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Ask Amy: Survivor of violent abuse struggles to forgive

DEAR AMY: I have been divorced for 25 years from a man that had a “Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde” personality. He would be great and nice one day, and a vicious animal the next.

I was not aware of this until my first-born son was 6 months old and he beat me for the first time.

I stayed in the marriage for 17 years.

The last episode occurred in the 17th year, when he beat me for what seemed like forever. A young couple came out of nowhere and saved me.

Soon after, I escaped with my two sons and have tried to forgive and forget about my married life.

In the 25 years since, on special occasions when I am forced to be in the same room with this man, I can barely breathe the entire time.

I am retired now. I take care of myself and have the company of good friends and family who know about my past.

I have been to numerous therapy sessions to get some strength to forgive and forget, all to no avail.

I love my sons dearly. They have a good relationship with their father. They want me to remain friendly with him.

How can I possibly tell my sons that their father’s presence is hazardous to my health?

Unable to Forgive and Forget

DEAR UNABLE: It sounds as if you might have a form of PTSD. The symptoms you describe are your body’s way of telling you that you are in danger. This is familiar to people who have survived battle or violent crimes.

My sense is that focusing on forgiveness and forgetting might not be the right path for you. You might do better dealing with your symptoms, because your body won’t let you forget – no matter what your mind (or a therapist) tells you to do.

Do your sons know about the physical beatings you endured? Perhaps you should tell them. Do not ask them to make terminal choices between the two of you, but do explain, rationally, why a friendship with him is out of the question.

Forgiveness is not an issue here; instead you should continue to acknowledge the reality of this trauma and seek ways to live with this reality, so that you can move forward toward a greater healing. Forgiveness may flow from that. If you decide to try therapy again, seek a professional with experience dealing with survivors of trauma and violence.

DEAR AMY: Last year the company I worked for closed with no notice. I struggled to find a job and ended up losing my home. My family and friends turned their backs on me.

Not a single person called to ask if I was OK or offered any help. Not even family. I cried a lot of tears.

These same people were so quick to call in the past for a loan or a favor.

I was always there for them and never turned anyone away. One person was angry because I had to say I couldn’t afford to do things we used to do and she stopped calling.

I now have a new job and am working toward getting back on my feet. I feel like I can’t let go of the anger and bitterness I feel toward these people. What do I say when I run into them? I won’t socialize with them any longer, but I do want to tell them how I feel.

Sad and Struggling

DEAR SAD: You have survived a tough and terrible blow. I’m so happy your fortunes are turning around. When you have been disappointed by others, the best way to respond is to be transparent and honest about your own feelings, while keeping your expectations for a response very realistic.

I suspect that when you say to people, “I felt let down that you didn’t check on me during my toughest time” they will respond, “But you didn’t ask.” This is not a just or kind response, but it is predictable.

DEAR AMY: It sounded to me like “Sleepless in Seattle” has some serious anger issues toward her husband, beyond dealing with an infant.

I know it’s tough, tiring and frustrating raising a baby, but shouldn’t it also be a happy bonding time as well? As you know, babies sense things. I hope she keeps her “hatred” away from the child.

Reader

DEAR READER: “Sleepless” husband worked across the country, which makes her situation extreme. I certainly hope she is able to rein in some of her anger.

Email Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribpub.com.

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