Tips, Anecdotes or Books About Forgiving Those Who've Wronged You?
January 3, 2015 2:34 PM   Subscribe

I am carrying around a lot of hatred and fury. I don't know how to forgive people from my past. I need a primer -- books, tips, anything.

I was physically and verbally abused by bullies when I was an adolescent. One bully defecated. Another bully beat me up badly, repeatedly kicking me in my stomach. I moved to another state with my family due to my father's job, and tried reinventing myself. I was still excluded. My college experience was very atypical in its lack of cosmopolitanness; in a geographically remote campus small in population, I was very excluded there as well. I moved to a big city and made some 'friends' there who treated me poorly. I even had to cut off contact with a sibling recently because of her emotionally and verbally abusive nature.

This affected me deeply. I recently began taking Effexor, and what this seems to have done is move the anxiety aside (thank God) to make me realize just how much hate and anger I have been carrying around, invisible underneath the anxiety. It is very unfocused in scope, and I've realized this is why I have a great deal of problems socializing; I'm furious at my past abusers and I'm ready for everyone around me to repeat that abuse.

I just turned forty last year and I cannot tell you how sick I am of carrying around the fury, hatred, anger, and self-imposed loneliness. I want to forgive. I want to trust people, I want to make friends, and I want to love. I am determined that 2015 will be the year that I make great strides in this field, but I need a sense of how to proceed when I carry around this rabid fury and distrust at the same time.

I would appreciate anything you have to say about dealing with these issues, as well as any books you might've found helpful. (I do see a therapist, and we'll explore these things this year, but I (and she) usually find people's advice in Ask Metafilter to be very useful insights.)

P.S. I will listen and consider anything from those who approach this issue religiously, but while raised Christian, I could best be described as agnostic or atheist at the moment.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Because you invited religious input, I will point you to a talk that is a masterpiece. It is an LDS (Mormon) talk. Because you're agnostic or atheist, ignore any reference to that belief and just pay attention to the universal message:

Remember that forgiving other heals YOU. Forgiving is for you, not necessarily for the other person(s).

Good luck to you.
posted by luvmywife at 2:49 PM on January 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am very sorry to learn of your struggle and pain.

While written by Christian monks of the fourth and seventh century, respectively, I think that the advice of St. John Cassian on anger and St. John Climacus on anger and the remembrance of wrongs (p. 44-48 of the linked PDF, Steps 8 and 9) can be followed by anyone.

Going forward, a guideline I was taught about whether anger was appropriate was to check if the anger arose from pride or pity. For example, don't get angry when you get caught off in traffic, but you can get angry if someone is being downtrodden.

Best wishes.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:58 PM on January 3, 2015 [7 favorites]

This is one of those things that is incredibly hard to do by pulling yourself out by your bootstraps. I think you are right that often there is a path to navigate on this one, and having people who can help us through this is most helpful. I hope that your counselor is able to help you in good ways.

For me, this is probably (at least) a two-part issue:

1. Have a place where you can vent your anger and be affirmed that what happened to you was wrong, and there's nothing wrong with you because it happened. There are counselors who are trained to help do this effectively. Sometimes forgiveness is in part about being accommodated in your feelings, because as of right now, it doesn't sound like you have many people who are able to give you an emotional hug and let you know that a) it was wrong what happened to you, and b) it's okay to vent your feelings about that in a place where it is well received.

2. Find a place where people care about you unconditionally for who you are. It can undo some of those emotional patterns of mistrust and hurt that seem to be narrated over and over to you by different people and probably serve to reemphasize the hurt. This has been a healing thing for me in my life, where I'm affirmed for my innate worthiness by virtue of being a part of the human race before I'm affirmed for my contributions to life. I've found this in my religious tradition and family. I know that you said that you aren't a practicing Christian anymore, but there are many communities that may be able to give you love and affirmation without signing on the line, so to speak, simply because you are inherently worthy of it.

I said "at least" above because I think that part of forgiveness for me was in having something happen to my heart that was beyond myself. This is part of my religious tradition, also. Even if you don't think this is the road to walk, the above two points should be pretty effective.

I'm sorry all of that happened to you. I was bullied a lot as a kid also, and I know how it can be to feel like the residue of those experiences follow you along. As someone mentioned above, forgiveness is about figuring out how to let it go for your own benefit first; not in a way that denies the bad things that happened, but figuring out how to not let people have power over you any more by ruminating on their judgment.

