Letting Go of Past Wrongs

Guest post by wordssetmefreee

A couple of weeks back, I received an email from J1289 that described some of her difficult /abusive childhood experiences. As a child, she was constantly blamed for things she had no control over. She was belittled, compared to others unfavorably, manipulated and controlled in ways that were a clear abuse of parental authority. She went out into the world, began to question and re-think many childhood misconceptions, and began to form a different (more coherent) view of the world and herself. Despite the abuse, she re-built her self-esteem, a remarkable feet considering many adults (who haven’t suffered abuse) may go through their entire lives without a clear sense of who they are and what they want.

But, how does one forgive those that let us down? How do we forget their meanness, their ignorance, and their selfishness? These lines from her email really stood out for me –

I do admit I have those horrid memories I have suffered in the past come back and it’s hard because you feel so alone in your thoughts, and think it’s only you.  It fills me with disgust, anger and hatred towards my family members and want to cut of relations with them. Sometimes it gets to me so bad that I have no idea how I can keep it in since I cannot vent it to anyone.

Experiencing abuse can leave scars that are difficult to erase.

Not everyone undergoes abuse – but many people face difficult, painful situations at some point in their lives, when they have been wronged in some way. We may have been betrayed by a close friend. We may have felt abandoned by a loving family member, when they failed to stand by us in a crisis. Someone we looked up to may have let us down, disappointed us. Such experiences can be unsettling and hold us back from seizing happiness.

It is common to harbor feelings of resentment, perhaps even hate, against those who were supposed to love us and be there for us. Over time, these feelings begin to take a toll on us. Negative thoughts can eat into a big part of our day. Our experiences begin to influence how we interact with others. We may find it hard to trust other people long after these harsh experiences. We may be wary in relationships, fear emotional intimacy and have difficulty forming deep friendships.

So, how do we get past our past? Simplistic advice such as ‘forgive and forget’ or ‘the past is past’ is not very helpful. Other nice sounding but unhelpful advice includes –

  • “forgiving is a choice”
  • “don’t cling to negative feelings”
  • “you can’t change the things that happened to you”
  • “it’s not worth it”
  • “you need to move on”
  • “put your energy into something that helps you”
  • “anger and resentment are unhealthy”
  • “start on a clean slate”
  • “focus on the present”
  • “change the things you can”

Let’s think for a minute about why this is not helpful. ‘The past is past’ sounds hollow because the opposite is true for the one who suffered in the past. For this person, the past IS the present. The past continues to haunt. It has shaped who he is today. It continues to shape current interactions and relationships.

‘Forgive and forget’ doesn’t make much sense either. How can we simply forget? We can’t just erase certain memories from our minds. They’re still there, whether we like them or not. How can we just forgive? Someone did something wrong. If you examine their actions today, they are still wrong.

And yet we know, all of us, that it is not healthy to constantly harbor negative feelings, to let past wrongs have a hold on us.

So, how do we free ourselves from this pain? How do we lighten our burden?

There are several things we could do to help ourselves –

Understand the past

Yes, this requires us to remember the past rather than forget it. Understand what exactly happened. Was it emotional abuse? Was it abandonment? Betrayal? Humiliation? Disappointment? What exactly happened and who is responsible for what? What was the other’s role in it? What was your role in it? If you were a child, you did not have any control over the situation. If you were an adult, you did have a role. This is not victim blaming, it’s trying to understand how you came to be victimized.

Acknowledge the past

Now that you have a clearer understanding of the past, acknowledge it. Burying it does not help. Acknowledge the fact that you were wronged. Remember how you felt – fear, shame, sadness, anger, pain, guilt – we try hard to bury these feelings, but the minute you acknowledge and accept them, they begin to become less burdensome.

Forgive yourself

Although it is irrational, we tend to blame ourselves (on some level) for the bad things that people do to us. Children often think it is their fault, when they are abused. They must be “difficult” or “bad”, and they deserve to suffer. There is no such thing as a “bad” child. Here, the responsibility rests with the adult, never with the child.

