A good friend of mine posted a photo on Facebook with a sign of that famous saying, “Holding a Grudge is Like Letting Someone Live Rent Free in your head.” I jokingly replied that some people are harder to evict than others. Which got me thinking about the expression and all of the area in between it.
People in recovery programs mean well when they say it. And to a certain extent, they have a point. But let’s take the simile of the bad tenant a bit further, shall we?
Some tenants leave quietly and appropriately. They leave the place intact and clean. They pay their last month’s rent and you refund the damage deposit promptly. This would be the equivalent of a healthy relationship, where there’s been an understandable shift or change in the relationship. No anger or bitterness on either part. Easy enough for everyone to move on or even stay connected if both want to and it’s appropriate. In one such literal tenant situation, my landlady during my grad school years even offered to be a reference for any future landlords as she found me to be a reliable, cooperative tenant.
Some tenants do minor damage. There might be some minor holes on the wall, smudge marks on the paint or even more damage. But they apologize and tell you to take it out of the damage deposit. If the damage deposit doesn’t cover the amount of damage, they offer to make up the difference. “Closure” is simpler in cases like this. You have an acknowldgement of the wrong which has been done, you have restitution. It’s easier to either maintain a relationship with this person and/or let go of the past. The impact of my father’s alcoholism is much like this. He apologized for it (acknowledgment) and made genunine efforts to improve and repair his relationships with my brother & I (restitution).
Then you have tenants who leave in the middle of the night. And/or don’t pay the last month’s rent. Which means any damages they do are on the landlord’s tab. There is no acknowledgement. There is no restitution. This is more difficult.
Then you have tenants who refuse to go and/or trash the place beyond recognition. This is what dealing with a Cluster B (NPD/BPD/HPD) parent, significant other or other close loved one is like. They refuse to respect boundaries, so it’s very difficult to get them to leave in the first place. You get the eviction notice, the marshal padlocks the premises and posts the notice, yet they still manage to get in.
Not only that, since many of them have a scorch the fields/salt the earth policy, there’s an incredible amount of damage.
Another literal tenant situation. During grad school, I lived next door to this guy who was a bit off. The apartment building I was in shared a driveway with the home he rented next door. He would block the driveway (which was also shared by about 4 other units) whenever he came back from errands. It was understandable to do so to let his elderly mother out of the car, but he would do it until all of the groceries were unloaded and put away. Coming from a home of irrational behavior and used to walking on eggshells, I didn’t say anything. I’d just wait and would wave a neighborly greeting when I saw him/his mother. Another person confronted him and he started yelling and nearly got into a physical fight with that person.
The home was eventually sold to someone who wanted to live there vs. renting it out. The new owner went through the legal process to ask them to leave. One Saturday morning I was returning early from an evening out with friends and I saw the moving truck and he was in the process of moving. It’d been a late night and I went to go to sleep. When I was semi-asleep and heard glass breaking, I thought someone dropped something. But as I smelled smoke and heard sirens, I realized there was something wrong.
When I looked outside, smoke was coming out of the windows of the just vacated home and fire trucks were there. It was close enough I thought I might have to evacuate. But the firemen told me I could stay put. After the fire was out, I saw the new owner surveying the damages and she was in tears. I offered my home as shelter for her or for anyone who needed it, with some coffee, but fortunately, they had other options. I don’t know how long the fire burned (it was cold and the windows were shut, so I didn’t smell the smoke as soon as I normally would have), but it pretty much gutted the interior of the home this woman had planned to move into. My former neighbor was charged with arson and killed himself in prison before he could stand trial. It took quite awhile before the home was habitable again.
I think the burned out home is an apt analogy for what those of us who are coping with the damage, discord and chaos sown by loved ones with Cluster B Personality Disorders are dealing with. Or you can substitute the analogy of a vengeful tenant/ex leaving chicken or fish in hidden places or destroying hardwood floors or otherwise demolishing a living space and making it less livable.
It’s hard to let go fo the anger while the ruins are still smoldering. Or while you’re still cleaning out the stink of rotting chicken or fish. Or repairing the damage to the walls and floor. In order to let go of that anger, you have to be in a safe and pleasant enviornment (healing). We also have to be careful not to let the anger damage us or others. I guess an analogy in that case would be not wearing proper protective gear and inhaling harmful fumes or dust or debris. Or being injured on debris.
I think the focus should be on getting toxic people “out” of the figurative (& literal if applicable) home. Then repairing the damage they’ve done to make the space livable again. Only then, can people begin to let go of grudges.
To do otherwise is the equivalent of telling the woman who was crying at the fire scene that she shouldn’t hold grudges. Or while she was trying to repair the damage of the fire. Most people would agree that would be unreasonable and/or irrational. Why are victims of abuse not given the same understanding?
Edited to Add:
I’ve been reflecting on this for nearly a day now. One other thing that came to mind is how my mother and brother use 12 Step slogans to stifle dissent or even merely expressing a normal response at being mistreated. Certain things my mother did would bring the past back. For example, raising her voice at me. When I was younger, this was sometimes followed up by physical, non disciplinary force (slapping, hair pulling, punching). As a result, I don’t like it very much when people raise their voices. Also, not a fan of loud, sudden noises. Plus, there’s no need to yell at me as an adult.
But if I tried to raise an issue like that with either one of them, I’d often get a denial from her. If she did acknowledge it, she’d trot out a 12 step phrase. This also happened when I was angry with others (before I learned to stop confiding in her). She even used this one specificially. My brother would do this as well when she triangulated/flying monkeyed him into things.
One therapist I worked with described this as “taking someone else’s inventory” and mentioned it wasn’t right. Actually, I think it goes beyond that. They misused and abused language of recovery to silence me. As well as dismiss my legitimate issues with them. That’s just wrong on so many levels. I still find some of these phrase triggering as a result. But that is my problem to sort out, not the problem of people like my friend who use them in good faith and with good intent. I’m glad my friend brought this up because it’s a “flea” to be aware of. And I’d hate to react against someone who meant it in good faith and with good intent.