Bad stuff happens to good people. Bad stuff causes the victim to make a vow.
“I’ll never trust anyone again.”
“I’m never going to let anyone get close to me.”
“I’m so disappointed in [someone]. I won’t let anyone do that to me again.”
These vows become the driving force behind everything we do and every decision we make. How we treat others is colored by this vow; it overrules all other realities. We are sensitive, combative, defensive, derisive, and dismissive, because we are still stuck in that hurting place.
What began as a legitimate decision to never be hurt like that again because of some past occurrence turns into a force that negatively affects our present circumstances—and our ability to relate successfully to others. It colors our perceptions; it limits our ability to accept our weaknesses and learn from them; we are too touchy to laugh at ourselves; we reject good advice because it hurts to hear it; we obsess over the slightest disappointment.
It doesn’t have to be that way. And, personally, I don’t think you can get past it by reliving it over and over in therapy. Been there, done that, and reliving it only strengthened the vow. It is not a way to let go of the past or let go of negative emotions.
In my experience, what works is this:
First, forgive the perpetrator. This is a simple act, really. You just tell that person—in person or in your mind—“I forgive you.” No excuses, no conditions, just that thought. And whenever you think of them again, you say it again. In doing this, you let them go, and, ironically, free yourself at the same time. Their power over you will diminish as you continue to forgive. It’s amazingly effective.
Second, realize that you don’t live there anymore. Anyone who has been abused as a child felt completely powerless as the abuse was happening. There was no way to escape; they were a child, completely dependent on their parents for their survival. All they could do was get out as soon as they could, and get on with their lives. But while it was happening, they were trapped.
If this was you, now you are an adult, and now you are in charge of your circumstances. You decide who you hang out with. You decide how you behave and what you focus on in your head. You decide that you are going to make a new life for yourself, and that you will never treat anyone the way you were treated.
The unpleasantness might have happened to you when you were an adult, because you worked for a jerk, or married a jerk. And you got out, but you still suffer from the memories and pain that came with that relationship.
It’s so important to remember, every single day, every morning when you get up, that you don’t live there anymore. This is a new day, a new life, a life of your own making. It’s time to forgive them, and start living where you are.
What does this have to do with work? A lot. If you bring this unforgiven, still-painful situation into your new, pleasant, and positive work environment, you are doing a disservice to the nice people who work there. You will surely hesitate to trust; take what they say the wrong way; worry constantly about whether you’re fitting in or upsetting someone; spend too much time worrying about yourself and how you are perceived by others.
In fact, they just want you to get your work done and to be cooperative. They want you to be happy, and will try to help you get what you need to get your job done. They expect you to be able to put your own fears and trust issues aside and just work things out, one at a time, every day, with them.
In other words, they want you to work and live where you and they are, now, not somewhere in your past that was unpleasant and frustrating. This is true of your other relationships, too. That great new person you’re in a relationship with doesn’t deserve your baggage.
Forgive them. And start living where you are. Everything will be better. Much better.