If you were abused/wronged as an adult, forgive yourself because you did what you could, given what you’ve been given. Not everyone is born assertive or spirited. Many of us learn assertiveness through experiences. Very few of us are lucky enough to have strong and supportive role models. Abusers also know how to tap into people’s vulnerabilities and cut off their support systems. So, give yourself a break.

Don’t erase pain

Pain is undesirable and we would not wish it on anyone. However pain has a role to play in our lives. Just as physical pain acts as the body’s warning system and protects us, emotional pain, when handled with the right perspective, helps us grow. It makes us stronger. Pain makes us understand what is really important. It simplifies things. Pain reminds us of the things we love and value. If you have gone through a lot of pain in the past, it may always be there inside you. You can never erase it completely. Therefore it is important that you use it to become stronger and more connected with yourself and others.

Separating your current self from your old self

A curious thing begins to happen if you have taken an honest look at your past, acknowledged it, and forgiven yourself. You begin to feel a separation. You begin to observe yourself objectively, like an outsider. You are able to finally separate the past from the present. That was you then and this is you now. This separation creates distance. You still remember the past events but the feelings associated with those events are less intense.

Let’s take a detour here and consider the example of an ordinary setback, removed from abuse, betrayal, or anything deeply traumatic. You are 5 years old and you just broke up with your best friend. You came home and cried as if your heart would break. For the next few days, you did not play with anyone at school. You stayed in your corner and sulked. By the end of the week, you were neither sad nor happy; you just went about your day in a cynical way. By the following week, you even laughed at something goofy someone did. By the end of the following week, you probably made a new friend. The anger and hurt may still be there. But alongside some positive feelings (new hopes, possibilities) crept in unnoticed and pushed the hurt into the background. Years later, you may even recall the good times you had with this friend you broke up with.

Our minds are interesting – they are geared to both remember endlessly and forget quickly. What we remember and forget depends on a complicated set of parameters such as our own nature, our perception of the event, our age, the context, the people involved, our feelings towards them, and our state of mind. What we remember also depends on what our conscious mind chooses to suppress in attempting to protect us.

Applying the ordinary setback and separation you experienced at age 5 to a more traumatic incident -as you begin ‘separating’, you will be able to recollect the incident without the same intensity, without the gut wrenching pain that you felt during the event or for many years following the event.

Being able to recollect a painful experience without the same intensity of pain is the first sign of freedom from the past.

Change in perspective

Separation leads us to start seeing ourselves differently (we are no longer victims, we feel more in control) and therefore we begin experiencing things differently. We now know what to look for in people. We are more trusting because we are more confident of protecting ourselves in relationships. We get better at drawing boundaries but we also get better at breaking through constraints and self-imposed limits.

Seek positive, affirming people

It is helpful to surround ourselves throughout these stages with strong, positive, supportive people. People who themselves have struggled with something but have come out strong make the most valuable friends. Avoid people who are insecure or tend to be dismissive of your struggles. Love (from a close friend or family member) can be a powerful healer.

Embrace nature

We use the expression “natural” to describe a picture of someone being unselfconscious or just being in the moment. A lot of our stress comes from being disconnected from nature, and therefore from ourselves. Pain has always been a part of the human experience but nature was a refuge, a haven of solitude that healed us, one which we are getting farther away from.

Nature can be your best friend. Take a walk in the woods. Spend time gardening. Hike up the hills and watch the world below. Nature is both calming and invigorating. Observe a tree. Notice how the branches are asymmetrical. The texture varies dramatically from the rough bark to the smooth leaves. Nature is imperfectly beautiful. Nature reminds us of our humanity and helps us accept our weaknesses.

Nature changes so imperceptibly that it is impossible to just sit there and watch the leaves turn red in fall. It is impossible to find the exact moment when the sky begins to lighten (just like one’s healing). Yet, you know these things will happen, with time. Thus, nature imbues us with patience and the confidence that time heals.

