Letting Go of Old Truths

June 15th, 2011

Do you know people who get overly attached to their drama? They protest loudly and often about what happened TO them, but seem to find a bittersweet comfort in holding on to the pain. They may even have good reason to feel hard-done-by, but they must be getting something out of holding on to their pain or else they would see that life is so much fuller without the drama.

There is a great example of this in Woody Allen’s movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Vicky and Christina are Americans spending the summer in Barcelona. They meet the smooth talking artist Juan Antonio played by Javier Bardem. Juan Antonio takes Vicky to meet his Dad, a brilliant poet who refuses to publish his own work.

The following dialogue takes place between Juan Antonio and Vicky-

Vicky- So, uh, tell me, why won’t your father publish his poems?
Juan Antonio- Well, because he hates the world, and that’s his way of getting back at them — to create beautiful works and then…to deny them to the public.
Vicky- My God. Well, what makes him so…angry toward the human race?
Juan Antonio- Mm, because after thousands of years of civilization…they still haven’t learned to love.

He’s right of course. We have learnt very little about love after all these years of evolving. But the irony is that by withholding his genius, he is doing the very thing he is critical about. The only antidote to a lack of love is to give more love.

We all know people like that. More to the point, we all have a little piece of “poor me” IN us. Nobody knows the trouble we’ve seen. Cue the violins in the background. We breathe our stories of abuse, injustice and despair like oxygen, sucking the air out of space and sucking the life out of any hope we have of healthy, new relationships going forward.

Rights and wrongs are beside the point now. Your truths are worn out like old slippers.  They don’t fit the person you want to become. Beware drama in truth’s clothing. It may be keeping you warm with the glow of self righteousness, but the fever of your folly will catch up to you eventually. Your story is at best a half truth and you may even have the wrong half, the half that is holding you back. It’s time to exchange the half truth of injustice for a new truth called liberty.

As the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron says, “The truth you believe and cling to makes you unavailable to hear anything new.”

Who would you be without the victim story? As long as you choose to think of yourself as a victim, everything that happens to you will feed this story. Your walls go up, your heart closes and you recreate the sagas of your past hurts like painted bodies in a crime scene. Life will continue to happen TO you as long as you tell this tired old story.

On the other hand, if you close the book on the victim story and choose instead to see yourself as an intrepid adventurer, with an open mind and heart laid bare, then everything that happens will become an opportunity, even loss and injustice. Life will start to happen THROUGH you, and WITH you. You will claim your power, and leave yesterday’s drama in a vault marked “things I’ve grown through but don’t define me.”

Healing Wounded Truths

Forgive my bluntness. I realize there is a time and place for this brutal honesty. Believe me, I’ve met your ex husband. You’re right. He IS a narcissistic pig, and he DID treat you badly. But that’s his karma. Live your own values and don’t drag yourself to his level. Yes, you’re right. I’ve seen the worst that religion has to offer. It IS hypocritical and it did take advantage of you. But don’t let it control you any longer. Live your own values.

If you’re not ready to read this, then forgive me. Take it in the spirit it is intended. I offer this with compassion and in the interests of every person realizing your full potential as a human being.

We don’t do a service to anyone when we allow each other to wallow in self pity. Nor do we do each other a service when we perpetuate wounded truths. Wounded truths are spoken with tilted head and muffled tone. We ask for peoples least rather than inviting their greatest. This is not about denial. If we were inviting fullness for each other, we would talk about survivors of crime rather than victims of crime. We would emphasize recovery rather than addiction. We would describe people as managing chronic illness rather than “having” diseases. The disease doesn’t define the person, nor does the crime.

We do well to avoid the other extreme of blame as well. We can allow people to feel their pain and not deny the wrong doing. But at some time, and somewhere in between victim mentality and blame lies a healthy form of present focused responsibility.

Finally, closure is a myth. If you are waiting for all the answers and absolute justice to be done before getting on with your life, you could be wasting opportunities to live. A Buddhist story describes the wounded man who wants to know who shot the arrow, what material the arrow head is made from, what direction the arrow was shot and how deeply it is lodged. He refuses to have the arrow removed until he has all the answers. The tragedy is that he will die before he has what he is looking for. In the Buddhist text, the wounded man is compared to the person who wants to know the nature and origin of the universe before truly living. It’s a great parable for wounded truths. If you are looking to understand the nature and origin of your wounds before you are prepared to move beyond them, you could run out of time to live while you are alive.

Picture yourself moving through life on a set of monkey bars. The only way you can swing freely from bar to bar is if you let go. Let go of the wounds. They have held you captive for long enough. Forgive all those who have hurt you, not for their sake, for yours. The longer you leave the victim’s arrow lodged in your heart, the less time you have to live the life you were born to live.

