Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: What if the person you need to forgive is yourself? I bullied my younger sister as a kid/teen, and as a grown 30-something I feel incredible shame and guilt. I have apologized to her as an adult, which she seemed to have accepted, and I know much of it stemmed from being bullied and abused throughout those years myself. However, I can’t seem to get past how I contributed to a lousy childhood for my sister — someone for whom I would now do anything and who will barely speak to me and the rest of our family.
I know that now I would make different choices but can’t undo the past. How do I forgive myself?
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I think this weight you’re carrying, the painful awareness of your past behavior, is proof you’ve grown into a decent, empathetic person. It hurts, like flipping on an overhead light first thing in the morning. But it’s still important and good.
When going back and fixing something isn’t possible, or when you’ve apologized and still don’t feel better, then I think all any of us can do is make a conscious effort to be good. It’s not so much “paying it forward,” since that’s about returning favors to strangers — call it “fixing it forward.”
Do also remain in regular, arm’s-length contact with your sister — every few months, noting birthdays or Christmas or milestones, for example, with respectful personal notes. Not often enough to crowd her, but enough to let her know that she’s welcome if she’s ever ready to come to you.
Dear Carolyn: My mom is a lifelong chain-smoker. No chance of getting her to quit: She loves everything about it, and the mental gymnastics she will go through to justify it would be funny if they weren’t so sad. She even gave my uncle, who had a portion of a lung removed and is in chemo to combat lung cancer, a cigarette last weekend because, “Well, he wanted one and it made him so happy!”
The issue: We are renting a house in a tropical location in a few weeks and she is the only smoker out of 10 people. I am considering asking her to use an e-cigarette while we’re there. Do you have any suggestions on making this request more successful? She genuinely doesn’t care about other people’s health or comfort in this department. She found a “study” once on the internet that said smoking did not actually cause cancer.
The group we’re going with is, uh, volatile enough without the stress of a nonstop cloud of stink and the hacking cough that accompanies my mom everywhere.
I hope the house is nonsmoking, per the lease. “She genuinely doesn’t care” + belief that smoking isn’t a health hazard = no, there is no other way to get a message through to this person. Unless you’re prepared to set out conditions — either e-smoke or outside — and exclude her from the trip if she refuses to agree to them.
Fingers crossed that it doesn’t rain.
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