I sat back and listened patiently as she described in minute detail what an absolute jerk her ex-husband had been. She told me of every error, transgression, and vindictive act he had performed throughout the many years of her now ended marriage.
The marriage ended 11 years ago.
His story was not that different from hers. Rather than a former spouse, the injustices heaped upon him had been delivered by a series of coworkers and supervisors.
He left that organization more than three years ago.
In each instance, their voice tone and body language clearly reflected the pain and anguish that the telling of these tales evoked in them.
I have met with both of them many times in the past and they have used the time of our meetings, on many of those occasions, to relay those same events over and over and over and over again.
And then there’s Pete. The name is fake, the story is real.
A number of years ago, after more than 20 years, Pete quit the company he worked for. He quit because he was angry. And he was angry because he had been lied to and deceived.
What had happened was this. Pete’s boss, the Senior Vice President of Marketing, had announced that he would be retiring at the end of that year. Pete had let it be known that he believed himself to be an excellent candidate for that position and had told the President of the company of his desire to take over the job.
On several occasions over the ensuing months the President of the company had assured Pete that he was indeed a strong candidate and at the end of November he had called Pete into his office and told him that he had made the decision to promote him to that position early in the new year.
Each workday during the first two weeks of the new year Pete waited to hear the announcement of his promotion and no such announcement was made. At 8:17 AM on the morning of January 17 Pete opened his e-mail and read that the President of the company was both proud and delighted to announce the appointment of the new Senior Vice President of Marketing. The name of that new VP was not Pete.
Several minutes later Pete received a phone call from the Assistant to the President asking him to go down the hall to the boss’s office for a brief meeting.
The President began the meeting by explaining to Pete that he understood how disappointed Pete must be feeling and that he felt it necessary to explain the reason for his change of mind. He told Pete that his daughter was about to marry the soon-to-be new Executive Vice President and that this soon-to-be Executive Vice President had recently lost his job in a similar company when that company had been acquired by a large competitor. His future son-in-law, he explained, had been the victim of unfortunate circumstances and as he explained further to Pete “family must always come first” and so he felt compelled to bring his future son-in-law into the fold.
He was sure Pete would understand.
Pete didn’t understand. He was devastated and tendered his resignation several days later.
As mentioned earlier, this sad story took place several years ago and yet Pete seems unable to not recount his experience at every available opportunity even though he has since landed a job he loves.
And each time he repeats the story he displays the same hurt and anger as at the previous retelling.
Here’s the part about all of this that I struggle with.
What is the need that seems to exist in so many of us that compels us to hold on to so many of those events in our past that caused us, and continue to cause us, pain and anguish?
What is it that makes us want to re-inflict the same pain on ourselves over and over and over again, year after year, long after all these events that have taken place.
Why do we keep dragging the past into the present?
And will continue doing so in the future.
Why is it that so many of us feel compelled to hold on to those feelings of bitterness.
I recently heard a powerful quote that went something like this “when you harbour bitter, painful and angry thoughts and feelings towards someone it is like drinking poison in the hope that they will die.”
Is it possible that we do this because our need to be right is bigger than our need to be happy?
Are we somehow hoping that justice will prevail and those awful sinners will get their just reward?
The probability is that those people from our past against whom we harbour such bitterness have long forgotten who we are, what they did and the effect their actions had on us.
If they are, in fact, as evil we believe them to be then they would probably be thrilled to know how long the impact of their actions has lasted.
So here’s my view of the matter. Theses so-called monsters may well have caused our bitterness by their very actions, but they are not making us bitter today.
We are doing that all by ourselves.
Some of us do this over and over.
We have become darn good at this.
If practice makes perfect many of us have exceeded perfection.
But we are doing this to ourselves and we are re-punishing ourselves over and over and over again.
And it really makes no sense does it?
I do not for a moment doubt that her husband is guilty of every charge levied against him, nor do I doubt the veracity of his experiences at the hands of his former coworkers and bosses.
And none of us would object to Pete’s former president being inducted into the @$$hole Hall of Fame but surely guys it’s time to let it go. It’s time to free yourselves from the cells of despair, anguish anger, pain and frustration in which you have imprisoned yourselves.
Put the past where it belongs – in the past.
This is a powerful, life altering lesson we all need to learn. We may at some time have been, are, or will be the victim of the shameful acts of others.
But holding on to the pain inflicted by these others only serves to make us the victims of our own thinking.
Here’s my theory. What happened in the past happened in the past. It is the historical version of “it is what it is.”
What would happen if we give ourselves permission to just let go of the pain and the weight of the bitterness that we drag around year after year after year?
It may go a long way to helping us shed those extra pounds we’ve been packing on over the past few years.
In fact, letting go may prove to be the best weight-loss program ever.
Till we read again.
P.S. Mike from Self Connection called in a panic earlier this week. You may recall I mentioned last week that Self Connection had dropped the price of my book Life Sinks or Soars – the Choice is Yours by a whopping 60% from $24.95 down to $9.95.
Well they sold a ton of books. Way more than they anticipated and, along the way they received the largest single order they have ever received from a single customer.
They sold more books than they had in stock and when Mike dropped by on Friday morning to pick up several cases of books – they have never ordered a whole case before – he informed me that he was going to continue selling my books at this price for several more weeks.
And No, he didn’t care to hear what I thought.
So, if you would like your very own copy (or a case) of Life Sinks or Soars – the Choice is Yours please click here or call (403) 284-1486 and ask for Mike.
If you live or work in Calgary and order a dozen or more books, I’ll deliver them to you for the low delivery price of coffee. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org