Q. In the past I have been too innocent, and some people have taken advantage of it and hurt me. I’ve used this experience to grow stronger, and I feel comfortable with my life and myself now. I’m not vengeful, and whenever someone has apologised for something, I’ve forgiven them right away.
However, I still feel bitter when somebody who has hurt me badly won’t admit it, and seems not to ever pay for it. It seems so unfair. This feeling is undermining my joy in life – what can I do about it? Name supplied
A. I’m not sure that it’s possible or desirable to avoid our own feelings. My instinct is to focus more on accepting, and even embracing, imperfection and mess. You will get some judgements wrong (being too innocent); and so will other people (acting thoughtlessly, and not noticing the effects).
There is a lot of psychological research into how we make sense of the world, our own actions, and those of other people. The jargon which could apply to your situation is Fundamental Attribution Error. It’s a fancy way of saying that when we consider our own behaviour, we know our own intentions and the context, but we judge others by their actions alone.
We don’t know what’s going on inside other people’s heads when they are apparently behaving badly – has the person who is snappy at the supermarket checkout just had bad health news? Are they interpreting your casual glance as racist because you remind them of somebody else? Is it possible to let the experience just be, without blaming the ‘somebody’ or yourself?
However, I am concerned that there is a particular somebody who has hurt you badly in a way that’s beyond this advice. If so, please refer to this website to find a therapist you can talk this through with.
Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.