I saw this at the weekend, and liked the advice. 

June 22, 2008

Aunt Sally: I can’t forgive my mother but the anger is eating away at me

I was wondering about your thoughts on anger and forgiveness. I am terribly angry with my mother. I don’t want to forgive her, as I don’t feel she deserves it, but I know hanging on to these kinds of emotion isn’t good. My mother was cold and hypercritical, making me a shy and unsure child. When I developed bulimia, she was unsympathetic. She insisted I leave school at 16 to bring money into the house, although we were quite affluent. All my contemporaries went to university and did well, whereas I have always been skint, going from one rubbish job to the next. My lack of self-esteem and my self-hatred meant I never allowed anybody to get close to me, so I am rather lonely. I have finally stopped hating myself, although I wouldn’t say I like myself. I can live with myself, but I don’t know what to do with this anger. I see how much people who believe in themselves can achieve and what a nice life they have, which makes me angry for not trying harder and terribly sad for a life that could have been. I’m in my forties, single and childless, and see a lonely future ahead.

“Forgiveness” is such a big word. I prefer “acceptance”. If we accept that somebody is the way they are, and they are behaving in that way not to offend us, but simply because that is the way they feel and think, then we may find space for forgiveness. In other words, we forgive them for being who they are. We may as well, because if there is one single truth, it is that we cannot make other people behave in ways we would like. The only person we have the power to change is ourselves.

So, if we accept that people are themselves, what is there to forgive? Their bad behaviour, perhaps? That takes us back to a point of nonacceptance. If we don’t accept them as they are, we believe they should behave in a certain way, according to our criteria of what we believe is correct. In other words, I’m right and you’re wrong. Sure, we could go down that road, but really, there is no point. Trying to make somebody agree that they are wrong and you are right is like banging your head against a brick wall. If you keep it up, the only person you hurt is yourself.

So, give it up. Let it go. Accept that your mother is not the person you wanted her to be. She is the person, for whatever reason, she wanted to be or thought it was right to be or did not know there was any other way to be. Letting her live rent-free in your head is not going to change that. There is a saying about parents: “Shame on them for what they did to me as a child. Shame on me for what I am doing to myself now.” Yes, it was bad. No, it shouldn’t have happened. But it did, and now it’s over and you’re an adult in control of your own life. Or you would be, if only you would stop handing the responsibility for it over to everyone else. Just like your mother, the rest of the world is not responsible for the way you feel, and making them responsible (they went to university, they believe in themselves, they had mothers who loved them) is not going to change anything.

Nor is anger, which could be seen as an aggressive form of self-pity. Life is not fair, but why we believe that something as abstract and impersonal as life should be fair, I have never understood. It’s like ascribing human emotions to a tree and saying a tree should be fair. A tree is a tree. It is what it is.

You could go on hating your mother (and yourself) or you could try to make friends with yourself. Yes, I know being kind to yourself is a novel idea, but if you could find some compassion for your own difficult emotions, you might understand that everyone suffers from them, too — including your mother.

Here are three practical suggestions you might like to try. The first is to count your blessings. Write them down, every night. And please don’t say you have nothing to be grateful for. You have a roof over your head. You are able to work. It doesn’t matter how rubbish you think that work is: the truth is, you have choices. You are healthy, which is not to be underestimated. Challenge yourself to see the good in your life and, eventually, you will come to believe it.

The second suggestion is to help others. It will stop you concentrating so exclusively on yourself. You are not the only person in this world who feels bad. Reach out to others and you will feel less alone.

Third, pray for five minutes every morning. Set your intention for the day. I don’t mean that in the sense of organised religion — although it may be that you embrace it. Simply pray to your higher self. Pray for the willingness to let go of anger, to enjoy your life, for self-hatred to leave you. Pray for compassion for yourself and others.

Finally, remember this: living well is the best revenge.