dominoes eventually gave up the fight and became resigned to certain doom.

And then, as suddenly as things had started, they stopped.

This occurred so quickly on the heels of imminent disaster that not one domino had time to consider what had happened or why. As if under a magical spell,all the dominoes were standing erect once again, slightly wobbly here and there, but basically stable. They breathed a collective sigh of relief.

All at once, each of them began to speak excitedly to one another.

"What just happened?"

"How did the process start?"

"Which domino began to swoon and which stemmed the process and how had it done so?"

They were all jabbering at once.

At the point where things began to turn around and the breakdown stopped, all that could be seen was a single solitary domino, Domino 3,064, standing tall and proud, no different in size, shape, weight, or color than any of the others. Slowly, each domino began to realize what it owed this one particular domino.

"How did you do it?

"What formula did you use?"

"What did you know that the rest of us didn't?"

They were gathered around Domino 3,064, all of them talking at once.

"While the rest of us were catatonic with fear, thinking about how to support our neighbor, and pushing back against those who were about to fall, what did you do?"

"All I can say," said Domino 3,064 who hadn't been domino-ed, "is that while each of you kept trying to hold your neighbor up or stop the runaway train, my only concern was that I not go down. I needed to steady myself, maintain my balance, and remain upright."

"I recalled how I had been domino-ed years ago. It was an enormously stressful event. I decided to start training myself for the possibility of a similar situation," said Domino 3,064. "In order to prevent being domino-ed again, I knew I needed to remain stable and control myself. I had to really concentrate so I wouldn't panic. I was terrified, but convinced that I must stay calm. Most of all, I had to focus on me and not worry about what was happening to my neighbors. It was a difficult and exhausting task."

Perhaps we humans can learn something from the experiences of Domino 3,064. I've been domino-ed more times than I care to remember. What about you?

Following the advice of Domino 3,064 by not placing myself in potentially stressful situations, pacing myself so I don't assume more responsibilities than I can comfortably handle, and refusing to take on the emotional burdens of other people's problems, may prevent me from being domino-ed again.

It makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

  • Writer's pictureSonya Braverman

I must confess something.

I have an itty-bitty flaw in my personality. Just one of many, this particular defect is becoming worse. It really irks me -- and a lot of other people, too. Okay, okay -- so it's not so teensie-weensie . . . .



Zip. Zero. Zilch.

Most people would describe patience as the ability to tolerate frustration or annoyance without complaining or coming undone. That quality has alluded me.

I know exactly what patience is. I know individuals who have it, and I actually have been known to exhibit this highly desired attribute myself. I've actually heard of people who, when faced with an irritating problem or impossible person, can carry on in a calm and even-tempered manner, even when they’re exasperated. I, on the other hand, have trouble keeping my annoyance at bay.

I have a friend who can stand on line forever without becoming apoplectic. From my experience, that’s anything longer than five minutes. For this same gal, twenty minutes of waiting on hold for a human to pick up the phone doesn’t turn her into a rabid dog. Nice quality if you have it.

I don’t.

On the day character flaws were dispensed, I received more than my fair share of impatience. Over the years, I’ve lovingly nurtured and refined this trait. And I’ve developed a whole host of colorful expletives to go along with it!

So, now you know. Patience isn't one of my virtues. Some people describe their impatience as ants in their pants, pins and needles, or shpilkes, but I’ve been blessed with the “heebie-jeebies,” if you know what I mean. I’ve suffered with it for most of my life.

I’ve never been patient. Ask anyone who knows me. I have several fine qualities, but waiting isn't one of them. Family folklore has it that I’ve had the heebie-jeebies since before I was born. Patience is not something I do well, or, um . . . at all. Seriously.

The way I see it, a single wasted moment is like another nail in the coffin. I’m insecure about running out of time before the grim reaper comes for me.

I rarely cook anything that has more than five ingredients, and I don’t use crockpots or wait for anything to simmer for hours. I don’t bake because the urge to open the oven door and look or taste is irresistible. When I have a task on my to-do list, I won’t rest until it’s done. I make tea with hot water from the faucet because I can’t wait for the water to boil.

