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Dear Emuna: I Can't Forgive
Dear Emuna

Dear Emuna: I Can't Forgive

I want to stop hating a group of friends who tormented me throughout high school, but I can't.


Dear Emuna,

I'm 21 years old and I still can't forgive my high school bullies – whom just also happen to be my five former best friends. They still blame me for going to an adult when our mutual friend became an alcoholic and a drug addict when we were 14. Things only got worse when she got arrested, then tried to commit suicide. After she dropped out of our high school and cut off all contact with us, these five girls – my only friends for years in our small, cliquey community – berated me, talked behind my back and to my face, and openly humiliated and disregarded me in front of my entire school. Moreover, I found out these same people had been secretly teasing me since middle school.

For the four years afterward, I was utterly and entirely alone.

Since then, all of us have grown up and moved on; we're all married, in college, and living in various places across the U.S. and Israel. With the help of my kind and supportive husband, I've worked on myself for seven years, slowly improving my observance of the interpersonal mitzvot – including forgiveness. To that end, I've even kept loosely in touch with each of these people (who actually grew insulted at the notion of my cutting off contact with them). I've confronted each of them before about their behavior, and none of them has ever owned up to the incredible damage they did to my self-esteem. Two of them even insist I deserved it.

Meanwhile, I've been expected to show up to their simchas; I have watched weddings where they all took turns being bridesmaids; I'm still friends with them on Facebook (I have no idea why).

Every Yom Kippur I try to find space in my heart to forgive them. Every year, I just can't. They are wonderful everyone else. I sincerely hate them, and I hate myself for that and for wishing revenge.

I don't want to hate them anymore – especially after all I've been through. What can I do? Should I confront them about this, or just shut them out of my life?

Thank you.

-- Too bitter for 21

Dear Filled with Bitterness,

I know how hard it is to let go this kind of personal hurt. I recognize the drive to lash back, to get revenge, and I commend your desire to move beyond this uncomfortable and destructive state. I want to suggest two ideas that may help you let go. One is more philosophical, the other more practical.

Although it is uncomfortable to hear and to recognize, we can’t ignore the fact that everything that happens to us comes from the Almighty. While that doesn’t excuse your friends’ cruelty, and while they will still have to make their own accounting for their behavior, it does suggest that, for some, perhaps unfathomable, reason, you were meant to have this experience. The Almighty knew that you could learn and grow from it. Thus, instead of blaming your old friends and harboring negative thoughts of revenge, it’s more appropriate to devote your energies to introspection and self-improvement.

The only way to break their grip on your psyche is to forgive.

The less lofty response is to realize that it is not in your self-interest to hold on to the bitterness. You are hurting yourself, not them, and giving them continued power over you. The only way to break their grip on your psyche is to forgive. This is necessary so you can move on and have a healthier life. You are forgiving their mean and thoughtless behavior of their young and more immature selves primarily as a kindness to yourself, not for their benefit, although ultimately the goal is certainly greater love for your fellow Jew.

Try a meditation-style exercise: take a deep breath and let it go. Imagine releasing the pain, the grudge, the bitterness. Focus on how much you would like to be forgiven for the foolish mistakes you made in the past. Remember that the Almighty treats us the way we treat others. Life is too precious to allow our days to be unnecessarily clouded with pain. Concentrate on the good you now have and how irrelevant those painful incidences now are.

As I said, this is in your best interests. You will be a lighter, happier human being when you stop holding on to the pain. Forgiveness is a choice to no longer give power to the source of your pain, to no longer waste energy on it, to take control of your own life. Forgiveness requires that you stop blaming and recognize that you are the only one responsible for your feelings (this is a lesson a lot of people need to learn!). Finally, ask the Almighty’s to give you the strength you need to truly forgive and move on with your life.

-- Emuna

Related Article: Her Name Was Patience

Dear Emuna,

Another mom question. I have a problem getting my 13-year-old son to sit down at the table. He will sit down usually at the Shabbat table for the blessings, but then he wants to just go in the living room or read in his room. We have tried everything to get him to the table with no avail.

Running out of ideas!

Dear Out of Ideas,

I can already hear all the other parents disagreeing with me but I don’t believe in trying to compel adolescents to participate in family experiences. I think it’s good that he still wants your blessing and certainly, if he wants to eat, he needs to do so at the table (you are not running a take-out service!). But otherwise, I wouldn’t insist on too much. I have discovered a few things during the long, painful days of parenting teenagers (I thought they were over; how did I end up with four more teenagers in my house?!) One is that the more you push an adolescent, the more they push back – and away. It is not a battle you can win. On the other hand, if you don’t make a big deal, he will, most likely, return to the table on his own. Even if he doesn’t return immediately to participation in family life, when the cloud of adolescence lifts, he will. As long as you kept the home environment warm, loving, and non-judgmental. Of course all this patience and restraint is easier said than done. Ask the Almighty for His help.

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

My six-year-old daughter is the fourth child in a family with four brothers. Ever since she was a young toddler she was willful and stubborn much more than your regular child. Things are getting progressively worse. I find it very hard to deal with her when she gets into her obstinate moods. She point blank refuses requests such as to come up for her bath. She'll shout 'no' to me when I tell her what to do. In the morning she can run around shrieking, not getting dressed when we are all time pressured to get to school.

She has alienated some good friends by her bossy behavior and other mothers are refusing to have her over for play dates because of her upsetting comments or deciding to leave and walk home in the middle of playing in the park.

Unfortunately I have had to occasionally resort to slapping her just to get her to calm down and do what needs to be done. And while I am against any sort of hitting in theory, I find that my patience has worn thin and I'm just exasperated. Sometimes I feel like she's just a wild child. I don't want to feel this way about her because I love her dearly.