Best wishes to you.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:05 PM on January 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

How Can I Forgive You by Janis Spring is written in a typical self help book style but has lots of great insights.
posted by matildaben at 3:11 PM on January 3, 2015

I haven't read this book but I read his earlier book on attachment theory, and he's very smart and compassionate, so this might be worth buying or getting at the library. I think being "sick of carrying around the fury" is a great place to be because it means you're motivated and ready to get past this.

One thing about forgiveness that I've found helpful is realizing that some part of me has felt that by holding on to the anger I'm punishing those people who hurt me, but in truth they have no idea they're being punished. If they're out of my life, my anger and resentment don't mean squat to them. We're the ones who suffer when we hold onto these feelings. So in that sense, we keep their abuse alive. I know you can't just drop the feelings all at once. It may take some time, but it's powerful knowing that you have the power to put these feelings down.

Another thing is to realize that people who abuse others are themselves deeply wounded. Not that you have to become a saint and feel tons of compassion for them, but keeping that in mind can maybe help you hate them less. You can also appreciate yourself for being someone who does not behave in these hurtful ways.
posted by swheatie at 3:11 PM on January 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

There's a buddhist meditation in which you start by wishing yourself well. Then you think of people you love, and you wish them well. Then you move on to people for whom you have some affection, and do the same. You gradually move from your closest friends to distant acquaintances and then to people who have wronged you.

If I recall correctly, you do this gradually over several sessions and don't force it.

It's called the lovingkindness meditation - here's some more information.

I think that for me it's easiest to forgive others when I am feeling empowered and loving towards myself.
posted by bunderful at 3:14 PM on January 3, 2015 [9 favorites]

Scratch the Robert Karen book. On further investigation it looks like it's for people who want to forgive people they're still in relationship with, and that is not the case for you. Sorry!
posted by swheatie at 3:15 PM on January 3, 2015

The bullying sounds appallingly traumatic. I'm sorry that happened to you and I think your desire to let go of the anger and hatred is admirable in itself.

I was also bullied at school and used to carry around a lot of fear, humiliation and suppressed anger about it. I have to say that the thing that made it easiest for me to move on was forming new relationships in which I felt safe and welcome. The comparison to my adult self, as mirrored by these new people, made it easier for me to get some distance from the past and see the bullies as awful and miserable children, who were not my equals and who possessed no remaining power over me. But that only became possible after a long time of thinking about them less and less because I was thinking more and more about other and better people and things.

I understand that this anger is getting in the way of you forming new relationships in the first place. That makes sense. But I do think the key first step is diminishing the significance of these people in your mind, by focusing on filling your life with as many good things as you can: creative writing classes, sports, concerts, voluntary work, anything that appeals to you and that will take you, mentally, out of the past. This is only tangentially related to forgiveness, but I think forgiveness becomes easier when the things that need to be forgiven feel more distant and less visceral. In asking yourself to completely forgive what happened as a first step to moving on, you may be doing something counterproductive to your goals by focusing even more on what they did and how awful it was. If I were you, I would give myself permission to feel anger with these people everytime I thought of them but focus my energy on thinking of something other than them as often as possible. Your therapist may have suggestions for how to push away or replace the thoughts when they come.
posted by Aravis76 at 3:20 PM on January 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

This book. It's a whole collection of essays about forgiveness itself - its importance, its nature, its structure, how to forgive, when to forgive, and (which may also be interesting for you to consider) whether there is ever a time NOT to forgive. And the authors of the essays range from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Primo Levi to the Dalai Lama, talking about forgiveness in the face of things like the Holocaust or the Chinese occupation of Tibet or apartheid.

It's a staggering range of opinions and things to ponder about forgiveness, from a whole range of perspectives, and will give you a LOT of food for thought. I'mma put it this way - this was one of the books I mainlined in the weeks after 9/11, and that November I could honestly say I'd gotten to a point where I could say I'd forgiven Osama Bin Laden, in a way I felt comfortable doing. It wasn't the "d'aww, that's okay, ya lug" kind of forgiveness you're thinking of, but a different kind of forgiveness that the book had gotten me to consider; I still wanted him to pay for his crimes, but I wasn't going to dwell on my anger any more, and the book got me to see that that is a form of forgiveness.

