Relationships, You & Your Family

Letting go and moving on with time

Letting go and moving on with time

I recently learnt of a rather clever and useful cosmetic item called a concealer. It is used to hide skin discolouration, blemishes or creases. I saw a demonstration of its effectiveness by someone near and dear to me and was amazed by how it appeared to erase flaws. I should add here, before my enthusiasm gets the better of me, that the concealer, rather than eliminating blemishes, helped cover them up for a time.

Unlike concealers and skin blemishes, some of our mistakes are not as easily erased nor the broken relationships in our lives as easily mended.

The usual process to repair broken relationships, especially when one is responsible for causing hurt or making a mistake, is to admit the wrong and apologise. The hope is that the hurt party will accept the apology and wipe the slate clean. Sometimes, the offending party may offer some form of restitution. For example, they may pay for or replace a lost or broken item even though it may be but a token of the loss, especially when the item holds high sentimental value.

Sometimes, restitution is not possible when no financial amount can be adequately attached to it, e.g. when trust is betrayed or when one is wrongly maligned. The hurt party, when confronted with efforts to mend broken ties, may wonder if it is in their interest to maintain the estrangement or to restore contact.

I have seen situations when the wronged party is utterly consumed by their hurt and anger. It is as if, like in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, they become the cruel moneylender who demands a pound of flesh as payment for the debt. Ironically, holding on to pain and anger harms the hurt party again and again. There is no release until one decides to let go of the hurt and anger and move on.

Moving on from a hurt is often complicated by the passage of time. It may have happened so long ago that few can remember exactly the circumstances that precipitated it. In some cases, the events when recalled and viewed through the lens of time may seem rather mundane. It may have been a misunderstanding that got compounded by a faux pas and followed by the negative reciprocity of withdrawal and criticism. After some time, no one can recall exactly how or by whom it all started.

Time may provide emotional distance that helps break the cycle of memory, withdrawal and anger. Perhaps, as the years go by, we are not only more distant from the hurtful events but also closer to the end of our lives. The shortness of time we realise we have left may cause us to value what we have more than what we lost.

Finally, peace-making between strained parties may be initiated by others rather than by the main protagonists themselves. I have observed concerned family members and friends attempting to broker a mending of ties. In one instance, cousins initiate meetings of their respective families and do what their parents had perhaps tried but failed to do. Sometimes, shared events like weddings may present the opportunity for parties with strained relationships to meet.

When the relationships are mended, we sometimes wonder what all the fuss was about that caused the split. Or even when there was a valid cause before, its emotional sting is no longer so potent. Perhaps, time is the ultimate eraser of hurts in relationships, having an effect that is longer lasting.

Benny Bong has over 40 years of experience as a therapist, counsellor and trainer. He also conducts regular talks and webinars. Benny has helmed the You & Your Family column for more than 16 years and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.