Of course she is on the most part sweet and loving, gives hugs and kisses and can play nicely. She is doing well in school.

I don't want this negative attitude of mine to be a feature of her childhood; I feel it will only drive a wedge between us as she gets older. We have done lots of star charts and rewards for good behavior, but they cannot cover every eventuality and she usually does what she needs to in order to get her star and then does some other terrible thing that wasn't included in the star chart. Some have advised me that she will grow out of it, but I'm worried that her behavior will just get more entrenched as the years pass.

-- Looking for advice and strength.

Dear Advice and Strength Seeker,

The first thing I think you need to do is relax. We all have struggles with our children – some more than others – and they rarely have lasting consequences.

You say that you occasionally slap your daughter. While I certainly don’t advocate this as a healthy parenting technique, you do need to cut yourself some slack. Everyone makes mistakes in parenting and it almost never causes permanent damage. I highly recommend that you read Sarah Shapiro’s book, “Living with My Children,” an honest description of her own struggles.

It is also true that children go through phases. If you read the child development books published by the Gesell Institute at Harvard, you will find they suggest that most children experience phases of about 6 months duration of equilibrium (where they are our little angels) and disequilibrium (where they are our little terrors). It is helpful to recognize this important and normal developmental process.

I am encouraged by the fact that your daughter is doing well in school. That suggests it is not a deep personality dysfunction. I would begin by looking for ways to spend time with her and give her positive attention. Hopefully the more of those opportunities you create, the less she will feel a need to act out. But it’s not a guarantee.

Your best tool of all is prayer. Pour your hopes and dreams out to the Creator. I know they will fall on a receptive heart.

One caveat to the prior advice: I think it’s crucial to have a zero tolerance policy towards chutzpah. And the younger you start, the better. If she yells at you or is any other way rude to you, I would be very clear that “This is not how we talk to a mommy” and put her in time-out (or whatever the consequence is in your home). You must be consistent with this – even in public. There is NO age at which chutzpah is cute and if you ignore it in your young children, it will be a nightmare, God forbid, when they are older.

-- Emuna

December 11, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 43

(43) Anonymous, January 3, 2011 9:26 AM


i think there is a time to love and a tome to hate.. but we should not stay in the hate department too long or we can get demented!! Moses hated what the cruel overseer did!!D-Day soldiers hated what Hitler did, you can act on your negative feelings in positive ways.. but only if they are lawful actions... otherwise people can sue for damages here in Aussie for damage control, against bullying etcera which is so common in all schools.. but can be very mentally destructive...and disintegrative...I do understand how you feel, you want to be friends, but really they are not worth yourtime of to me, they seem phoney .

(42) Jamaican Guy, December 21, 2010 8:49 PM

The Best Method

to the person who want to have there son sit at the table, have you ever asked him why? maybe he has severe ADD, try heavily medicating him, with Ritalin. make sure he doesn't snort it though.

(41) anonymous, December 18, 2010 7:52 PM

for #36

Avrohom Lukacs I was reading through this and thinking I know what it is like to have abusive people around and then I read yours and I felt so terrible. For myself, it wasn't as bad as your described it for yourself, but I wanted to let you know what I understood about it after talking with healthy people who do not abuse others and the abusers themselves after they grew up and getting to know them. A lot of it stems from jealousy. I'm not saying I know for certain what your particular abusers were thinking, but I can make a good calculated guess that it is jealousy. Also, working in schools and seeing kids interact with each other. It comes from insecurities. A lot of people cannot look at themselves or take resposibility for things they do wrong to others, so they project it onto the other person and blame the other person when it isn't your fault. They cannot apologize because they don't want to lose the power they think they have of admitting they are wrong, when it is admirable to sincerely apologize and make up for it. Most don't have strength of character or insight into themselves to make changes or the education spiritually. Also, you have to remember, they want to be the person who is right when it is you who is right. And truly, how miserable their lives must be if they have to treat others this way. They miss out on the real connections of loving others. So, try looking at it that way and feel pity for them. Your life is better than theirs internally and they suffer more because of their inability to correct their internal mistakes, to not take responsibility, to have insight and strength. If you look closely at their spiritual lives they are really illogical all the time. They are miserable inside no matter what they pretend to be on the outside. I hope this helps from someone who knows what it is like to understand abusive (emotional, etc) people. Keep your chin up and know you are loved by others and valuable.

(40) ruth Blaustein, December 17, 2010 5:27 PM

do not hug insults to yourself- an unnecessary burden

what I think of myself is more important than opinions of others- who conveniently forget their clueless insults If you wish to see them, do so. If not find other nicer companions-succeed in business and in marriage

(39) G-Jewess, December 17, 2010 6:41 AM

Friendship? 21 and Bitter

When speaking about a man, who seems abusive, aggressive and mean, Emuna seems to think it's not real friendship so you should not stay friends in "Abusive Friends..." When a woman is abusive and mean, then it's really a sign to you?...stay friends even?! Maybe, as a great lady told me once, it's probably a good idea to stay away from toxic people. These "friends" may not yell and scream at you but this is abusive and mean. I too have had the experience of approaching someone who has embarrassed me and they just denied it and said i don't actually feel hurt, when I gave them a total opening to apologize. Rambam would probably say that you don't have to forgive them since you already approached them. (see Hilchos t'shuvah) Hang out with good people, sensative people like yourself. Why waste your time, being with people who were so bad to you? There are many more people out there who deserve your friendship, your old buddies sure don't.

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