My sister and me both had our dad do stuff to us at night sometimes. She’s still really angry about it but I’ve cut him out of my life. I’ve been reading your blog and focusing on being grateful and I’m feeling good. My sister says I’m just suppressing my emotions and that it will make me sick. I know she’s wrong but I don’t know how to explain it. Can you give me an answer to give her?
Congratulations on your graceful recovery from a terrible reality. I’m very sorry that you and your sister had those experiences at all, let alone with him. I can appreciate why you would want to help her understand the benefits you get by not allowing him to revictimize you through your own thinking.
Before I really start: I understand that there can be complex family reasons for not pursuing legal action in situations like these. And you’ve ignored that issue entirely, and you’ve been quite pointed about your question, so I will assume that all of you have all come to some semi-reasonable agreement on how to handle this.
This means I will not discuss changing your reality; only how your sister could manage the existing reality. And it’s not like a guilty verdict or anything like that changes the past anyway, so your concern for your sister’s mental health would be valid either way. Regardless of what happens to him, the tortured thoughts she experiences today were not thought by him, they were thought by her. In that way, if she allows it, he could haunt her even from the grave.
If she chooses to accept an albeit ugly reality—as you have—as you know, that does not absolve him of responsibility. You know he is responsible. But your way of handling it simply means she releases herself by accepting reality as it has been and is.
In short: she is better to fully accept—and then stop thinking about—an actual ugly reality, rather than resisting that reality constantly, by incessantly thinking about how she wishes you both had a different past. We’d all wish that. But reality has some very difficult parts, and this is one of them. We either accept that reality, or we will be tortured by our lack of acceptance.
Considering the fact that you have more natural fodder than most people, I want to take a moment to recognize the wisdom you are embodying as you practice gratitude as a lifestyle. No matter what horrors may be in our pasts, there’s no better thing a person can do for their psychological or spiritual health than the act of appreciation. So I hope you’re also appreciating your obvious natural skill at mental control. And there’s no better thing that you could do for your sister than modelling the behaviours that will benefit her. You’ve both already suffered enough.
Okay, so you have to ask you sister, if you’re ‘suppressing’ emotions, then where are they suppressed? What are these emotions made of, and where do we store them? Is it a gland, or duct, or organ? It’s as though she sees your dad’s actions as being like Eckhart Tolle’s “pain body,” and that he has placed this pain body inside her, and that it is separate from her. He did hurt her terribly in the past. But as you have proven in the living of your own life, that very real past injury does not mean she needs to allow him to ruin today too.
The truth is, we don’t store emotions for later extraction. We are always creating a new reality, even if we include some of the past within it. We each have a memory. It’s like a big filing system of everything that’s happened to us as individuals. And yes, that awful stuff with your Dad is in there for both of you and there is no removing it. But you save yourself in how you handle that past, now, in your present.
If we access an a idea a lot, like your sister does, our brains will move those filing cabinets closer to the doorway to our consciousness. Our brain will make it easy for us to think about those memories because our brain is helpful. It does what we ask it to. If we repeatedly ask it to keep getting the same thoughts over and over, then it will start to store those thoughts in a very efficient manner.
The real difference between you and your sister is that you have accepted what has happened so there is no angry, regretful, suffering story to tell yourself. For you that story is over. It had an ending. Your dad did something that violated your sense of self in a horribly disrespectful way. You’ve chosen to handle it as you have, and not to think about those days in favour of thinking about what you’re grateful for.
In your sister’s narrative, your actions appear to be wilfully blind because they are. You know you could think about it just like she does. But you can see what that is doing to her life. Meanwhile, you know from doing it, that regardless of our pasts, if our mind is processing grateful thoughts in any given moment, then we will experience grateful feelings in that moment.
By contrast your sister chooses to continue to see your father, and to think about the past, and so her pain is perpetually retriggered. And when those feelings are re-triggered, she doubles down in anger, because she understandably blames those feelings on your father. So she’s a self-perpetuating anger machine running on some really legitimate fuel. No one is arguing with her complaint. In a better world it never happens. But she’s in this world, where it did. And her own sister proves tp her that that fact does not have to damage her entire life.
We don’t have feelings as much as we conjure them. Even a truly ugly past does not dictate today’s thinking. Where we have driven does not dictate which way we can turn a vehicle today. If your sister wants to drive in circles through the same ditch from decades ago, then she is free to do so. But you aren’t crazy, or wrong, or ‘suppressed’ to simply favour new, beautiful roads as you follow/create your own path through life.
Rather than being conscious of your past you’re conscious of your present. I’m sure you can easily see the difference between your grateful life and your sister’s wanting one. But you’re already doing the most helpful thing you can for your sister—you’re living a happy life and you’re proving that her past does not have to dictate her future. So I too hope she notices that fact sooner rather than later. Because the moment she does then she too will finally be free of your father’s grip.
I’m very sorry it happened, but in a world with some ugly parts, congratulations on spending your moments wisely.
Much love, s
P.S. Later that year, I wrote another piece. Had it been written when this was, I would have likely suggested that she share The Master and the Priest with her sister, before having her conversation about how she used her thoughts.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.