Ask Michael: Coping with Guilt

Q:  Michael Brian, my sister and I lost our mother after a long battle with cancer.  We are now bitterly fighting over my mother’s estate.  I really want to clear the air and rekindle our relationship but I do not know where to start.  Any suggestions?  Joe in Hendersonville, TN. 

A:  Joe, I am sorry to hear about your mother’s passing.  I know how hard that can be.  While it is important that each of you take time to grieve, I appreciate you reaching out for help in resolving your conflict with your sister.

Conflict is inevitable.  It happens to all of us at some point in our lives.  No matter how much conflict we encounter, it does not make it easier.  Deep rooted conflicts from the past can impact your health on all levels- mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.   It does not have to come to this extreme, however.  You may take steps to move past the conflict.

Approach the Conflict with an Open Heart and Mind

When conflicts happen in the past, we seem to lose sight of why we were upset in the first place.  Look at the conflict with fresh eyes and newfound perspective.  Looking at a past conflict with fresh eyes reduces the likelihood of boiling blood pressure or losing sleep while attempting to reach an amicable resolution.

Next, look at the conflict objectively.  You should raise all of the issues with your sister as you address the conflict but do so in a respectful manner.  Actively listen to her then ask she do the same for you.   Really try to gain a sense of where she is/was coming from.  Remember to focus on the problem, not the person.  When you make things personal, people tend to get defensive.  Defensiveness rarely solves conflicts.  If needed, find a neutral third party who can assist in facilitating the discussion so that all parties are heard.  This person can be a mediator, a coach, a counselor, a family member.  Just recognize when you may need help guiding the discussion.  Don’t let your emotions get the best of you.

In this situation, it could be that each of you really was just trying to ensure that the estate was as fair and as balanced as possible.  There is nothing wrong with that.  But when grief is involved, emotions can get the best of us.  Brainstorm resolutions that can be mutually agreed upon and use that as common ground.  Conflict typically occurs when one or both parties sense inequality.  Get together and brain storm ideas that will help you reach a resolution.  My experience has taught me, more often than not, you actually begin building on one another’s ideas.  The overall goal is to find a resolution that provides mutual gain.

Look Toward the Future

Since you are siblings, I will presume that you plan on continuing a relationship, if at all possible.  Accordingly, begin to think about how you can mutually resolve conflict in the future.  This will help ensure that you don’t have the same obstacles in the future.  By laying the groundwork now, should a conflict arise in the future, you will be able to work toward a resolution right away instead of allowing emotions to fester.

Accept What You Cannot Change

Let’s not kid ourselves here, not every conflict can be resolved.  I doubt this is the case for you but may be for others who are reading this.  If this is the case, after attempting to resolve a conflict and things did not go the way you had hoped, you should accept the things that cannot be changed.  It is not always easy but it can be done.  Here are a few tips you can use if this is the case:

  • Give up control.  Giving up what you cannot control allows you to destress from the conflict.  Many times it will feel as if you have lifted a great deal of weight from your shoulders.  In some cases, once this happens, you are able to have a whole new outlook on life.  You free yourself from the conflict and make way for better things to enter your life.


  • Share Your Feelings.  Many of us keep our feelings pent up.  We are taught not to wear them on our sleeves or let others see us show emotion.  This is nonsense.  It is much easier to move past conflicts when you have a trusted person with whom you can authentically share what you are feeling.  By engaging in such a practice, you’re able to find peace within your heart.  Speak your truth.  Let your feelings/emotions be heard and felt.  You deserve it.


  • Look for the Positives.  When conflicts occur, it is easy to stay stuck in the negative.  It is easy to say he did this or she did that.  Staying stuck in the negative keeps your healing at bay.  Finding something positive about a past conflict allows you to cope with the conflict easier.  Did you learn something about yourself?  About life in general?  Find a positive.  It will go a long way.   


  • Focus on Forgiveness.  I realize forgiveness is not always easy.  However, your healing is at stake.  Mistakes happen to us all.  By realizing that we live in an imperfect world, it will be easier to let go of the hurt feelings and anger associated with the conflict.  Holding onto the anger, resentment, unforgiveness only hurts you.  Chances are, the other person has moved on.  It is time you do the same. 

If you have a question that you would like me to answer, please email me.  Each week, I will select a question and respond accordingly.    

Michael Brian is a Certified Professional Coach, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, and Professional Mediator who is passionate about helping people create sustainable changes in their lives.  His website is

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