Seek new experiences

As you begin to trust people more and as you begin to enjoy your own solitude more, seek out new experiences. Travel if you can. Experience different cultures. Try something you’ve always feared. If you are uncoordinated like me, try a salsa class. If you are uncomfortable in water, take a basic life skills swimming class. New experiences challenge us to keep growing and evolving – and when we keep evolving – are we not moving ahead, are we thus not separating ourselves more and more from our painful past?

Forgive those who wronged you

Ah … the final step to freedom! Forgiveness is supposed to be one of the hardest things to do. Especially when the person who has wronged you does not realize it or admit it. But if you have gone through all of the above stages, forgiving someone is a natural progression. The stages may take months or years depending on the intensity of the pain inflicted, your vulnerability at the time, as well as your perception of the incident/phase. But once you’ve understood the past, achieved separation, undergone a change in perspective, and opened yourself up to new experiences and people with trust and confidence, you’ve gone a long way in healing yourself.

You are now strong enough to forgive. You begin to see the person who wronged you as being human rather than evil, as ignorant rather than malicious, as limited rather than insidious.

Remember, we are not forgetting our past, but we are finally able to look at it with different eyes, more perceptive eyes. It is no longer a raw, painful wound, but a scar that will always remind us of how far we’ve come. A scar that affirms our strength, so we can continue to go places.

Please share your struggles and experiences with letting go of past wrongs, disappointments, failures, disillusionment, and other painful experiences.

34 thoughts on “Letting Go of Past Wrongs

  1. Nice Post on letting go of past hurts. These steps listed are sure to help one empower themselves and get out of the victim mode in some cases.

    I believe that we need one more point in certain scenarios: Punishing the abuser.

    Sometimes the abuse does not end with you. Forgiving the abuser and moving on can help you but can allow the abuse to continue on other people. E.g. A pedophile needs to be brought to justice to save other innocent children from being abused.

    Balancing the scale in situations of injustice is sometimes necessary for healing and letting go and empowering oneself. I’m not talking about revenge in the classic sense of ‘eye for an eye’ but a more mature thought process that addresses the issue that caused the abuse or created the environment that faciliated the abuse. E.g. Traditions or religious practices that allow abuse of women. Like Malala who is now fighting back for not just herself but for many other girls like herself.

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    • Yes, anything that is defined as a crime under the law needs to be punished. Pedophilia is a crime. Emotional partner abuse is recognized as a crime in many countries (harassment, threats, brainwashing, etc.)
      My post mostly refers to non-criminal forms of traumatic experiences – betrayal, breakup, failure, disillusionment, involving people we loved, trusted, and depended upon.

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  2. Nice write-up with workable solutions. Thanks.
    One of my personal choice is to start the day afresh by deleting memory :)….. It’s fairly simple and becomes a great option to move on by practising it regularly.

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  3. Forgive and forget,visualisation and thinking positive thoughts – is the first thing the therapist gave along with anti anxiety medicines ! At rs 600 per visit ! Just saying ! A few more visits, and he concluded I had no depression and prescribed Louise hay book to learn to concentrate on creating positive thoughts !
    And this was senior experienced doctor !
    —–
    I think in these anxiety filled and stress full lives we lead ,anti depressants ,anti anxiety is randomly,frequently prescribed just to control mood fluctuations !
    I think these pills are necessary for some people to function but real work of changing lives has to be done by us !
    ——
    What I have learnt is forgive and forget is for ourselves not for the other person ,its difficult thing to do,and staying apart or removing yourself out of that situation, away from those people helps ! It also helps to remember we have limited time on earth !But allthis applicable to family friends friction,conflict not to crimes and extreme abuse by others! Recovering from horrific abuse and crime is a lifelong process,it completely changes you !