I highly and strongly recommend it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:24 PM on January 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I work with abuse survivors. In my experience, anger is a necessary part of healing. Many people need to be angry for a while, rather than rushing to suppress the anger (which can lead to anxiety) or to declare forgiveness as a way of avoiding the anger.

True forgiveness requires knowing the true extent of the harm done; you can't truly forgive or let go of pain if you don't know what the pain actually is first. Anger helps illuminate the hurt and gives us the energy to change what needs to be changed in order to move into healing. It may help to visualize the anger as cleansing in itself, a fire burning away shame, guilt, and self-blame.

There is a lot of pressure, especially in religious communities, to forgive people who have done nothing to earn that forgiveness. You can work through and let go of your own pain without forgiving people who have harmed you and have made no effort to repair that harm. Even if you do eventually want to forgive them, that should be a last step, one made in full knowledge of the harm they actually caused.
posted by jaguar at 3:24 PM on January 3, 2015 [28 favorites]

Oh - I will add that my rec, The Sunflower, consults with different religious leaders from different faiths, and many of them do cite teachings from their different religions in the course of making their arguments. But they're not taking a "all good Christians/Jews/etc. should do it THIS way because they are Christians/Jews/etc." approach; it's more like "well, here's what this Bible story says, and here's my own take on that story and here's how it informed me and here's why I therefore think it's important". It's a very inter-faith and multi-cultural approach, and there are some humanist perspectives in there too.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:27 PM on January 3, 2015

My rule of thumb:
"Forgiveness is a gift. Trust is earned."

I think a lot of people who were hurt remain really angry as a form of defense. They don't know how else to protect themselves or try to safely navigate social settings. It will be easier to let this go if you make a clear distinction between forgiveness and trust. Abusers will expect you to "forgive and forget." Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. It does not mean giving people a chance to hurt you again when they haven't proven they are worthy of your trust.

You need to learn an effective way to set healthy boundaries so that anger is not your only hope of protecting yourself. A good rule of thumb is to expect people to treat you with respect. Abusive people are generally very disrespectful. Long before they do obviously abusive things, they engage in various forms of disrespect and boundary violation. If you learn to recognize those things, you will find life will get safer and when life is safer, it gets easier to let go of the anger that you cling to as a kind of protection.

I also watched a lot of tear-jerk movies for about two to three years and let myself cry. That helped me process the feelings and let them out. After that, I stopped being sad all the time and was less angry.
posted by Michele in California at 3:48 PM on January 3, 2015 [17 favorites]

A few things helped me with forgiving the person who abused me (and by abuse, I mean domestic violence over a period of years). First, as others have mentioned, you forgive in order to heal yourself, not to bestow a gift on the other person. You already know that carrying around anger and hatred harms you, not the person who wronged you. It helped me a lot to tell myself that hating him and being furious was like pissing on my own leg and hoping someone else got wet: I could be as furious as I wanted, but he'd never feel a single thing from my rage. Only I would (and boy, did I ever).

Second, I've come to accept that forgiveness is a process; I didn't wake up one morning and say, "Ok, I forgive him!" and then go on merrily with my life. I first made a conscious decision to forgive the person, and then I took the steps I deemed necessary to do that. There will be times I still catch myself getting angry at him, and that's ok; it doesn't mean that I still have to be caught up in the maelstrom of hating him for what he did. I can just sort of mildly note that he wronged me and that it's fine for me to still feel angry at that from time to time, but I don't have to let it possess me.

Third -- and this one might be difficult or controversial -- I let myself feel some sympathy for him, since someone who wasn't in a lot of pain himself wouldn't have to harm someone else. That doesn't mean that what he did was fine or a-ok or any iteration of those. But I found that if I reminded myself that he himself was in unbearable pain at the time he did horrible things to me, it made it easier for me to forgive him. I understand that people may disagree with this step, and might view it as excusing the abuse, but that's not how I viewed it, and this was a very useful perspective for me.

Those things, among others not really relevant to the discussion here, helped me a lot. As I said, I view forgiveness as a process, not a single event; it took me a long time.

Best wishes.
posted by holborne at 4:11 PM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I found loving kindness meditation to be helpful for this. There are guided versions available on iTunes, the web, etc. When I first started doing these guided meditations I would choose a person a strongly disliked but did not personally know--say, Rush Limbaugh or Fred Phelps. There was less at stake there and it got me used to the idea of projecting good feelings towards people who disgust or anger me. Eventually I switched my disliked person to people I actually did or do know that inflicted harm on me personally.

