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In case of resentment, drop the “case”

Lately I’ve been thinking about a kind of “case” that’s been running in my mind about someone in my extended family. The case is a combination of feeling hurt and mistreated, critique of the other person, irritation with others who haven’t supported me, views about what should happen that hasn’t, and implicit taking-things-personally.

In other words, the usual mess.

It’s not that I have not been mistreated – actually, I have been – nor that my analysis of things is inaccurate (others agree that what I see does in fact exist). The problem is that my case is saturated with negative emotions like anger, biased toward my own viewpoint, and full of me-me-me. Every time I think of it I start getting worked up, adding to the bad effects of chronic stress. It creates awkwardness with others, since even though they support me, they’re naturally leery of getting sucked into my strong feelings or into my conflict with the other person. It makes me look bad, too cranked up about things in the past. And it primes me for overreactions when I see the person in question. Yes, I practice with this stuff arising in my mind and generally don’t act it out, but it’s still a burden.

I think my own experience of case-making – and its costs – are true in general. In couples in trouble, one or both people usually have a detailed Bill of Particulars against the other person. At larger scales, different social or political groups have scathing indictments of the other side.

How about you? Think of someone you feel wronged by: can you find case against that person in your mind? What’s it feel like to go into that case? What does it cost you? And others?

The key – often not easy – is to be open to your feelings (e.g., hurt, anger), to see the truth of things, and to take appropriate action . . . while not getting caught up in your case about it all.

How do we drop “the case”?

  • Bring to awareness a case about someone – probably related to a grievance, resentment, or conflict. It could be from your present or your past, resolved or still grinding. Explore this case, including: the version of events in it, other beliefs and opinions, emotions, body sensations, and wants; notice how you see the other person, and yourself; notice what you want from others (sometimes their seeming failings are a related case). For a moment or two, in your mind or out loud, get into the case: really make it! Then notice what that’s like, to get revved up into your case.
  • Mentally or on paper, list some of the costs to you and others of making this particular case. Next, list the payoffs to you; on other words, what do you get out of making this case? For example, making a case typically makes us feel in the right, is energizing, and helps cover over softer vulnerable emotions like hurt or disappointment. Then ask yourself: are the payoffs worth the costs?
  • With this understanding, see if you can stay with the difficult feelings involved in the situation (the basis for the case) without slipping into a reproachful or righteous case about them. To do this, it could help to start by resourcing yourself by bringing to mind the felt sense of being cared about by others, and by opening to self-compassion. And try to hold those difficult feelings in a big space of awareness.
  • Open to a wider, more impersonal, big picture view of the situation – so it’s less about you and more about lots of swirling causes coming together in unfortunate ways. See if any kind of deeper insight about the other person, yourself, or the situation altogether comes to you.
  • Listen to your heart: are there any skillful actions to take? Including naming the truth of things, disengaging from tunnels with no cheese, or the action of there-is-nothing-that-can-be-done.
  • Watch how a case starts forming in your mind, trying to get its hooks into you. Then see if you can interrupt the process. Literally set down the case, like plopping down a heavy suitcase when you finally get home after a long trip. What a relief!
  • Enjoy the good feelings, the spaciousness of mind, the openness of heart, the inner freedom, and other rewards of dropping your case.

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About Rick Hanson PhD

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Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist, a Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and a New York Times best-selling author. His books include Hardwiring Happiness, Buddha’s Brain, Just One Thing, and Mother Nurture. Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, he’s been an invited speaker at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. He has several audio programs and his free Just One Thing newsletter has over 100,000 subscribers.

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Comments

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Comment from Eileen Cain
Time: November 23, 2011, 2:17 am

A very helpful article for me right now. Certain people’s actions have hurt a lot – that much is clear at last. But what action to take has not been clear, so I spin my wheels about the situation.

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Comment from BJ
Time: November 23, 2011, 12:55 pm

Usually when I bring this subject up even to a counsel they absolutely want to change the subject. I understand if this is not read in completion.
Drop the case? It shall not happen in this case. 11/22 is the birthday of a beautiful adult woman who lives in the west. My niece, she’s now 40 and still alive. At age 16 she sought refuge with other family members for the first time after being continuously raped by her biological father (my formerly beloved favorite brother) from the age of 5, after her mother had committed suicide. No one knew until she was 16, except for her slightly older brother. Drugs, more molestations, rehab, misaligned bowel/intestinal system, illegitimate children now in foster care, two prison terms and on and on this woman’s life tangled. I give high thoughts to her each day.
And the molesting, pedafiling brother? No charges were pressed (typical) and went on to an illustrious career provided by Penn State (home of other people who do creepy things to children) and DISNEY. HE NEVER EVEN SAID I’M SORRY TO ANYONE, EVER. Reconciliations were attempted by several family members to no avail. The most anyone heard, which was by me his oldest sister, was…..”I didn’t use any violence.”

I spent years with all of this echoing in my brain 24/7. Years have past and the trauma remains exactly as it should be.
My brother remarried, told the family the woman knew the whole story, we don’t have to bring it up to her (she’s a well to do Quaker, has 2 degrees from UCLA in a creative and lucrative profession). My brother allowed this woman to bear a baby daughter 4 years ago and they live in Shangri-La in South Pasadena, CA. None of us can even bear to mention his name to this day. Raping children is not on the agenda of “re-running the subject to make it sound better, different or otherwise”.

I saw the suffering and damage in the family. Attempts to reconcile, as I’ve mentioned have been unsuccessful. Child authorities recognized the molestations, but could not press charges without the victim doing so. The rupture within the social and familial structure echoes through Tulsa, OK where the family tries to live life in a normal kind of way. This violation of a child is unacceptable in most parts of the social arena. I don’t want to feel good about what happened.
If I did feel good/forgive/drop the case maybe my 9 month old granddaughter will find herself jeopardized and have a grandmother who isn’t tough enough to know the difference between heaven and hell for her life.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: November 23, 2011, 4:12 pm

Hi, BJ.

You said, “I don’t want to feel good about what happened.”

I’m very sorry to hear about what happened with your niece, and to hear that her abuser was not punished. I wish it were otherwise.

How could anyone feel good about child sexual abuse having taken place? The article doesn’t suggest anything even vaguely similar to that.

The point about nursing resentments is that it hurts us, but doesn’t generally hurt the person we feel resentful towards. Every time we experience an episode of resentment we have an opportunity to notice the tension, pain, and tightness of that state of mind. Of course it’s your mind, so it’s your choice. You can hurt yourself or not as you see fit.

“If I did feel good/forgive/drop the case maybe my 9 month old granddaughter will find herself jeopardized.”

Again, I think this is a misunderstanding. You can cease from nursing resentments and still keep the abuser away from any potential victims. Toning down your resentments doesn’t involve switching off your brain or your common sense.

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