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  1. Ophelia says:

    Great and wise post, however, when I reached the part where you called someone a ‘narcissistic pig’ (apparently someone you know and who could potentially read this) I found that to be entirely inappropriate.  Name-calling is destructive and never a good-look, especially coming from a person that is a spiritual leader in his community.  I think leaving it at ‘he treated you badly’ would have been the right thing to do and much better for your integrity.

  2. ian says:

    Fair point Ophelia. I wasn’t referring to anyone in particular, just trying to echo the feeling of the person in a situation.

  3. Susan says:

    I enjoyed reading this whole post & can understand it.  People need to feel the way they are feeling is right, ie someone has hurt you, they are bad for doing so- and then move on. It is obvious you were not referring to anyone in particular, and sometimes the acknowledgement of being hurt is needed to help in the process of moving on. Nice and uplifting to read.

  4. ZimS says:

    Thank you for writing this. It has spoken to me somewhat and gave me some thoughts about my life. I understand the need to move on with life and I know pain all too well. It’s addictive to the human soul if there isn’t any other substance to fill it. As for now, I keep some of it to remind me of I went through and hopefully be one day rid of it. Thanks for writing this =)

  5. Wonderful, thoughtful post, Ian! I can easily think of five or six people I know who let their hurt define them. When faced with obvious choices between happiness and more misery, they choose the latter, apparently not trusting  happiness when they see it. One reason it’s so hard to speak truth to them is that they’ve developed ways to protect their illusion, making sure that people who do so pay a high price. Though certainly the loving thing to do, telling the truth feels like quite a risk — especially for those of us averse to conflict.

  6. ian says:

    Conflict is hard for most of us Jeffrey- Like you said, beyond ego you can see the higher good for all and truly express yourself. We all have our protective walls, but can help each other chip away at the wall like Pink Floyd. Thanks for your comment.

  7. Anna says:

    I loved it, wonderful post!! all of it, included the ’narcissistic pig’. Keep writing like this, with brutal honesty, it seems to be that some of us need a ¨Listen to me, wake up!!¨ kind of help to move on…well, at least I do.
    Thank you, thank you!

  8. ian says:

    thanks Anna- will do.

  9. DJ says:

    @Ophelia If you have ever been married to a malignant narcissist (like I have) using the term “pig” is describing his character quite mildly.  Pigs are a bit filthy, I know, but they are smart, and cute, and hurt no one.  I think the term “barbaric savage” is more apt to describe a partner who mentally abuses, controls, steals your money, lies, and basically makes your life a living hell.
    @Ian – great article, thank you so very much.

  10. Liz says:

    Thank you. I love the metaphor of the arrow in the heart. Pluck it out and live!

  11. kenny says:

    Yup, letting go means you give yourself chance to grow up. Nice articel 🙂

  12. shereen says:

    what about letting go live your life and learn from what you have being through,,,
    Which means the experience you went through should be a lesson always to remember; basically because you are a human your personal experience is a valuable one no one can give it to you. And we would lie if we say that letting go mean forget it, because this is never going to happen at all, it will always be there somewhere in our mind, and the reflection of its outcome will always show in our attitude towards same or nearly similar our same circumstances. nice piece thank you

  13. What a great article. Yes, several years into sobriety I found, after years of being bitter for having been a victim of child abuse, that I could be responsible for my feelings. I had to identify the feelings that were causing the anger. For me, it was hurt, betrayal of trust, abandonment. Once I identified and felt these feelings, I began to shift in my perception of my past. I began to see myself as a trauma survivor, instead of a victim. I even was able to see my perpetrators as sick and hurting people themselves, and I was able to generate compassion for them. This, then, led to forgiveness. It has been incredibly freeing. Now I see all misfortune as a learning experience, one with which to grow. What a wonderful place to be.
    Carolyn CJ Jones
    Author, Photographer ,Opening the Gates of the Heart: A Journey of Healing

  14. Alukotron says:

    Absolutely amazing post. I could sign my name under it with my both hands because I’ve been there… Thankfully I learned how to let go! My life is so much better now… I regained my confidence. My creativity and inspiration are back. “There is no place for failure because it is no longer an option! Dwelling on the past and worrying about the future is pointless. Here and now is where I belong.” (An excerpt from my Daily Affirmations”) – Namaste!

  15. ian says:

    thanks for your comment Alukotron. Here and now is where we all belong.

  16. ben says:

    Great, thks it helps me in my thoughts about by breaking-stopping my thoughts. : )

  17. Nnaniki says:

    Wow – I stared at my screen for a good sliod 2 minutes before I could find words to describe the gratitude I feel for your post. It is a truth so needed and yet so lived by few. Let me start living my life like on monkey bars

  18. ian says:

    thank you Nnaniki- blessings

  19. Rashma N. Kalsie says:

    I believe you are wise in saying that one ought to forgive etc etc. But here’s what you can do by not forgiving:
    a You can become more careful in future
    b You can use your hurt to work harder- to push yourself that bit extra.
    c And most important of all you will be mindful of your own actions so that you do not do what was done unto you.
     The day you forgive you become more careless  about others, more relaxed about your goals and maybe you become a victim again of another person.