I also found the "hot rock" concept to be very useful. Buddha said that "holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."

One of the books that helped me understand forgiveness was written by a Jew named Victor Frankl. It's called Man's Search for Meaning. One of my favorite quotes:

"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."
posted by xyzzy at 4:20 PM on January 3, 2015 [10 favorites]

Two Dear Sugar letters come to mind: No is Golden and The Woman Hanging On the End of the Line. In particular, from No is Golden:
But as you are surely aware, forgiveness doesn’t mean you let the forgiven stomp all over you once again. Forgiveness means you’ve found a way forward that acknowledges harm done and hurt caused without letting either your anger or your pain rule your life or define your relationship with the one who did you wrong. Sometimes those we forgive change their behavior to the extent that we can eventually be as close to them as we were before (or even closer). Sometimes those we forgive continue being the jackasses that they always were and we accept them while keeping them approximately three thousand miles away from our wedding receptions.
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, by Cheryl Strayed, is one of my favorite books right now, if you're looking for more reading.
posted by pril at 4:22 PM on January 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Judaism requires one to forgive those who sincerely repent and make amends. Anyone else can eff off.

Seriously, good for you to making an effort to heal your soul. I think that controlling or channeling your anger will be a big part of that. But if you want the Jewish perspective, feeling better doesn't require you to forgive those who wronged you. Here's an interesting article I found.

perhaps watching this film, Facing Fear, about a former Neo-Nazi and one of his victims who become friends, might be helpful.
posted by bq at 6:01 PM on January 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Part of your baggage is called resentment because to bully is to dominate over the unwilling. I put this on my mirror.

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

― Nelson Mandela

Your task can be accomplished. Keep the goal in focus. Live each day as a gift and the river of time will erode and erase the past with new and better memories.
posted by ptm at 6:02 PM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I had a similarly horrifying school and homelife as a young person. I think my process for dealing with the anger has been something like this:

1. Remember and say out loud the things that were done to me. Most of the time, my first instinct has been to push the painful memories down, thereby avoiding the pain. But that just makes me hurt subconsciously instead, so bringing it out helps. I also tend to downplay the seriousness of whatever I experienced, so I try to really acknowledge how horrible things were.
2. Feel whatever I'm feeling. Angry, hurt, sad, etc.
3. Be angry and hurt for a while - for a few weeks after I first talk about it, I find myself bristling with anger every time I think about something. I allow and embrace this.
4. Over time, the anger starts to fade a bit and I can think about what happened with more clarity. Only then can I approach forgiving them.

It's like, if your body is a jar for emotions, the anger that never gets expressed builds and builds until you're under so much pressure it starts to leak out at strange and inopportune moments. The only way to stop that is to let it out under controlled circumstances to decrease the pressure and make it more manageable.
posted by zug at 6:55 PM on January 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

This page from about International Forgiveness Day (who knew that existed?) might be helpful. There are also several links and good quotes about forgiving on that page.

Pril's comment made me think of Ann Landers. A couple good quotes from her about letting go:
"Hate is like acid. It can damage the vessel in which it is stored as well as destroy the object on which it is poured."
and "Hanging onto resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head."

Incidentally, she championed April 2 as "Reconciliation Day" and ran columns on this subject every year on that day. Here's one of those.
posted by SisterHavana at 7:00 PM on January 3, 2015

I endured some bullying as a kid, too, and it definitely had domino effects throughout much of my life. What helped me come to terms with it at the level of understanding was appreciating the influence some of the factors that played into things. Although I think I had a certain amount of insight around what those might be, I wasn't really able to see past the hurt or to move past my responses - some of which, I would learn, contributed to perpetuating abusive dynamics - until I hit my early twenties, when I indulged a strong drive to learn as much as I could, about people in general, Truth - the big questions, etc. The frameworks that made sense to me came from the social sciences and philosophy. Once I was able to categorize my experiences, I was able to accept what happened and let it go. (Treating my education as therapy wasn't fantastic for my grades, but it definitely helped me sort things out for myself.) I can't say "forgiveness" much came into it; I think that idea is sort of loaded with religious stuff. Grasping things from the point of view of causes and effects made more sense to me. If this approach appeals to you, it might be worth reading or taking a couple of classes in intro-level developmental or personality psychology.

