My seven-year-old son was the one who broke the spell. For nine months, I had been holding onto anger, resentment, fear, hurt, and a belief that I had been wronged.
My energy was focused on the injustices that came from being the victim of a toxic work environment. I was physically and emotionally sick. The healing work that needed to happen was halted by my inability to move beyond the role of the victim.
Then, one night, I was talking with my son about what to do if you come face-to-face with someone who has wronged you or hurt you. I used the word “enemy,” to which he corrected me, and pointed out that I once told him it’s a waste of our heart and mind to focus on enemies. “Staying angry will only make things worse,” he said. “Remember how strong you are and try to figure out what you can learn from this.”
"We can’t control what others say and do, yet we still seem to hold out for an apology."
I’m not sure he fully understood the words he said to me—and more than likely, he was repeating something I’d said to him when he was in conflict with a schoolmate. But still, it was enough to break my victim’s mindset and move forward.
How do you handle people who don’t treat you well?
Aimee Bernstein, a psychotherapist, suggests that we think of our enemy as a teacher—someone we can learn from—and use that painful experience to empower ourselves.
“It’s easy to focus our attention on what’s wrong with another person and tell countless stories of their insensitive or cruel words and behaviors,” she says. “Though we may get attention and care from our friends and family who rally by our side, playing the victim only diminishes us.”
Instead, recognizing that we need to live by our own code—even if others don’t—helps us to move beyond the mindset of who is right and who is wrong.
Making peace and moving forward
There are things in life that are worth enduring the pain for in order to move forward, and making peace—with yourself and the person who hurt you—is one of them. Here are four ways to do that:
1. Move past the old story. “Our minds love to chew on stories that tell us we’re a victim to other people’s actions,” explains psychologist Dr. Gail Brenner, Ph.D. “It’s important to know that giving this victim story a lot of energy and attention will keep you stuck in resentment.” Telling yourself over and over that you’ve been wronged changes nothing.
Instead, Brenner suggests turning away from that story toward your inner experience by recognizing the feelings that have been triggered in you and welcoming them.
Read more: How to deal when saying sorry isn’t enough
2. Only do the work that is yours. “Addressing the hurt you experience when you feel you’ve been wronged is an inner journey, and it’s a choice you make for your own well being,” says Brenner. That’s why it’s important to focus your thoughts and energy on yourself. Each time you notice your thoughts drifting to the person who hurt you, stop, center yourself, and bring your thoughts back to the present moment. Then, try finding something in that moment to be grateful for.
3. Don’t wait for an apology. Of course, we can’t control what others say and do, yet we still seem to hold out for an apology—as if it’s the something we need to move forward. Brenner suggests that you don’t wait for this. Instead, make peace with your own reactions. “You may come to a resolution with the other person, but that depends on the situation—it’s not a requirement for you to be peaceful inside.”
4. Move on. Part of moving past the old story is forgiving yourself and the person who wronged you. “That doesn’t mean you like what they did or that you will forget it,” says Bernstein. Rather, you need to look at forgiveness as important to the healing process since it allows you to let go of the anger and move on.
Artwork by NICK ZHU