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Don't Bring Old Resentment to the Thanksgiving Table

Doug Worgul
Source: The Kansas City Star, Mo.

For too many families, the traditional Thanksgiving dinner menu features savory turkey and dressing, sweet potatoes and bitter resentment. Too often, bickering and unresolved hostility spoil holiday gatherings.

But Thanksgiving is a time for giving thanks, not for giving family members grief for ancient wrongs. What's called for is a heaping helping of forgiveness.

Grown children, this means you. You need to forgive your parents. Easier said then done, granted. But for the sake of yourself, your parents, and, perhaps most importantly, your own kids - not to mention a more enjoyable Thanksgiving meal - you need to let your folks off the hook for all their parenting sins.

"Carrying resentments is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die," says Rachel Green, an Australia-based consultant in inter personal communications. Harboring resentment toward others hurts you most.

Referring to research that links anger with heart disease, Green points out that there are psychological and physical costs to hanging on to old hurts.

"The resentment hardens your heart," she says. "And possibly your blood vessels, too. It damages you, not them. Forgiveness is healthier."

If you are finding it difficult to get past things your parents did or didn't do, Green, who wrote the book "Happiness in Midlife," suggests asking yourself, "Why not forgive?"

"What is the danger in forgiving?" she asks. "It doesn't mean you condone or approve of what happened, nor does it mean you have to forget what happened. What it does mean is that you allow greater happiness into your own life."

Dan Neuharth, author of "If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace With Your Past and Take Your Place in the World," said it's a myth that forgiveness is done only for the sake of others.

"Forgiveness is most freeing when it is done for you," he says. "Your goal is to find greater peace and relationships that nurture you."

On the Web site www.partnershipforlearning.org, teacher and writer Lisamarie Sanders notes: "Many of the things our parents do are exactly what their parents did. And if you don't make a conscious effort to break the mold, you may end up repeating the patterns with your own children."

Sanders quotes Patty Roth, a family therapist, who says: "In families there are patterns that are passed down through generations. These patterns are so strong that we tend to revert to the negative parts of the old patterns. Even if you try a lot of things and feel you're not getting anywhere, don't give up. It is such an important relationship, you really need to keep plugging along."

The need to achieve harmony with our parents is fundamental, no matter how grievous the pain they may have caused. Harold Bloomfield, author of "Making Peace With Your Parents," says parental love is a "core need." He also says that when people cling to resentment they surrender control over their emotional well-being.

"You have control over your own thoughts, behaviors and attitudes," Roth says. "Examine and control what you can."

Sounds like a recipe for a better holiday get-together.


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