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    • Yes, all good points cosettez – medications may be necessary for some people, but when they can be avoided, doing the hard work of healing has much more long lasting effects and less dependence
      – it is your counselor’s job to help you with the first 3 steps – remembering, understanding the traumatic incident, letting go of guilt and self-blame – you don’t need to pay her to get visualization advice
      – And yes, forgiving is something we do for ourselves as much as for the other person

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  4. Priya,
    I echo practically whats mentioned in the post. Yes I have had a sort of let down by close freinds .. which I am battling till date. I think changing perspective is the key and it really helps… and then the other things slowly fall in place… But it is difficult…

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  5. Well written as always. You are right. It is much better to understand the past and make peace with it rather than forget. When we go through a painful experience, we blame ourselves for not doing enough. We do not realize that many things and situations are not under our control. It helps to talk to positive people, try new things, meditate and talk to kids. Kids have this amazing capability of making us see the world from a cheerful perspective. Their innocence coupled with unconditional love can calm the mind during stressful and painful times. It also helps to read articles on spirituality, positivity and happiness.

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    • I agree about kids. Kids tend to naturally live in the present. They quickly forget yesterday’s broken toy and don’t worry about tomorrow’s math test:)

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  6. I was very very angry and felt let down by someone close to me. I used to cry for hours without provocation. I felt that I had no control over any emotions. I read a lot, spent time with babies (very therapeutic), learnt a new language just to feel empty.

    I forgave the perpetrators of my emotional abuse a few years ago. I had written a post on forgiving then. Some Excerpts from that post (pl delete this comment, if you don’t find it relevant or coherent. Have edited the long original post. I want to share what helped me forgive)

    Post
    I came across this while reading a blog

    Hanging on onto resentment is like letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head
    -Ann Landers

    This quote stirred something in me. It was like someone had poured a bucket of water all over me to wake me up from a long reverie. I realized the stupidity and futility of my anger. I was the one suffering, not my abusers!

    Things begin to add up and an old quote, attributed to the Buddha, which I had read about came to me.

    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.

    And last Tuesday, on a visit to a doctor I found a note, attributed to Mother Teresa posted on the wall. I searched on the web and found the original note by Dr. Kent M. Keith.

    Mother Teresa’s Version.
    Do it Anyway prayer
    People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
    If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
    If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.
    If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.
    What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.
    If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
    The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.
    Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.
    In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

    Everything suddenly fell into place. And I did what I thought I would never be capable of doing.

    I forgave the perpetrators of my abuse.

    It might seem infantile that I achieved this because of reading a few quotes and a prayer. In fact, when I used to read about people’s lives being changed by one book that they had read, or a movie that they had seen or met this one person, I was largely sceptical.

    But it happened to me. I think the process of catharsis has already begun somewhere in my heart. It just needed an impetus. The quotes and the prayer provided just that.

    I feel like some huge burden has been lifted from me since the time I decided to forgive.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beautiful. Thank you for sharing your journey of letting go, Raindrop, I’m sure it will help many others reading this.

      What I liked about the quote from Mother Teresa – it makes your life so simple. There are no pretenses. When you are happy, you are not afraid to show it. When your sincerity is taken advantage of, you remain unfazed. You don’t have to rethink your values everyday. It is so grounding to go about your life with the same honesty and kindness regardless of others’ reactions and motivations. It feels so light and un-burdensome to not constantly try to figure out how other people might think or react.

      I was thinking these thoughts as I was reading your comment until I came to the end and saw that you yourself had written them: “I think the process of catharsis has already begun somewhere in my heart. It just needed an impetus. The quotes and the prayer provided just that.”

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    • “It might seem infantile that I achieved this because of reading a few quotes and a prayer.”

      Doesn’t seem infantile at all. I’m no expert, but seems to me that one could hear such quotes and prayers all the time and pay them no heed (or as you say remain skeptical). It takes the right time and situation to actually have that epiphany and that realization for yourself.

