I’m a 45 year-old woman, married with a few kids. I have a good marriage and the “normal” challenges with my children. But I still wake up everyday feeling resentful of my mother. She was a single mom who really neglected me while I was growing up. She was busy pursuing her career and her social life and I was frequently alone – physically and emotionally. Every time I see her, speak to her or even think of her, it brings back all the old feelings of abandonment. I don’t know how to deal with this. Can you please help?
-- Trapped in My 8 year-old Self
You really are. And no one can free you, except yourself. It’s not your mother’s responsibility. Not any more. Even if every word you say is true.
You are an adult with your own family now. Holding on to old grudges and resentments is corrosive of your soul. It harms your ability to enjoy life and gets in the way of being the fully present and open-hearted wife and mother your family deserves.
So you need to let go – for yourself. But also for your mother.
You don’t have to deny the hurt but perhaps you can start changing your focus towards compassion for your mother, to possess some understanding of her behavior and to focus on what you did get instead of what you didn’t. As our Sages teach, "Who is rich? The one who is happy with his portion." Let it go. It doesn’t matter any more. It can’t harm you any more. Let it go…
I know this is easier said than done. I don’t mean to sound cavalier. I just want you to appreciate how unproductive it is for you to hold on. And, like any habit, it is hard to break. You are used to thinking of yourself as a person with a grievance. You wake up every day holding on to a grudge against your mother. It’s hard to just magically arise as a new person. It requires determination and commitment. Once you make the decision to let go, you are at least halfway there.
But the yetzer hara, our lower self, wakes up earlier than we do; it’s ready to pounce with that destructive grudge as soon as we open our eyes. You need to be prepared to meet it head on; to constantly talk to yourself: “I am letting go. I forgive my mother. I am moving on.” It may not happen overnight (it won’t) but if you keep at it, you will emerge a newer, freer person. And ask the Almighty to help; He’s happy to join in your battle.
I live my life under a cloud of anxiety. I wake up anxious, I go to bed anxious and, except for a few brief periods, I spend most of my day worrying. Even when a situation is resolved, the anxiety only lifts briefly before it resettles on something else or I find a nuance in the situation that was missed and obsess about that. It’s really taking over my life and every conversation with my husband seems to revolve around some new anxiety or a replay of an old one. I think he’s feel frustrated with the situation – and I’m not so happy about it myself (which is another source of anxiety!!). Help!
-- Eaten Up Inside
Dear Eaten Up,
I suggest you visit a competent therapist. It’s hard to gauge the extent of your problem from one letter but just in case medication would be of benefit to you, it makes sense to speak to someone who can provide that option if called for. If you don’t feel your situation warrants that type of intervention and you just want a more philosophical approach, then I’m sure you know that the real solution is to trust in the Almighty and to recognize that everything He does is for the good.
Additionally, whether or not the things you worry about actually materialize (most often not!), the time spent worrying makes no difference whatsoever. It is completely unproductive. At the very least, it is a waste of time. At the worst, it is damaging your other relationships (to wit, your conversations with your husband) and keeping you from more productive endeavors. So take a deep breath, ask the Almighty to help and put your worries in His hands. Additionally, involve yourself in helping others. It will lift you out of obsessing about your own situation.
I am 15 years old and I am a very good listener. I’m not bragging; everyone tells me so. Girls come to me with all their problems. Mostly I just listen but sometimes they want advice. How can I advise them? And sometimes the issues are very serious. What should I do?
-- Everyone’s Confidant
Dear Good Listener,
You sound like a very wise 15 year-old. And very kind as well. One of the most important things for all of use to recognize is our limitations. We all (children, adults, teachers, rabbis, friends) need to know when a situation is outside our realm or expertise and when a professional needs to be called in. Anyone of any age who attempts to deal with issues outside their competency will end up hurting the very people they are trying to help. So I suggest that unless they are discussing issues with other friends where you probably could and do give them appropriate advice and direction, you should tell them to go speak to a teacher/principal/therapist. 15 year-old girls should NOT be dealing with girls’ serious psychological issues. It is not only beyond your capacity, it is not a burden you should be carrying. And depending on the level of seriousness, you may be called upon to make a tough choice and report the situation to a teacher you trust even if your friend is unwilling to go tell her yourself.
Being a good listener is a wonderful quality; continue to exercise that muscle – it will stand you in good stead when you are a wife and mother someday. As will learning to delegate to the right person!