My inner b—- is back.
She’s never been aptly described by words like “self doubt” or “inner critic.” She’s a constant stream of searing self-directed hatred and loathing. She’s battery acid for the soul.
Like many perfectionists I often have some kind of inner grumble going on, but it’s been awhile since she’s turned up in full battle regalia. Unsatisfied with the criticisms of adulthood, she’s bringing back the most damaging messages from my childhood, amplified. Why now?
I have a few theories, but ultimately, why doesn’t matter too much. She’s here and she’s relentless. Unsurprisingly, this makes me exhausted and depressed. I escape into audiobooks and podcasts to drown her out, books and movies that leave no room for her. It’s my only relief. That’s how I came across The How of Happiness.
Far from a Pollyannaish List of Happy Things, it’s a presentation of activities that have been shown through research to increase happiness in humans – why they work, how to find the ones that fit you, and how to most effectively carry them out. But the one that helped me most is the one I thought I was least likely to do.
It took me much of my adult life to admit that some fairly awful people did some fairly awful things to me when I was very young. To stop minimizing. To stop making excuses for them. To finally get as angry as their actions warranted. And I had no interest in letting them off the hook. Frankly, they don’t deserve it.
Yes. I’ve heard all the things about how forgiveness doesn’t mean I condone the hurtful actions or want to repair a relationship…about how I’d be doing it for me, not them…and how resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for someone else to die. It’s all true and I still didn’t give a shit.
But as repelled as I was by the forgiveness section of the book, I kept going back to it again and again. Until, finally, I decided I would try at least one of the exercises. The forgiveness letter. The instructions were these:
- Describe in detail the injury or offense that was done to you.
- Write how you were affected by it at the time and how you continue to be hurt by it.
- State what you wish the person had done instead.
- End with an explicit statement for forgiveness and understanding.
I decided I would jump in the deep end, start with the two people who have the most to be forgiven for. The ones who make my insides shrivel just thinking about them. I took a few days to think about it. I had to start with just imagining what it would feel like, if I had actually forgiven these people. Then I had to promise myself that if it felt wrong, I would just quit.
And then I started writing. It was not a promising beginning:
The only way I can write this letter is to remember I am writing to your higher self, now that you are dead. I could never have written it while you were alive and still able to do harm. When I even see a picture of you, it fucking makes my skin crawl.
And then I wrote every single thing this POS ever did. With a few flourishes.
You were the human equivalent of shit on the bottom of a shoe, soiling everything and everyone you came in contact with. I can’t imagine anyone was ever better for having encountered you. What do I wish you had done instead? Just keep on moving…never having entered our lives at all.
It was the first time I had ever written it all out, written what I really felt, my howl of protest. I was angry and powerful, unflinching and unforgiving. And then suddenly, I was here:
Your existence, and that of everyone like you, strains the limits of my human understanding. It’s possible that you yourself experienced a kind of trauma that irreparably damaged you. While I may always reflexively contract from images or thoughts of you, I find I cannot carry anger and hatred toward you in my heart any longer. It’s my last connection to you, and I want to let it go. I have to release you to Spirit, who understands you, your broken places, and what you need better than I can. I release you in the hope you can be – or already have been – transformed, redeemed, healed – and that in that transformation, any suffering you caused on earth is redeemed and healed as well. I forgive you. And I let you go.
And it felt SO. GOOD. Over the next few days I was in a fever of writing. I wrote to the other person in my top two; I wrote to the people who stood by and just watched everything happen. I wrote to the professionals who didn’t help and the ones who made things worse. None of them carried quite the release of that first one, but I couldn’t stop writing.
Most of the people in these letters are long gone or long dead, but one is still in my life. I’ve allowed her here for a host of reasons, and yet I find it exceedingly difficult to be in her presence. I hate every minute I’m there, and I’ll often have an emotional hangover afterward that lasts for days.
Time in her presence is also often a trigger for that inner bitch of mine. Their voices are a lot alike.
About a week after I finished my last letter, I saw her. I had been with her for about 30 minutes when I noticed the change.
I wasn’t taut with resentment in her presence, hating that I was there, hating her, hating myself, triggered by every word out of her mouth. I was just…there. There was space around her, room to breathe.
Earlier this week, she pushed against one of my established boundaries, a frequent occurrence that usually leaves me angry and exhausted from overthinking and second-guessing. This time I held that boundary while feeling somehow detached about it, emotionally uninvolved. No overthinking. No second-guessing. No exhaustion.
Of course I don’t know if this will last, or for how long. But I’ll continue to enjoy the respite for as long as it does.
And that bitch? She hasn’t been back.