A Letter to a Friend

“I was giving away my power over my feelings. It put me at the mercy of [someone’s] actions which… I have no control over. This put me in a position for lots of emotional upset. And I was powerless over it, which was scary. But [this] thought… has given me my power back… It is incredibly liberating and feels so good to feel love instead of frustration and anger… For a while I wanted to hold on to my anger… I thought it was protecting me or that it gave me some power… At first I wanted to just force it. But it turns out I needed to understand and allow myself to let it go.”

In this post, “Fernand” is a symbolic name.  It represents those who have wronged me but who I either wanted to feel close to or believed I was obligated to feel close to. It could be family, a friend, anyone that has wronged me really. Maybe you can relate. If you want to go even deeper you could also substitute the word “life” for “Fernand.” Fernand in french is pronounced kind of like “fair-naw” with a slight throat-clearing-sound thrown in with the “r”.

I love the 2002 Count of Monte Cristo film starring Jim Caviezel. I love Edmond Dantes’ character. I love his transformation in the Chateau d’If, his relationship with the priest, his conflict with all the anger he feels, and I like how in this movie he learns to let go of his anger. It was the first DVD that I ever owned myself as a young adult. I still have it and watch it every so often. It means a lot to me. I went to the Château d’If last year and it was a really moving experience for me. On top of that, I live in southern France now so I thought that the name of Edmond’s best friend, Fernand, who betrayed him, would be a fitting symbolic name for this letter.

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Photo of me at the Chateau d’If in Edmond Dantes’ prison cell. Sitting next to the hole he would climb through. Summer 2017

Dear Friend,

In this letter, I am not focusing on things that Fernand has done. I am focusing on how I’ve navigated through some of my thinking and feeling about him. I guess I thought it might be helpful for you because Fernand has wronged you too. And because sharing can be really productive and helpful. I know each of our experiences with Fernand are very different and unique, but we are both human so there are probably some similarities. I’m not saying there is a right way to do it. And I don’t expect you to do things the way I do.

I’d like to focus on some of the things that have helped me to heal and feel better about things. Because I have experienced a lot of emotional distress and pain working through this. But I really am at a point now where I am grateful for all of it. I am choosing to believe that all of it happened just as it should and I am done trying to negotiate with my past. It is a losing battle anyway because I cannot change the past.

Recently, I started wanting nothing to do with Fernand. A good question I’ve learned to ask myself about life events in order to understand my thinking is this: What am I making this mean? I thought that wanting space from Fernand made me unacceptable as a person. I thought it meant I was a bad person. I thought it meant I couldn’t really love him if I wanted the space. There is a part of me that believes I am responsible for Fernand’s well-being. So did I stop caring about his well-being suddenly? I thought I must have. I made all of this mean that I was not good enough as a person. The distress from all of these thoughts alone was unbearable and I couldn’t even think about it most of the time because of the pain. It led to lots of miserable feelings for me. Thoughts cause feelings in us. I can’t really choose my feelings. But I can choose my thoughts. And even if I was avoiding thinking about it, my brain was still having thoughts about it without my conscious guidance. And the default thoughts going on for me were scary.

So I started choosing different thoughts. One of the most important thoughts for me to focus on was that I am of great worth regardless of my actions, I cannot earn my worth, it is unconditional. This one has taken A LOT of practice. My brain fought me on this because it had believed otherwise for so many years and the neuronal pathways were very well-established and would be my default if I let my brain go without guidance. I spend less time in that default now and it is amazing. I feel amazing. Some really nice thoughts that branch off of this are I am good enough as a person whether I take space from Fernand or not. I am worthwhile as a human regardless of the condition of my relationship with Fernand. I am a complete and whole person whether I am seeing Fernand in my life or not. These thoughts have allowed me to feel so much better about things. And why would I want to feel otherwise! I choose to always love him no matter what. Another thought, I can love Fernand and take the space I need. And it’s true!

