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Professional Columns -
Relationships by Dr. Bill Austin


Last month we introduced the term "rule," which is an expectation as to how we think another person should relate to us. The problem is that some rules are unenforceable. Examples of two unenforceable rules are that people should be fair and that they should acknowledge our generosity. We cannot force them to be fair because their definition of fairness is probably not ours. We cannot force them to verbally acknowledge our generosity.

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When we are disappointed or hurt by others, we form what has been called a "grievance story."  The story is about how we were wounded by this person who has become the villain of the narrative. We tell our story over and over to family members and others to the point that they get tired of hearing about it. Every time we tell our grievance story we are letting that person wound us in the present because all the emotions are being experienced again. After hearing someone's grievance story, I thought the wound happened recently. I was shocked to discover the wound occurred more than 10 years ago.

It's helpful to stop and ask ourselves, "What do we want to happen by the telling of our hurt stories?" Perhaps the intention is for others to think poorly of that person or have nothing to do with her or him. In truth, other people may be thinking poorly of us by our being obsessed with our grievance story.

Every time we tell our grievance story
we are letting that person wound us in the present because all the emotions are being experienced again. 

Being stuck like this reminds us of the children's game, "Simon Says." Some of us who are older may remember this game. Three or more children played the game. One person was Simon who would yell out a command such as "Simon says jump." The players must jump and those who did not were out of the game. If Simon gave a command such as "jump" without using the words "Simon says," those who jumped were out of the game. (A recent psychological study found that the game can be a healthy way to help children to improve self-control and restraint of impulsive behavior.) Telling our grievance story over and over again is like Simon saying, "Simon says FREEZE." Everyone freezes at the hurt event and stays there until we hear, "Simon says unfreeze." The problem with some of us is that we do not move on because we don't hear that last command.

So how do we get unfrozen and move on? The first step is to distinguish between the enforceable rules from the unenforceable rules. A step recommended in the book Forgive For Good is to think of our mind like a television set. If we don't like what we are watching, change the channel. The feelings come from what we are watching/believing, so change the channel to something like the "gratitude," "thankfulness," or "blessing" channel. We will continue to explore this issue next month.

Dr. Austin has decades of experience dealing with relationships. He charges clients on a sliding scale according to their ability to pay. His first book, Creating Our Safe Place: Articles on Healthy Relationships, was published in 2004. His second book, Keeping It Safe, was published in 2009 and can be purchased through,, and at the Parrish Book Store in Virginia Beach.  He is also a sought-after speaker at meetings and seminars.

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