If you ask a question in class, I’ll shout out the answer whether you want it or not. Most people don’t. I’ll interrupt you in mid-sentence because, if I don’t say what’s about to roll off my tongue, I’ll forget it. I can read your mind and know exactly what you’re going to say next, and I don’t hesitate to tell you. If I have an opinion, you’ll get it, like it or not. I know you think I’m rude. It’s the heebie-jeebies that make me do it!

If I need something from the grocery store, I go right out and get it. I don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink or clean laundry in the dryer. I make the bed as soon as I get out of it. Spent blossoms get yanked off my plants before they get the death droop. I have eighty rolls of toilet paper stored in my basement because I simply can't tolerate running out. I don't sulk. If I have a problem with my husband, it has to be solved right now. I don't dance around it. I say what I need to, kiss and make up. Quick and dirty.

"Do you want dessert?" I ask my husband lovingly when we've finished dinner.

"I think I'll have it later, thank you," he responds politely.

I look him straight in the eyes and say, "There is no later. Later is now!"

I have no patience for long lines, telemarketers, incompetent drivers, small talk, poor service, salespeople, growing vegetables from seed, explanations, and hardboiled eggs. Stop signs frustrate me and I don’t like taking turns. I don’t wait, I don’t watch, and I don’t think; I simply act. I love immediate results. I don’t believe that every goal worth achieving takes time. If I were a stone and fell into the water, I’d find the quickest way to the bottom. Life itself is often a constant, unyielding obstacle. I end every day with the same prayer, “Please grant me patience — and do it immediately!”

For most people, achieving balance on the tightrope of life requires time, practice and — of course — patience. But I’m not most people. Sometimes I wander the world in circles of my own making. The heebie-jeebies have made it a challenge to be me.

Believe me, I’ve tried to be more patient. It’s not that I don’t want to develop this habit, I can’t. I’ve reached for the brass ring time and again, but I’ve failed. If there were a school for patience, I would be the first to enroll and the first to flunk out. I just don’t have what it takes. Personally, that is.

As a professional, however, I lived life as a creature of an entirely different sort. For over thirty years, I practiced psychotherapy as a Clinical Social Worker, a career that required inordinate amounts of twiddling my thumbs, tapping my feet, and counting to ten. Or ten million. And I did so with the most exquisite patience, in fact, dizzying amounts of patience. Work was no place for the heebie-jeebies.

I was drunk with patience, besotted with it. The words that came out of my mouth were timed with polished perfection. Moving slower than molasses in January, I was a model of relaxed composure with my clients. Cool and unflappable, nothing upset my demeanor. I gathered information in a methodically organized fashion, and then cultivated my intuitiveness ever so gradually, permitting it to ripen unhurriedly into incomparable bits of precious wisdom.

And then, with unrestrained precision, I would share those insights with my clients. I was outrageously skilled at waiting it out, watching it take shape, and allowing it to grow, all in its own good time. And it didn’t matter how many years I had to wait for that to happen. Even decades.

In fact, I treated one client for over twenty-four years. Diagnosed with a rare and difficult to treat mental illness, the individual was challenging and her treatment was complicated by other emotional, familial, and medical issues. Working with this client was excruciatingly slow and often frustrating for both of us. For many years, the rewards were few.

Many years later, I shared my experiences as her therapist (with the client's permission, of course) with colleagues in a professional context. “She's truly cured?" one asked, or "How did you do it? Twenty-four years with one client!” another remarked.

With my fingers crossed behind my back, my response was always the same. “I am an unusually patient person . . . ."

The contrast between my personal and professional selves has always bewildered me. I often wondered how the personal me, a woman who can be so ripe with the heebie-jeebies, managed to be so conscientiously enduring and tolerant in her professional life?

Perhaps the well of patience with which I was born, what I once believed to be limitless, must have had a finite volume. Maybe I just used it all up in my professional life, sucked every last drop out of that well. In its absence, the only thing left was -- you know -- the heebie-jeebies.

Or, perhaps my client's long road to healing mirrored my own. We were both damaged in our own ways. And that damage took decades to scab over and fall off. Maybe it helped me to hold her hand through the darkness, to give her the courage and desire to persevere through the pain. Perhaps working with her inspired me to develop more patience for my own healing.

It’s possible, isn’t it?

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