Amy was raised to be a nice girl. She had learned not to act if she felt angry or if she sensed any resentful or vindictive feelings within her. When she held back because her motives weren’t pure enough, she became easy prey for her bullying brother. When they were middle-aged, her brother moved back to their small town after having been gone for 20 years. He began spreading vicious lies and rumors about Amy. He blackened her reputation around town and even manipulated their mother into believing that Amy had always been jealous of him and that’s why she would claim he was nasty to her.
It was all lies. Actually, Amy had done a lot to help him and had ignored his attacks; she’d never been nasty. He was a sneaky, narcissistic, abusive, covert bully.
But the more his poisonous words went unchallenged, the more people believed them.
Amy obsessed on what he was saying and what was happening. She couldn’t sleep, she wallowed in negative self-talk, shame and guilt, and became grumpy and angry at her family and at work. She got anxious and depressed. She even contemplated suicide as a solution to her dilemma.
Amy had helped her brother so much and she couldn’t understand why he’d do these things. She tried reasoning with him and in return he attacked her verbally, venting a lifetime’s hatred and jealousy on her. He blamed her for all the problems in his life; all his troubles had been her fault. He told her that she had only succeeded and had a wonderful family because she’d fooled them all and he was going to bring her down. He wouldn’t listen to reason or any compromise she offered.
He accused her of being evil. Her anger and desire to retaliate proved how bad she was. Since she did feel angry, resentful and vindictive, maybe he was right and she was deluding herself by thinking she was a good person.
Finally, Amy was forced to reevaluate some beliefs she’d accepted when she was a child:
- Truth will out; good people will be justified.
- Turn the other cheek; follow the Golden Rule.
- Never act if your motives are impure; if you feel the slightest amount of anger, resentment or vindictiveness.
When she could see that the wonderful life she’d created and her teenage children’s happiness were threatened, she broke free from her old rules and roles. She evaluated those old rules-roles as an adult with much more experience than she had when she was a child.
She could see where and when the old rules might apply, and where and when she needed new rules because she was now a responsible adult. She realized that her most important jobs were to protect her children, her marriage and her reputation. She felt like her old skin had been ripped open and a new sense of clarity, urgency and power filled her new skin.
She told her teenage children what she’d realized. She’d told them secrets about her brother that she’d hidden because she didn’t want them to know how rotten he’d always been. But she had to protect her family from someone who’d destroy it, even though he was her brother.
She told their mother the truth, even though that hurt mom. Her mother had always tried to ignore how bad her son had been. Now she had a choice, face the truth and side with her daughter, who’d always been good to her, or continue siding with a son who was weak and manipulative.
Amy told the truth to her friends and many of the important people in town. The hardest part for her was to overcome her reluctance and produce evidence for many of the rotten things her brother had done while he’d been gone. There were newspaper clippings to back up what she said.
Also, she reminded people to judge by character and history. How had she behaved to them over the years: had she lied, deceived or harmed them? Or had she always been kindly, considerate and truthful?
Her brother had to leave town. Amy felt sorry for him, but she knew that her responsibilities were more important that her sympathy for her brother, who was now reaping the painful harvest of the seeds he’d sown.
Most important, she had a much better sense of what she had to do to fulfill her responsibilities and that she wouldn’t allow her feelings to put her in harm’s way. Also, she saw that she had not let herself be overwhelmed by anger or resentment. She hadn’t blown up and lost her character or the respect of the people in town. Instead, she had stayed calm and thoughtful, and developed a plan that succeeded.
Now, she’s much stronger, courageous and determined.