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  7. I was initially very upset with my parents and their behavior and a yr after i moved away i realised that my life was full ,i didn’t really need them. It helps to have a strong support like i had, my husband and soon you realize no one is required to make someone happy, we are happy by ourself. I often get asked even now how i can let me kids interact with my birth family and relatives, They are adults , they can make their own choices and i did tell my parents i hold no ill will towards them,just hi , hello and bye and drama free life.
    Its important to understand what happened and acknowledge it and let it go. things happen . thats life. people are rude,mean and nasty an dpeople are also kind, fun and loving.
    Forget, and move on, or accept that they have a point of view which differs , i always say i wont behave like they did with my kids, its a lesson learnt. one im guaranteed not to forget. as for forgiveness, whats there to forgive, we meet so many people and forget so many. we have better things to do in life than stew and ruin our lives.
    i think its harder on my parents, they are feeling the guilt, the chasm and there is no bridge. i tell them to let go, we are fine they are fine, we both made choices and thats that.

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    • “i think its harder on my parents, they are feeling the guilt, the chasm and there is no bridge.”

      Radha, are they willing to understand what happened, how they hurt you?
      Are they willing to listen to how alone and let down you felt at the time?
      Are they willing to to take responsibility for what they did?

      The above are the things they need to do (only if you are willing to partake of course) in order to have some kind of closure/relief/lessening of the burden.

      When we forgive someone, it helps US, not necessarily the person being forgiven. That person needs to take responsibility for their mistakes – that is the only way for them to unburden themselves.

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      • The answer to all your questions is probably a No. Unfortunately they belong to the time when parents decided what was right especially in terms d a daughters wedding. Defiance wasnt the norm. They can’t understand why I don’t value their opinion. It was never that. There was no complicated thought process in my defying them. It was simple a I love him and choose to marry him.
        Of course the lasting joys we’ve had is a bonus 😄
        iMO I’m not a part of their mind freeing process. It’s upto them, from my end I seem to have an indifference about them. It’s been so long since I thought I had parents, it just not a habit.

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  8. If some of you watched the movie ‘Queen’ – you may catch several of the elements discussed here
    – she sees her cancelled marriage as a ‘major failure’, this is her perception, and it is painful/traumatic to HER
    – she blames herself, her small-townishness for losing a coveted match
    – her family is supportive and helps her through the process of healing
    – there were several moments when she achieves ‘separation’ from her painful experience
    – when she gets her bag snatched, the first word that comes out of her mouth is “Mummy!” but then she realizes there is no Mummy around. And when she manages to fight off the attacker, some part of her has moved forward
    – when her friends laugh at her dancing engagement video, she is angry at first, she can’t think of her engagement without sadness – but she is happy to finally see the Japanese friend laughing – she realizes he is separating – he is laughing at long last (after his parents died) – and she separates too – she hugs him and laughs at her dancing video too
    – when she begins to meet new people, people who have very different lives, when she gets out of her comfort zone (male friends, sharing space with them), she is separating a little more, she is adding on layers, evolving
    – the scene where she pins her wedding invitation to the wall was when she said goodbye to her pain (there is even a little regret here in letting go of the innocent small town girl who once knew no pain, but she is ready to embrace her new, stronger self)
    – and in the end, she forgives her ex-fiance (sees him as being limited rather than diabolical), gives him a hug, and walks out eager to embrace life

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  9. I have much to say regarding this!🙂
    I have not had a great childhood. My parents separated when I was in 12th and till then it was horrible. My father was abusive towards my mom, who is one of my favorite and one of the strongest persons I know. Seeing the abuse day in and day out was horrible and frankly I celebrated the day they got divorced. I was just relieved. But, I was angry (to put it mildly) towards my father. I wanted him to suffer and be unhappy. It has been almost 13-14 years since the divorce and since I last saw him and it has been a slow and deliberate journey to getting rid of this pent up anger.
    Immediately after they got divorced I dont think i was in a state to even think about him, what he did and I wanted nothing to do with thinking about the past. In those initial years what helped me the most were 3 things:
    1) Meeting people who had issues bigger than mine: I got a chance to stay in the premises of a girls’ orphanage as my mom was a resident doctor there for a couple of years. And listening to some of the stories of those girls kind of made me stop mopping around about my own situation. I am not undermining what I went through, but there are always people who are facing so much more problems that we are. So that kinda put things in perspective for me.