(There, you will find explanations like this: in elementary school, I was a few grades above my year academically, but was emotionally immature - there were some periods of stress at home, and I didn't have the skills to regulate my emotions appropriately in the school setting. [This combination is a definite non-starter on the playground.] So there were responses to my behaviour, which I internalized in the form of expectations and took with me to the next place I lived; these in turn contributed to setting others' expectations in turn, reinforcing the whole dance. I read about Bandura's social-cognitive theory of personality, and Mischel's ideas about behavioural signatures, and went "aha!" [I like their approach, because it leaves room for learning new behaviours and expectations]. Similarly for family dynamics, etc.)

As far as making emotional sense of all this, in my case, the thing I happened to do as a young teen was try to rework my feelings through creative activities. These activities provided a cathartic outlet, which gave me enough motivation to stick with them long enough to be kind of good at some of them, enough that they provided ground for an identity as a competent person (in those areas) within my social group. All that led to more positive interactions with people, which meant I could relax a bit, and I think it set off more positive feedback reactions in other areas of life. (Not that I have it all sorted out, I don't, but I have areas of strength that I can turn to when I need to.)

I believe that this kind of learning is possible for anyone at any time of life; I believe people do rise to the occasion, if the occasion is right. So I really strongly second Aravis76's suggestions.

So, somewhere between my sense-making efforts and my self-healing efforts, hurt and anger left me. I can't say I ever think of the kids who were mean to me. They were kids, with their own personalities and situations. (What I've read suggests some of them, at least, might not have low self-esteem, though, on the contrary. But it doesn't matter, as far as I'm concerned; they were 6, 8, 11 or whatever at the time - what did they know but what they knew?)

Anyway, I wouldn't put too much energy into thinking about forgiveness, and I'd put more effort into finding a place or activity that allows you to feel good, whatever that is to you.

Best of luck.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:04 PM on January 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

I wrestle with this too. I am not a very forgiving person, and I tend not just to stay angry, but to enjoy my anger and feed it. I have found often the hidden key in forgiveness is asking what benefirs I think I am getting out of my anger -- sometimes, in my case, it can be a tremendous fuel for accomplishment, because I want to do something that will show up the other person.

But sometimes my anger is actually rooted in me being very anger and disappointed in myself, and not being able to forgive myself for putting myself into a position where somebody might mistreat me, or not recognizing it soon enough, or not responding appropriately. It is easy for me to remain angry at the other person, because then I don't have to address my anger at myself, and figure out a way to forgive myself, which is very difficult.

I don't think there is any one key to forgiveness. You don't simply say I forgive you and it is done. But I have noticed that when I acknowledge that I am angry and try to then let it go, instead of latching on it and dwelling on it, very time it returns it is lessened, and eventually it stops coming back altogether, or only very infrequently.
posted by maxsparber at 7:11 PM on January 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't recommend dropping immediately into a meditation process with no guidance, but perhaps just listening to some meditation seminars will help you start to process this anger. I highly recommend Tara Brach, if you want specific seminars you could try the seminars from this year that focus on happiness and love. They will have lovingkindness meditations as part of them.
It is not particularly religious in my experience. I'm atheist but get a lot of value from meditation and guided seminars.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:59 PM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding the sunflower book and adding that praying for horrible people helped. I added them to my list of people to pray for - some i couldn't at first because I was so angry - and over time it became easier to see them in fullness as angry sad people themselves who had done terrible things and to feel my own anger gently fading from them. What they did is still wrong and trust is very separate, but with practice forced prayer became genuine heartfelt prayer for them. It took months and years though. This was a simple "lord have mercy on name, name, name" type prayer.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:30 PM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

One of the principles of Unitarian Universalism is that members affirm the dignity and worth of every person. The premise there is that every human, regardless of behavior, is worth your affirmation. It's mind-altering.
posted by mchorn at 9:08 PM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Would it help to do take sort of anti-bullying action - whether that's volunteering or donating to a group or telling your story?

I keep coming back to the power thing... if you find a way to take control of your story, that might make it easier to move forward.
posted by bunderful at 9:32 PM on January 3, 2015

Seconding the lovingkindness meditation, and mindfulness meditation in general. If your anger is anything like mine, you're carrying it with you all the time, and meditation helps you to become aware of that and to begin to release it when it's not useful. Meditation In A New York Minute is an excellent book for getting started.