  20. Hi Ian,

    I am responding to your short post about forgiveness. I believe forgiveness is the key, much like acceptance is the key to all of our woes. When I discovered forgiveness for two people against whom I had resentments my entire life, a weight fell off of my shoulders and I was able to see all three of us with more love and compassion. I don’t think I am allowing myself to be a further victim; rather, I have more energy to ward that off. Plus, because I have developed more compassion through forgiveness, I am able to treat others with more kindness and respect. Just my perspective on it…

    Carolyn CJ Jones

  21. ian says:

    I totally agree with you Carolyn. Very liberating. Thanks for commenting.

  22. ian says:

    hi Rashma, if I understand you correctly, you are mixing up two different ideas- forgiveness and trust. You can forgive someone without trusting them. Trust comes later, if at all. Forgiveness is what happens inside of you. You can forgive AND be more careful, more motivated etc. If I misunderstood your point, I apologize 🙂

  23. Monica Dart says:

    oh wow!  feeling suddenly lighter – thank you!

  24. Karen Abrams says:

    As I wrote in a blog on the same topic of letting go and forgiveness, it has to do with letting go of pain, hurt or resentment without any judgment of what or who caused it. This does not mean that it is okay that someone hurt you; people are responsible for their own behavior. Only that it’s okay to let go of it now so that you can move beyond the pain so you can grow.

  25. Steve DeVane says:

    Powerful words. I was especially struck by the closure as a myth section. Too many people are looking for an answer to a problem that isn’t there’s to solve.
    I also like that the only antidote to a lack of love is to give love. So simple. So true. 

  26. Rayanne says:

    Thank you for writing this piece!  Well said!!

  27. Gilana says:

    Great article.  Anything that glues us to one place is limiting and emotional scars are especially heavy weights.

    After a lifetime of trying to explain, or just keeping it to myself, my therapist said, “Tell me everything until it is all gone.”  Jaw dropping.  I felt healed right there and then.  The need to rehash old stories began to evaporate.  Somebody cared enough.

    Of course, the effects didn’t evaporate (darn!) but the motivation to start to put them aside was there.  

    It’s so easy to tell ourselves (or our friends) to “Get over it!”  Probably not essential in every case, but in this case a little love shared helped to encourage me to do just that.

  28. Thank you for this piece, it’s one of the best things I’ve read lately. Carrying the past with us only drags us down.

  29. G.Glitchez says:

    It’s a continual battle. Grudges are no good, but when you are able to finally let go, you wonder why you didn’t sooner. This is a great reminder on how to take back control. The mind is a powerful thing. Staying aware is a full-time job, lol.

  30. Translationlady says:

    Yikes…I seek answers and I find! I am dealing with a family member that to me is exactly what you are saying. How does a person who completely agrees with you connect with someone whose actions are victim oriented?? I am struggling with the relationship. She needs me and I do not want to be needed. I am running away from the relationship.

  31. rashmi says:

    Thank you. I have always gone with “kill them with live”  motto. Lately I’ve been feeling hard done by…shutting down, not really giving a shit about all the “wrong doers “in my life. It’s hard being mad angry resentful. So thank you for this kick in the button article.  

  32. rashmi says:

    “Kill them with love” that is. 

  33. rashmi says:

    Kick in the “butt”. Omg I hate spell check. 

  34. Trish says:

    So, forgiveness is one thing, letting go is another. Living in a war zone is terrifying, knowing that there is little you can do to protect yourself from the random bombing that occurs, specifically directed at your life that is well. . .scary. I did all that and I accepted where I was and just tried to enjoy it,  I had my moments, many of them but for the most part all was well. Then something happened. . . and I looked around and realized that in spite of letting go, in spite of being forgiving, in spite of trying to love and be kind and be compassionate I was alone I think deep down I already knew this, it was not a shock and I rather have come to like being alone. This time though I was so entirely alone that I lost half of what was left of my family. I’m pretty shell shocked. But I have to say that there are stages of grief. That while the brain is plastic there are some types of abuse and a longevity of abuse that actually changes the neurologic makeup of a person. Some people go to therapy, some seek healers, others dive into drugs, alcohol, social lives or bury themselves in work, among many outlets. I had someone suggest that I go to therapy recently, she thinks everyone should go to therapy and that it solves everything because you ‘work through’ your struggles. Not entirely sure what that means. But what I do know is there is a vast difference between surrender and letting go. I think its far better to surrender than it is to let go. When you surrender it is a deeply spiritual process, and it can occur overnight. When you let go, for those with serious, long term damage to their lives it is as if you learn to live with it, accept it, move with it. . . no matter what you do it will still be running in the background of your life waiting for you to surrender it. Just a thought. since I experienced in great detail the difference between the two.

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