It's not that he did that TO YOU. It's just that he DOES that.
Updated: Sep 6
Many years ago, while traveling in Mexico with a random group of people, I met this woman, let’s call her Karen. Karen was a bit older and she was traveling alone. I mean, we were all traveling as a group, but most of us had signed up for the trip with a friend, family member or significant other. Karen had signed up alone, so she was talking to everyone and kind of floating around.
We were all getting to know each other and I find it really interesting to pay attention to what people say to each other when they first connect. How they introduce themselves, what kind of energy they use to bond. Some bond through humor, some boast about their accomplishments, some trauma bond, others are quiet and simply observe.
Karen briefly spoke about her well paid job and how often she went on trips like these, but once she would share that, she would inevitably start talking about was her ex husband, the painful divorce they’ve gone through, how he did her wrong, how she didn’t deserve that. She would passionately go on and on - how disrespectful he was, how she trusted him, how stupid she was, how she should have seen the red flags, on and on and on.
In the beginning, I really felt compassion for her. She was hurt and she needed someone to hear her. She was trauma bonding, which I didn’t recognize at the time, but basically it means that someone focuses on how they are a victim of circumstances how their lives are sad / unfair / unfortunate. It can be as heartbreaking as how badly they were treated by someone or as banal as how difficult their commute is. But the emphasis is on their hardship and they crave your full attention, time and sympathy. Some people call them energy vampires because it’s exhausting to listen to them. They will slowly drain you until you have barely any energy left.
A few days into the trip, while she was in the midst of yet another story of how badly he had treated her and I still - surprisingly - had sympathy for her misfortune, I asked her how long ago they got divorced. I was expecting that it was very recent, maybe not even final yet, because of the strength of her emotions around it.
“Ten years ago”, she said, dead serious. “I’m sorry, what?” I was sure that I misheard. But she repeated it. “Ten years”, she said, nodding her head emphatically.
Ten. Years. I shivered just thinking how many times she had repeated this story over the course of the decade. To herself, to her friends, to anyone willing to listen, over and over and over again, re-living this story of victimhood and injustice, making herself more and more powerless each time she repeated it.
I’m not trying to be insensitive. I’m sure her divorce wasn’t easy. No divorce ever is. Maybe he really was the asshole she painted him to be. An arrogant, selfish pig. Maybe, maybe not. But in the end, does it even matter? It ended a decade ago.
The real villain here was HER. She was the one who kept torturing herself, by choosing to go back to this story over and over and over again, each time focusing on her misery.
You are the hero of your own story. You choose whether you’ll heal from something or not. Karen was stuck in a fictitious loop, a movie running in her head reaffirming that she had no power.
And she was miserable, regardless of her well-paid job and her world-traveling lifestyle. And everyone she tried to get close to would eventually get sick of her story and start avoiding her, so she had no friends.
Her ex might have really been an asshole. But it was up to her to let that story go, once it was over. Because it WAS over, a decade ago.
You choose what you give your power to. Don’t be like Karen. Dust yourself off, look for the silver lining, re-focus, put your attention on something that’s going to help you see how powerful you are, get in therapy, distinguish what stories you tell yourself and then start choosing empowering ones.
Nobody did anything TO YOU. They do it because they do it. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you’ll be able to get them off your mind and create new stories for yourself.
You know why I’m a master at this? Because I used to suck at it and I would break my own heart, repeatedly. I wanted to live from my heart, but just because you follow your heart, it doesn’t mean that you won’t get it broken.
It becomes imperative to learn how to deal with the pain and to let go, or else I would have become Karen. And that, my dear reader who have made it this far, is the real tragedy.
Learn how to separate “what they did” from “what they did TO YOU”. And stop breaking your own heart.