    2) Change of scene: After my engineering, I came to the US for my masters and the changed scene, being away from home helped immensely. This was my first time staying alone and after a long time, I faced problems other than my abusive dad. I was constantly worrying about my assignments, completing my thesis well, getting assistantship and a whole load of other day to day issues that come with being alone in a foreign land. And it was like a breath of fresh air. To be dealing with new problems. That definitely took my mind off the past, gave me time to calm down, to think clearly and organize my anger. So yes, running away from my past helped me deal with it better than facing it.

    3) I think different people find inspiration in different things. For me, most of my “aha” moments were from books, or articles I read. I remember there used to be this piece in Times of India (when it was a decent newspaper about a decade back) called the thinking Tree (or was it the speaking tree…I forget the name) where there was an article on how your happiness is your choice and is not governed by the people/circumstances around you. This seems like commonsense to me now, but I remember something clicking in my mind when I read that article. It was like an on-off switch and suddenly it was like I just knew how to be happy! I still have the cutout of that article back in India.

    Over the past decade I think I have become a more calm and content person, a far cry from the restless and angry teenager that I was. I dont think I can ever forgive my father for what he did to us as a family and the abuse he inflicted on my mom. But I no longer think about him and what he did. He is more of a stranger to me, I am indifferent towards him, I dont care what happens to him, I do not wish anything (good or bad) for him. Will I get affected if I come face to face with him after all these years? Yes… but I will not blow off my head with anger if that happens. Like last year, I got his “friend request” on facebook. It made me sad and I spent the whole day crying thinking about the horrible days that were…but after that I was fine. He was out of my mind. And life was good again.

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    • Hugs Mypunchingbag. Thank you for sharing your journey. It is certainly not easy watching one’s mother being abused. It is so traumatic on children, because they don’t understand that they are helpless and blameless – they feel responsible for protecting the abused parent in some way. I agree with you on being aware of what others go through – that helps me too in gaining perspective.

      Also, please see my reply to Radha – I think it applies here as well.

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  10. This post is so timely. I have been struggling with anger toward my parents for years now and ever since I became a parent that anger has grown stronger rather than dimming as I expected it to. A lot of this anger comes because I see that I can (and do) make positive choices when parenting my daughter rather than the physical and mental abuse that my parents doled out. If I can make the choices I do now, why couldn’t my parents?

    Of course, many Indians would not consider what I went through abuse of any kind because that is what all children went through (at least in my immediate and extended family), but I have moved away from home and can very clearly see the abuse and neglect I was subjected to as a child.

    I have not spoken to my parents for several months now because I cannot stand what they did and said to a child and they have not really changed all that much. As a result I cannot stand myself because how can I be a good mother to my daughter and develop a strong relationship with her if I can’t maintain cordial relations with my parents? Is there, and should there, even be a connection between the two? I’ve struggled with this for a while now and I don’t know how to end this stalemate.

    Raina.

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    • Raina, although many people are strongly influenced by their conditioning and tend to make the same mistakes as their parents, in a few cases, the exact opposite happens. Children of very conservative parents may become liberal. Children of dogmatic/superstitious/fearful parents may embrace logic and rationality. Children of very strict parents may end up being relaxed parents. In such cases, children have seen their parents’ beliefs, preferences and styles play havoc with their lives. So when they find themselves as parents, they think, ‘wait, there’s got to be a better way’.

      You have clearly chosen to be a different kind of parent to your daughter. Your daughter is lucky! It is often difficult to break the cycle of abuse. It takes a lot to shake off our upbringing, think differently, and gain fresh perspective. And even when we manage to do that, it takes strength to not fall back into the old patterns. So give yourself credit for all of that. I’m sure you will enjoy parenting your daughter as much as she will enjoying growing up in your home.

