I recently read a letter to advice columnist Carolyn Hax in which a woman said she was unable to move on from the anger and resentment she felt for her daughter’s ex-husband. The ex had treated her daughter terribly and then divorced her, and the mother felt she could not let go of her feelings or move forward unless her former son-in-law did or said specific things she felt he owed the family. Carolyn wrote something in her reply that stood out to me:
“You’ve outsourced your peace of mind to the ex. When you suspend contentment until someone does something you think you are owed, you let another person — whom you can’t control — decide how good you feel. Few happy endings start there. Plus, it gives the person you find most upsetting more power over you than anyone else possesses.”
There’s a great deal of truth to that statement. There were times both in and out of therapy when I was introduced to this concept, and I initially resented it. I felt it discounted the pain and suffering I had been through at the hands of a friend or family member. I took it to mean I should just ‘get over it’. When I really began to delve into it, it actually became clearer to me just how liberating the idea really is.
It’s not about saying you’re not in pain. It’s about saying a lot of time has passed, and continuing to swim in that pain hurts no one but yourself. It’s embracing the philosophy that it’s important to acknowledge pain and where it comes from, but it’s also equally helpful to determine when holding on to that pain is like wrapping yourself around an anchor in the middle of the ocean while simultaneously resenting the fact that you’re drowning.
It’s not about saying the person who hurt you doesn’t owe you an apology. It’s about recognizing that there is clear evidence that no true remorse, words of regret, or offers of reparation long fantasized about are forthcoming. Imagine that someone physically hurt you by breaking your arm. They are to blame, and yet they do not offer an apology or assistance in treating the injury and pain. As unfair as that is, you then have to take action by seeking treatment for your arm and doing your best to become healed again. This is much healthier than deciding it is up to the person who hurt you to heal you, and you are going to let your arm remain broken until this person steps up and does what you need.
It’s not about thinking you were never a victim. It’s about seeing that going through life with a Victim Hat planted firmly on your head will only hold you back. We are all hurt by someone (and to be fair, we all cause harm to someone else at some point, too). Going through life without experiencing painful burdens is not an option. Letting the pain caused by someone else rule our plans for the future, our ability to move on, and our right to peace of mind IS an option.
Ask yourself if you are in a holding pattern because you are certain that you cannot move forward or heal until someone says or does something specific. Ask yourself if outsourcing your peace of mind to another person, especially someone with a track record of hurting you, is helping you or holding you back. As Ms. Hax said: “few happy endings start there”. Rewrite what your happy ending is and start Living In Peace.
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