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I was a little bit of a jerk in junior high. It was a miserable time, and I said and did things to friends and acquaintances that I now regret. It weighs on me. But I am well into my forties and I have no idea if those people, all of whom I lost touch with (can’t blame them), even remember these incidents – or even remember me! – let alone still feel bad about it.
Nevertheless, I would like to try and make amends. Any suggestions?
It is never too late to make amends! I think it’s pretty safe to say that we were all in states of extreme flux in junior high: fear, embarrassment, self-consciousness, misery, shame and ineptitude, just to name a few. You are allowed a little bit of slack. However, I applaud your instincts to make amends. The good news is, even though you haven’t been in touch with these people in three decades, there is now something called the internet, through which it is very easy to find people! If Facebook and Instagram stalking isn’t your thing, enlist a 17-year-old. They will find all your peeps in 30 seconds flat.
Once you find them, a nicely worded note is always welcome, even if they don’t remember you from Adam. You may start with “Hi ________, I’m not sure if you’ll remember me but we went to _______ junior high together in the early eighties. I’m writing to you because while we were in junior high, I’m afraid I made some insensitive remarks to you and my unkind words (or actions) have weighed on me over the years. Please accept my apologies. I was not in a great space at the time and I believe I took it out on others, including you. Again, my apologies…..please feel free to get in touch. If not, I wish you the best, Joe.”
Wouldn’t you love to get a note like this? Your former classmates may or may not remember the infraction, but still, I believe your gesture will be appreciated. Honestly, who doesn’t love an apology? I know I do!
My family is very fortunate in that we have enjoyed a summer home in Wisconsin since my parents built it over 50 years ago. Now, however, my parents have many grandchildren and a few great grandchildren. Despite so many people using the house, there is no system in place for sharing the house and, it seems, little interest in developing any. As a result, it’s a free-for-all with, in my opinion, the loudest and most pushy among us getting their way repeatedly. I am non-confrontational and some of my siblings, when threatened in the slightest, are flamethrowers.
The end result is a lot of hurt feelings, old resentments and no resolution. Bringing it up as a subject to be worked out has, in the past, proven to be a Pandora’s box. This is fracturing the family. I used to think that maintaining the family connection was much more important than arguing over the summer house, but now the house has come to symbolize what I feel are ugly family patterns. Because of this, I feel like I must divest from my involvement with my more bully-like siblings in order to protect my emotional well-being. Sad but true.
Any advice on how to stay distanced emotionally while having to still maintain basic family duties like care of our parents, holidays, etc?
Count me out
Yes, in fact, I do. But my thoughts are more about your interior vs. your exterior. In other words, how you are feeling about this vs. what exactly you do about it. Because when you feel OK about something, what you do about it matters a lot less.
So let’s dig in. There is the practical matter of the use of the house, and the more important matter of all the old tangles between family members. As far as your feelings of being bullied, I trust your perceptions. Some people are bucket fillers, and others are bucket emptiers. When you spend time with people who are bucket fillers, you feel good. When you spend time with bucket emptiers, you feel like you’ve been visited by an emotional vampire who has sucked something vital right out of you. And, for more sensitive, self-reflective people, it can take a lot of time to recover from these attacks.
It’s generally easy to avoid the bucket emptiers but far less so when you are related to some. But regardless of family obligations, you have to protect yourself from being the victim of a flamethrower. That may mean spending less time with the family. Practice some stock phrases like, “I need a little more down time” or “too much togetherness for me at the moment.” Perhaps going to the summer house when no one else is there, or giving up your share altogether.
When a situation feels too emotionally expensive, nothing says you have to ante up. You don’t even have to play. It sounds like you’ve tried talking about it and it was like walking into a lion’s den wearing a suit of meat. For conflict-averse peeps, it may be easier to keep your expectations low and your boundaries high.
It’s a tightrope, so remember, seeing them less will be their loss, not yours. And as always, if this continues to be a thorn in your side, or you are having continued trouble negotiating some of these life-long relationships, a good therapist is worth their weight in dark chocolate.
Cats or dogs?
Anything but mosquitos.
Dear Gabby appears in the RoundTable every Friday. Yes, Gabby is an advice columnist – but not just any advice columnist. Because that would be boring! Gabby combines wisdom with wit. And a pinch of snark. She is not a trained therapist by any means, but has seen and loved many in her day. Her aim is to make you think while she makes you laugh. Gabby welcomes all questions and queries and is only too happy to hear your opinion, no matter how much it may diverge from hers. Write to Gabby at firstname.lastname@example.org.