      Regarding parents of the previous generation – I’ve seen both kinds – abusive ones and loving parents – parents can be traditional/conservative but also loving without forcing their traditional beliefs on their children. Such parents may prefer that their children follow the traditional path but when they sense disagreement, they are willing to listen and prioritize their child’s happiness. So being traditional itself is not a crime but sacrificing one’s child’s happiness for narrow minded beliefs is. And the latter is what abusive parents do/did.

      As for the anger toward your parents, it is never easy and it is a process. Keep in touch and share your experiences. Hugs.

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    • Rainanderson: My experience is fairly similar to yours. I have 2 children who are now is their 20s. As my children grew older, my anger at my parents grew, for the same reason as you- they could have made better choices in their parenting but they didn’t. Abuse can have several forms aside from physical- it can include shaming, manipulating and guilt tripping. And yes- these forms of abuse are not obvious to ( or even acknowledged by ) others outside the family. As I worked through all of the emotional fallout of what I went through as a kid, I came to the painful ( and ultimately liberating) conclusion that I should not doubt my conclusions about how I was treated ( I found that one does feel guilty about negative thoughts about our parents even though we may be right- social conditioning. ) and that I did not have any deep love for my parents, and that was OK, and that while I owe them some level of support and care as they age, I will not give in to emotional manipulation. I also live 1000 mlies away from them, which helps quite a bit. So take heart that you are not alone in being less than fond of your parents. It is good you are acknowledging this and being honest with yourself about it. And kudos to you for not repeating your parents’ mistakes.

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      • Thank you so much for sharing your story. I don’t think many people talk about how they truly feel about their parents and I suspect there are many people out there who think just like us, but social conditioning and shaming prevent many from speaking out about such topics. Like you, I live thousands of miles away from my parents and I am torn about telling them why I do not communicate with them as much. Telling them would mean drama, something I just don’t have the time or patience to handle. Anyway, thank you for letting me vent here🙂.

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        • Rainanderson- And I thank you, in return, for sharing your story. I felt really lonely when I was trying to sort through what kind of parenting I had. I sensed something had gone wrong, but didn’t have the life experience or words to articulate it. I did try to “compare notes” with some of my peers, but mostly got how “wonderful” their parents were. ( I do know that this was not true for some of my peers. ) Then I went through a phase where I felt there was something wrong with me. But in the end, I arrived at the conclusion that I was not wrong in my perceptions. Sadly, what I learned from my parents was more of what NOT to do as a parent. I found very little in their parenting worthy of emulating as I raised my own kids. And it turns out- that was a good thing! One of the unfortunate ( but unavoidable) consequences of all this soul searching is that I lost respect and affection for my parents. But I feel much better for accepting this reality ( and making my peace with it) than trying to make up a fairy tale about an idyllic childhood that never happened. I have stopped feeling guilty about my feelings. And accepting what kind of parents I had, rather than the ones I wished I had, made it a lot easier for me to dispassionately decide how to deal with them.

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  11. Thank you for writing this post..
    I myself struggled a lot with my past relationship and though I am married to a wonderful man today, still there are times when I go back into the past and feel horrible. I moved from the stage of doubting myself to accepting the truth and forgiving, but one thing I know for sure is that I will never let my ex know that I have forgiven him. I will forgive him for my mental peace but I will never let him know that he is forgiven just because he does not deserve that mental peace and guilt free life. He was an abuser and I lived in so much fear that I had cut contact with my parents, friends and pretty much everyone, lost all confidence in life but some how managed to get rid of him. Even today it is very difficult for me to start a friendship and I feel like I have lost all my social skills. My husband now is my biggest support and is helping me along with my parents who I got back now.
    So I feel that in my case that person need not know he is forgiven. But Priya and the readers what are your thoughts on this?
    Should the other person or people know they have been forgiven? Does this help in any manner or is it just enough to forgive them for our sanity? I am still going through this process and hence the question.