Also, I've found it helpful to think of "forgiveness" in a specific way. It doesn't mean that what your abusers did was okay. It doesn't mean that it's okay for them to do it again, to you or to anyone else. It means only that you're making a choice to no longer allow their actions to have an impact on you.
posted by bac at 9:41 PM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

A personal statement now - I was only able to forgive a couple of bullies from my past after allowing myself to feel that anger towards them FIRST. What I mean is - I'd had a particularly bad incident when I was seven, and spent years telling myself it wasn't that bad and suppressing it, and scolding myself for still feeling hurt and affected by it. But then one day I realized "wait, why am I surprised it is affecting me still, it was FUCKED UP, and it was THEIR fault." And I went through a couple of angry months where I was SERIOUSLY mad at them ("those BITCHES, how DARE they...."), finally letting myself react honestly to what they'd done. And then - one day I realized, "....okay, wait, yeah, it was fucked up, but my God they we're only SEVEN, and didn't know any better." And I was able to forgive them.

This doesn't mean I've tracked the adults they are now down and had them over for tea or anything. I still don't want them around. But I was able to finally let things go myself, after I'd gotten the honest reaction out which I'd been suppressing all that time.

And it sounds like that's the stage you're in now, where in the past you suppressed the anger against them and it festered, and now you're finally getting it all out. Letting that reaction ru it's course does really, really help, though. It may take a while, but it does really help.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:07 AM on January 4, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm not going to address forgiveness but anger. For me, I could not get rid of the anger until I started working out, running, and dancing to loud music at home. For no scientific reason whatsoever, I believe the anger was embedded in my body (fight or flight) and that I had to work it out via my body. Martial arts, self-defense classes like (I hear) impact, etc. are other routes I have considered.

Running for me is the best. Sometimes I run slowly and sometimes at the start especially I have run a sprint in a cemetery until totally winded and then I have cried. I suck at running by the way.

At the height/nadir of my early therapy I also bought dishes at garage sales and kept a stack handy for throwing them against my house.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:53 PM on January 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry that this happened to you.

I agree with working out to vent. You don't even need to get your shoes on for bodyweight prison workouts. A while back I had trouble sleeping, racing thoughts for hours. Trying to get to 100 crunches or pushups kept my mind focused (just remember to stretch after).
posted by ana scoot at 8:25 PM on January 4, 2015

But sometimes my anger is actually rooted in me being very anger and disappointed in myself, and not being able to forgive myself for putting myself into a position where somebody might mistreat me, or not recognizing it soon enough, or not responding appropriately. It is easy for me to remain angry at the other person, because then I don't have to address my anger at myself, and figure out a way to forgive myself, which is very difficult.

This may not be what's going on for you, but I think maxsparber is on to something with this. I know what a huge revelation it was when I realised that as much as I was (justifiably) angry at my abusive ex for being abusive, the person I was angriest at was myself because I had allowed it to happen. I hadn't realised what was going on, I had allowed myself to be charmed and denied the warning signs. I had actively colluded in my own emotional abuse. At least, that's what it seemed like to me. It didn't matter that I wasn't the one who had abused me, I had allowed it to happen and I could not forgive myself for that. Part of what helped me realise this was reading Charles de Lint's book Widdershins, which is fiction, but features one of his recurring characters who has gone through a lot of abuse and nastiness. For me, the truth in stories is often more powerful than the truth in reality or self-help books and so on. Understanding the truth at that story-level makes sense of it for me at a deeper level than mere intellectual understanding. If you are interested in that, you should probably read The Onion Girl first so it makes more sense.

Realising how angry I was with myself was the first step. It's taken a while, but I'm nearly free of it now. I went through a stage where I was worried that having been taken in once, I would allow it to happen again. Then abusive ex contacted me and I deleted the message without even reading it, blocked everything I hadn't already blocked and knew that I did not need to worry about that again.

I have a problem with the word "forgiveness" personally, as to me it has echoes of saying "well, you shouldn't have done that, but it's okay" even though I know it doesn't mean that to other people. I prefer to think of it as taking back the power they had over me. Abusive ex: I am not angry and scared and broken anymore because I have taken back the power you had over me. You mean nothing to me now, you're just a dangerous thing like a cobra that I will never ever go near because it would be stupid to do that again, but I will not waste my time and energy and emotion on anything more than that.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:28 PM on January 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

PM me - I have a manuscript for you.
posted by namesarehard at 4:56 PM on January 5, 2015

« Older Acquiring the rights to out-of-print books in the...   |   Did I just ruin these egg noodles? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.