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.



Guest post by wordssetmefreee


Imagine a world where you are judged

Not by your skin color or what you’re wearing

But by your human strengths

For your wit, compassion, and caring


Imagine living on a street

Where your opinions can be bared

Without fear of being silenced

By casual denial or malicious stares


Imagine having friends

Who listen, validate, make you strong

With whom there are no feelings

That are shameful, taboo, or wrong


Imagine living in a community

Where other’s stories shed light

and learning happens unintentionally

Transforming you, in plain sight


Imagine a world where sharing

Is welcomed with knowing, accepting hearts

Where expression lends clarity

Piecing together your jagged, hurting parts


Does this sound too Utopian?

But such a world isn’t far away

It’s the world of blogging

Where you and I meet everyday


Let them not sideline or suppress

Your inner battles, your outer skirmishes

Speak, question, think, and express

Your unruly thoughts, your untamed wishes


Let not your voice and mine

Be drowned out in doubt and fear

And lay buried in an obscure shrine

Forgotten in a tomb of despair


Let them not lock your thoughts

Take the key and set yourself free

Keep reading, writing, thinking, speaking

For you are the queen of your destiny

No Education For The Fashion Conscious?

We had tried everything from nail-polish remover to Kerosene oil to fade the henna from my daughter’s  palms in 1999, she was in class III then, and her Delhi school forbade Henna on hands. We had just come back from a wedding and I understood that the school had its rules, if I did not like them I could take her out of the school.

She had seen another girl  being told not to come ‘dressed like a bride‘ and being made to sit on the floor. The eight year olds had discussed that God was going to punish the teacher who did this. (Is that what the rule aimed at?)

Now even though nobody noticed her henna, she was terrified for days. All I could do was give her a letter requesting the henna be excused, to be shown if someone checked her.

I have no idea how these students benefited from not applying henna. Clean hair, sparkling uniforms, shining shoes, confident smiles, a love of learning, and also a love for the school were what I valued. I would have added henna application as a fun-filled extra curricular activity.

My son has a mark on his forehead, so when he was young, I got him a haircut that covered it. He has gorgeous, straight, silky, shining hair, and a mushroom cut was most convenient and neat, kept his ears, neck, and eyes clear in hot and humid Delhi summers, but then we moved to Kerala and a school didn’t agree with kids being made ‘fashion conscious‘. He was in class III. His parents were fine with his looking like one of his favorite Westlife boys. The school wasn’t.

An older boy’s parents were ‘called to school’ because his mother allowed him to colour his hair.  Again I wonder if students do not have a life outside the school. Was it really that important? How does one be an all-rounder but not wonder how they might look with ear studs or coloured hair? Should the parents have a say in this?  How does long hair in boys mean lack of discipline?

We could leave our hair loose in my school, (meaning we could get away with taking off the hair bands and slipping them into our skirt pockets), and some of my friends who plaited their hair all through the school years complain that now they find hair left open very uncomfortable after all the years of two tight plaits.

Many schools have switched to traditional salwaar kurta for girls, but continue western wear for boys. How do they explain this bias to the students? They don’t think they need to explain. Is this discipline or authoritarianism ? How does this help with discipline? I know girls who resent this and have much more to say than the girls in class three mentioned above.

I consider grooming as important as being able to speak on stage, being good at sports or being polite. A lot of people look at taking care of oneself as the opposite of being ‘simple’. I feel well groomed (not necessarily good looking) people have an edge over those who aren’t. And grooming requires discipline too.

What schools seem to disapprove of is ‘fashion’  and a desire to look attractive. But why do we look down upon any desire to look one’s best?

So I was pleasantly surprised to read this morning on the front page of ‘The Times of India’,  ‘Supreme Court Raps school for beard issue’.

“…a Bench comprising Justices B N Agrawal and G S Singhvi expressed its deep anguish at such ridiculous rules framed by schools.

Agreeing with Salim’s counsel senior advocate B A Khan, the Bench said: “How on earth could a school disentitle a student from pursuing studies just because he has kept a beard?” 
“Then there will be no end to such prima facie ridiculous rules. Tomorrow the school authorities would say they would not allow entry to students who are not fair in complexion,” wondered the Bench.

What I liked even better…

“These days it is a fashion for youngsters to sport an earring. Can these boys be denied admission to a school,” the Bench asked before issuing notice to the principal of the convent school and directing it to allow Salim to continue with his studies there.