I will always love Fernand no matter what. That is my choice. But I’ve realized there is a difference between I love him but won’t be happy till he changes, and I love him and can be happy whether he changes or not. The first thought here is one I tried on for a while. And I’ve spent lots of time wishing that he was different. I wished so badly that he was different that I was trying to convince myself for years that he was a certain way that I wanted him to be. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with seeing the best in people. And there ARE many great things about Fernand. I have happy memories with him. Back to that first thought. By expecting him to change for me to feel better or to act a certain way for me to feel better, I was giving away my power over my feelings. It put me at the mercy of his actions which he is in control of and I have no control over. This put me in a position for lots of emotional upset. And I was powerless over it, which was scary. But the thought that I love him and can be happy whether he changes or not has given me my power back. And it feels so much better. It helps me feel love toward him instead of frustration or anger. It helps me to not focus so much on what he ‘should be” as I do on just understanding how Fernand actually is. I get to control my thoughts and feelings this way, not him. It is incredibly liberating and feels so good to feel love instead of frustration and anger.

Another thing I’ve done is forgive Fernand for damaging actions toward me and those I love. For a while I wanted to hold on to my anger toward him. I think I thought it was protecting me or that it gave me some power over him. Or that it would punish him. But it turns out that he doesn’t feel anything going on in my brain. He only feels what’s going on in his own brain. For a while I thought that if I forgave him then it would mean letting him back in to my life in a way like before. And that scared me from forgiveness because I don’t trust him like I did before. I want to be open to rebuilding trust. What I’ve realized is that forgiveness is all about me and not at all about the people that have wronged me. It is about me, myself, letting go of resentment and anger. Me forgiving him is all about me, for me, and because of me. There is no handshake required for forgiveness. There is no requirement of conversation involving “Oh that’s okay, I forgive you.” Forgiveness is a separate and different thing from trust. Letting go of my anger and resentment toward him was a long process for me but well worth it. And it feels amazing. I am a happier person for it. It is pretty cool that Christ asking us to forgive others is totally about benefitting us. He wants us to be happy and not stay in the suffering that comes from holding on to resentment. On a side note, for me it was really helpful to do all I could to understand why different parts of me were holding on to the anger before I could let it go. At first I wanted to just force it. But it turns out I needed to understand and allow myself to let it go.

I spent a lot of time in and out of victim mentality the last while. I still slip into it but I’m getting better at recognizing it in myself now. I think I confused victim mentality with vulnerability a lot of times. So I am taking responsibility for any time I have allowed myself to be victimized by Fernand in my adult years. As a child, I had a brain not fully developed and just wasn’t able to take care of myself. I don’t take responsibility for being a victim those times. But I do take responsibility for how I choose to look back on them now, as an adult. Like I said earlier, I choose to believe that things happened as they were meant to. And I’m grateful for what I am learning from working through it now. I’ve heard that the word “responsibility” is good for emotions because you can break it down to “Response Ability.” It gives me power to realize that I have the ability to respond to Fernand however I want to. If I am victim to him now it is because I have allowed myself to be, not because he has some power over me. Does that make sense? If he manipulates me now it is because I allow myself to be manipulated by him. And it is up to me, inside my own brain, to take care of myself. I am responsible for my emotions, not him. I am responsible for my thoughts, not him.

I don’t know what the future holds for me in my relationship with Fernand, as far as interacting with him goes. But I know how I’m choosing to think and feel about it. And I’m not rushing myself on deciding the other stuff. I have more confidence than ever that I can take care of myself through it. And I feel better than ever about things. I have tons of confidence in you too. I love you and hope you know that I completely respect your way of handling this, your timing, your choices. I find it so easy to trust that you are always doing your best. That always goes such a long way in relationships, doesn’t it! I’ve started believing that Fernand is doing his best too, but that does not come easy. I don’t expect anything from you regarding this. I just thought it might be helpful to share. Let me know if you have any thoughts that you want to share.

Your friend,

Danny

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1 thought on “A Letter to a Friend

  1. What a coincidence that you write this the very day I did some heavy unloading of anger. Things I have held onto for years. Some of my thoughts about why I held on to anger are exactly what you described. How liberating it was for me to cast my burdens on the Lord. I appreciated your relating responsibility to emotions. It goes along well with the scripture in 2 Nephi 2:27 where we are told we have the ability (agency) to choose whom we follow. I was once given counsel that sometimes agencies collide. I loved the imagery that gave. Realizing that I can’t control the agency of another. And that it’s ok that my choices don’t fall in line with anothers. But that love can still exist. Thanks again for the good read and for giving me more to think about.

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