This brief essay is concerned with the need we all feel sometimes to overcome ill effects and resentments from long past experiences.
One example may serve to illustrate what I am thinking about: my lingering resentment and anger towards my high school Phys Ed teacher and baseball coach, Robert C. (Bob) Gibson.
Mr. Gibson was the chairman of the Physical Education Department at Canton High School in Canton, MA. He was a very popular teacher and coach, but I can’t forgive him for the way he treated me when I went out for baseball in my junior year. He didn’t want me on the team and let me know it. It was really unfair.
I think he thought I was a scholar who had no aptitude for baseball, and maybe the fact that I wore thick glasses had something to do with it. But at least one teammate did wear glasses, and that didn’t seem to bother Mr. Gibson.
I was deeply hurt but was resolved not to show it or quit.
I can never forgive or forget the way he treated me. I never got over it.
My older brother has commented on this and similar resentments I have from the past. He feels that I should be able to leave them in the past and move beyond them.
He may be right.
I am of two minds about holding past grudges.
By remembering past slights, I believe, and refusing to forget out about them, by stubbornly holding on to them, one is, in a way, protecting oneself against the possibility of future hurt. I am convinced that my good memory, if I may compliment myself on having one, comes from a strong desire to not forget what has happened to me, both good and bad, so that I can defend myself in the future against further hurt and emotional pain.
On the other hand, there does seem to be validity to what some mental health experts seem to say about trauma, that you need to be able to overcome it and let go, put it in the past.
I have recently read two books: Getting Unstuck: Unraveling the Knot of Depression, Attention, and Trauma by Dr. Don Kerson; and Walking Your Blues Away: How to Heal the Mind and Create Emotional Well-Being by Thom Hartmann.
Neither book is the sort that I would ordinarily take interest in. But I finished both.
Both authors make good points and also lapse, in parts of the books, into New Age psychobabble. But, some of the stuff they say seems to have validity. They talk about the need to be able to overcome the effects of trauma. Apparently, a lot of people don’t even know that it is something one has to learn to deal with.
Apparently, it’s a left brain-right brain sort of thing. You have to be able to call up the painful memories, get them out of your left brain, which is critical and unforgiving, and from there into your right brain — sort of upload and dump them there — which can deal with them emotionally, and then be able to let go, become whole and healed once again.
Something like that.
These things don’t exactly work for me, and I in many ways feel that I never want to let go of my anger at Coach Gibson. I don’t know. But I can see the validity of the point my brother has made to me — and that these writers make — about getting over the ill effects of past mistreatment and saying, that was long ago, it’s time to move on, to move beyond them.
— Roger W. Smith
Addendum: A relative of mine posted an interesting comment about this post on Facebook. His comment and my response are below.
Sometimes the best way to leave resentment behind is to realize that the offender is dead and no one else remembers the incident(s).
Roger’s Smith’s reply:
But, your “offender is dead” point seems beside the point.
Does this mean that all past offenses committed in human history and experienced in one’s personal life get wiped off the slate after — and by virtue of — the fact that the “offender” has died?
Secondly, you make the point that “no one else remembers”? The incident I wrote about would, naturally, not be remembered by hardly anyone besides me. Again, this is beside the point. It was a minor incident in the grand scale of things, but I was deeply hurt by it.
I told almost no one, besides confiding it to my older brother years later. (I did so because he and I were talking about the coach, whom we both knew from high school.)
Have not you suffered hurts and indignities in your own life that have festered but which you may have rarely talked with others about, which you perhaps had a hard time dealing with, and which linger?