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    • Anon,I’m glad you have a strong, supportive husband and parents who’ve stood by you through the process.
      “Should the person know he is being forgiven?”
      I don’t think there are any shoulds here – each one of us needs to figure what gives us peace and happiness. The post was meant to be helpful to those struggling with past pain – it was one way of looking at things, but it is not the only way. As a few others here have shared (Radha, Vanita, etc.), it was easier for them to put distance between themselves and their past/people from their past. If I try to understand their point of view – perhaps it is because the past experience was so hurtful/painful/traumatic that distance is the only thing that helps. Whether this interpretation is right/wrong, the important thing is they coped in a way that worked for them. And so should you, Anon. If you are still going through the process, give yourself time. Trust yourself. You will eventually know what is the right thing to do. Because it will feel right.

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    • There are no shoulds in such things ! With parents and siblings,100% cut off is not possible all the time ,but with exes one can cut off ! Your doesn’t need to know you have let go especially if he hasn’t asked for forgiveness !
      Letting go is for yourself not the other person ! I know a hearty woman who once out of restricted, unhappy marriage forgave everyone and herself ! She doesn’t want to remarry because of kids ! Indian Husbands are big jhanjhat for women in conservative milieu,……they are second babies ! She doesn’t want any of that ! But she is happy and never revisits the past !

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  12. Hey Priya,

    Thank you so much for posting this (and to my email that inspired you to write this haha). Was finally able to get on this blog and read all the responses (crazy work schedule). To be honest, reading these responses of going through similar experiences is very much enlightening. For me, I can forgive easily after a certain period of time. I can also unwind the damage by working through it and forget it, however there are times when the damage inflicted, horrid memories does creep up on you. I admit I had been having some bitter feelings the last couple of days while thinking of what had happened. I feel when young, the burden to be the “proper” Indian girl have eventually created a divide from enjoying Indian culture and embracing it. I also feel there’s a divide due to abusive, harsh words, very enclosed assumptions turned me off to a whole lot to further learn about Indian culture. And what really gets under my skin is how they think all kids in India are these freaking saints who are “mature, hardworking, respect their elders” when in reality I have seen quite the opposite. And then kids elsewhere like in the West are drug addicts, lazy people. I a few times heard that it was a mistake to raise kids in the West or outside the native homeland because my brother are not the typical Indian, and looking at it now, I’m glad I’m not raised there. Plus things are changing anyways and they won’t be getting what they are looking for in their kids there anyway, as they are still stuck in time warp. Sure I don’t speak the language at home and speak English, do not wear coconut oil all the time, wear traditional clothing..etc but those are very petty things compared to the real deal. There are certain parts I still enjoy, and not just to the region where my family hails, but from other regions. Some days, especially during holidays I’m proud to be an Indian, but when such matters like this occurs…I feel ashamed.

    However my maternal family due their chauvinistic attitudes and such crass mindset basically broke their own family apart and my cousins and I feel we have to separate from them. Just FYI, not only did I go through the emotional turmoil, but some of my cousins too have gone through the same, in some aspects much worse than me. One of my cousins at one point mentioned, and this may sound harsh, that it may better when they all pass away, perhaps there will be a sense of civility and we can be better reunited as a family w/o the hypocrisy, arrogance, and lack of mutual respect. I can’t blame them entirely since it’s how they grew up (my maternal grandmother, though I loved her to death, treated all them, mostly the girls harshly, gave the usual male preference..etc. She went through the same turmoil (was often beaten by the MIL..etc). However luckily very few of my aunts were able to turn around from this see this kind of behavior is not tolerable at all. Like one of the posters mentioned above, very conservative parents can turn liberal later, and they did as some undesired circumstances allowed them to look further than what they know (one cousin marrying a non-Indian and having a very strong marriage, and one arranged marriage that failed miserably allowing them to see that everyone is equal and not only Indians are best and above all). Somehow the typical Indian mentality makes me hate certain parts of India and Indians. My values are mixed and I’m kind of happy to have that and a global perspective. Until India changes for the better in terms of mentality and people learn that having a non-judgemental attitude, mutual respect and unconditional treatment towards everyone, elders, parents, children..etc, brings everyone together, perhaps I’ll embrace being Indian much more.

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