Note: Personally I would be most irritated if my 17-year-old coloured his hair or kept a beard, but then why should I decide how the rest of the world chooses to look? And what has acquiring basic education got to do with neat beards, washed and coloured hair, or ear studs in ears that have been scrubbed from behind?

Do you watch Ladies Special on Sony?

Ever wondered why our TV shows can’t make money without talking about patni dhram and ghar ki izzat? Well then watch Ladies Special.

I happened to watch a scene where Geeti’s parents are worried because Jassi, an industrialist’s spoiled son asked her to come with him to his farmhouse…

In today’s episode Geeti blames herself for all the trouble she brought on her family. Bollywood would have expected her to hang herself from the ceiling fan? (Taliban would have her stoned to death).

In ‘Ladies Special’ Geeti is told, “Don’t blame yourself… Girls always blame themselves for whatever happens to them, …. everybody tells them either their clothes were not right, or they were out at the wrong time…

It struck a chord.

Better than mothers?

Sindhu’s post ‘My Dear MIL‘ reminded me of this father in law…

I had not seen men criticise their daughters in law before, so I was taken aback when he started, “I tell my wife in our times our mothers used to control so many daughters in law and you can’t control one? …Our daughter in law can’t look after our grandson, so we keep him with us, our second grandson is with her …she wants the first one to stay with her as well, she says they have better schools there… We have good schools in our side also…” (And lots more)

It made no sense. I wasn’t sure this man cared about the child or the mother, he just wanted to keep the child. That ‘wanting’ was enough for him. Maybe keeping the child was the best way to control the daughter in law ? (That’s the word he used).

If he really thought she was a bad mother why did they ‘allow’ her to take care of the second grandson?

And what kind of  parents were these grandparents? They had taken unwritten custody of their child’s first born, against the mother’s wishes. They did not need to prove that they would raise him better, their word was enough.

Apart from the trauma to the mother, wasn’t this child going to wonder why he was brought up by his grandparents? Seeing the younger brother living with his parents might make him feel rejected by the parents.

The father had no opinion in all this, he should have spoken up for his wife.

The mother should have had the final word, but seemed to have no support from her parents, or her husband, so she was totally isolated. This is common.  Some family members have unlimited power over some other family members’ lives in our system.

I told him, even my grandmother, in her times, did not try to run her married children’s lives. I told him it was cases like this that gave all in-laws a bad name. I suggested they travel, play cards or listen to music, visit friends and let their children live their lives.

But I couldn’t tell him that I knew of their excellent track record in parenting, because I couldn’t look into future. His son was later thrown out of his job, he had a drinking problem. And his second son never settled in any career. Not surprising at all, seeing his attitude towards bringing up children. (Not that it matters. Even if they had brought up their sons brilliantly, they would still be wrong to interfere in their daughter in law’s life, and seriously wrong in taking a child away from a mother the way they did.)

Note: I have also blogged about a friend who was being coerced by her in-laws to give up her second daughter to her brother in law who had no kids.  She was unwilling and strong but made to feel ashamed of her ‘selfishness‘.

When a daughter refuses to go back…

Sita and Geeta worked for us when we were newlyweds. Geeta was eight, Sita a little older. We offered to sponsor Geeta’s education but their mother said she had seven kids to raise and she needed the girls to work.

We found the kids adorable, bought them trinkets and treats, but we let them do the dishes and clean our homes.  Then we moved to another part of the city and lost all contact.

Around six years later I was in-between-maids and buying veggies when a young woman in a colorful sari and bangles greeted me with a huge smile. She was Sita. She said it was God’s wish that she found me, she needed help.

She moved into our servant’s quarters and pleaded with me to speak to her parents and let her stay there and work –she wanted to leave her husband. She said they were married three months ago, she was afraid of him, he had a bad temper and he had threatened to kill her if she tried to leave him, he also threatened to chuck her out of his house. She didn’t care, she was sure he’d kill her if she lived with him. She hated him. She feared her in-laws also. She had been making similar appeals to other families she had worked for. She looked afraid.

Today I feel if a girl says she does not want to go back to her husband’s home, it is reason enough to let her stay. No arguments. No attempts to ‘reason’ with her. No assumptions that she is behaving like a spoiled brat who has never learnt to adjust with her in laws. No insisting that she would ‘get used to it’. No talk about her ‘sanskar’ or her duty towards her parents. No demands that she must try to make the relationship work.

But I was inexperienced then. I asked her how she was going to manage on her own. I asked her what she did to anger her husband. I wondered if she liked another man. (As if that was the perfect reason to send her right back to her husband). Basically like everybody else I assumed she couldn’t possibly know what was good for her. I thought her parents (obviously) would want the best for her, and would do what was best for her*, even if they had married her to a much older man when she was less than seventeen.

Her parents did speak to her husband but this angered him, he insulted them too. Within weeks her in laws wanted them back in their joint family home in another part of Bombay, they left.

We moved to another city and I forgot about her. Such stories are extremely common; most girls learn to live like this, and their marriages ‘work’. Happy or not, they manage to keep the system of semi-forced marriages going. We Indians are grateful to thousands of Sitas who live with some violence and abuse. Their sacrifices are appreciated.

What is happening in Afghanistan hurt because it is not unfamiliar? Even though we are conditioned to treat anything common as ‘normal’.

Around five years later we were back in Bombay and one day I called a malish wali. She saw me and started crying. She was Sita’s mother. She said Sita had died of third degree burns. She was making tea and the stove burst, and her sari caught fire. Her in-laws did not inform the parents until two days later.  While dying Sita begged her mother not to leave her three months old son with her husband. She told her it was not an accident; her husband had poured kerosene on her. She made conflicting statements in her dying moments. This seems to happen all the time.

But I read, “If it’s an accident, you can almost always escape the fire. It’s not really possible to burn all of the body,”

Everybody blamed the parents. Her father died of grief within six months of her death.

Sita’s husband died a year later, of something that made his body turn black as coal. Her mother said god punished him.

She sent the grandson back to his paternal grandmother when he was three years old.  She wants him to be close to his paternal grandmother so that he does not loose his father’s share in property.

I felt little sympathy for her, although she brought a happily married Geeta to meet me. Nothing had really changed for her; I feel she would still do the same if any other daughter of hers were to come pleading for support.

And we have millions of parents like this taking life changing decisions for their helpless daughters.

And this doesn’t just happen in the lower or uneducated classes.

Lipstick or No Lipstick I am an Indian.

A commenter says I am not being a true Indian because I seem to be impressed by western culture and values, and Obama. Naqwi will whole heartedly agree with him because I also use lipstick. It runs in the family, my mom won’t step out of the house without her lipstick either. But I am every bit as Indian, as the mother of little girl who lives in a leaking house on the way to Mulshi. Lipstick or no lipstick.

Many of us believe we will never change, this country will go nowhere, this political system will never change etc. I just can’t live with that sort of belief.

If I were to truly believe today that Indian politicians (and suddenly it’s become not-so- cool to say they are useless, like when did we ever say they are good?!!) cannot be taught to behave responsibly and do their job….

That kind of apathy or indifference or pessimism is not something I can ever accept. And that is the thinking that makes us bribe and find loopholes in Laws made for civilised living.

Can you wake up you every morning believing you couldn’t get up?

Will our kids work hard in school if they believed they would never succeed?

Would Abhinav Bindra have worked so hard if he believed he could never win?

I think this sort of brain washing is the talk of POLITICIANS. It suits them to keep us hopeless and demoralised.

I have (maybe it’s an escape?) brain washed myself into believing, most successfully, that we can achieve anything we set our heart to.

It has worked for me. I think it works for everybody. You believe you can, You will; You believe there’s no hope, you will never succeed.

And I am convinced that we are going to see better days in Indian Politics, without which any progress is an uphill task. The so called elite and the upper middle class have set a trend and maybe, if the candles continue to be lit, gradually even the darkest corners of rural India will light up too. It isn’t as if they worship the politicians.

I meet people and everybody is determined to vote. That is the first step. And they are all hoping to vote for someone NEW that’s already the second step.

And this shows we are more awake than ever before.

So I am going to continue to Hope and sign Petitions, join Peace Protests and light candles.

But that will not stop me from dancing to western music, wearing sleeveless (why just sleeveless, backless also) western clothes and expensive, shiny, glittery lipsticks.

These are my values. My Indian values.

I would like to know, what do you think are TRUE INDIAN VALUES?