Dear Bear,

Dear Bear,

I suspect you stop by here occasionally. I am not sure of it, but maybe. If not, I imagine you will one day. I would much prefer mutual communication, but I tried directness, and you were unresponsive to it, so for now, I am settling for keeping all topics emotional where you will only see them if you seek them.

If you are reading this, then the possibility of mutual communication remains, because reaching out while trying to remain unnoticed speaks both to a continued desire for connection and a simultaneous fear of it. To act in defiance of the fear suggests that the desire is stronger than the fear, and might, given time and encouragement, prove strong enough for you to choose to reach out directly. Or for you to seriously consider the possibility that you can heal, and commit to it, whether or not we communicate.

I have no desire to see you hurt, much less do you harm. In recent months, I have held back referencing any of the harm you’ve done, because of my concern for you, and my fear of hurting you in any way that might lead you to harm yourself. But I think that is a dysfunctional belief, that acknowledging when you do harm is the same as hurting you. I think withholding truths you might not want to hear harms us both.

I still care about you, more than I think you ever allowed yourself to believe. Or were able to believe. I know that not to love yourself is not to believe anyone else can or will love you. I know.

I love you all the same.


My belief in your better self persists, even as the evidence to the contrary was so overwhelming – and is. Maybe you imagine you did a better job with deception than you did, and that I am unaware of the worst, and you tell yourself that unawareness makes what I am saying meaningless. Whether or not I am aware of every harmful thing you have done, I am aware of plenty, and that does not alter that I love you. If there is more or worse, it will not alter that I love you. Whether I trust you is certainly affected, as is how I believe you feel. I haven’t forgotten the things you have taken. I am hurt that you are behaving the way you continue to do. I am also still worried about you, regardless of that. And I love you anyway.

I am aware my belief that there is a fundamentally decent human being at your core who is interested in overcoming all of the shit that causes you pain, and causes you to cause other people pain, without feeling true remorse and changing your behavior, might just be some dysfunctional defense against an ugly truth.

I can’t pretend my feelings have never led me wrong, that I have never been mistaken. But when a feeling is powerful and persists, I have to consider it might actually be based in something more than wishful thinking. If I am wrong, then distance and silence will remain between us; even if I am right, maybe that will still be so.

Whether or not there ever comes a time when we speak, whether or not we ever mutually wish to be in each other’s lives again, and even if I am wrong about your better self, I love you anyway.

One of my most overpowering desires is for that to matter to you, for that to reach you, for that – for something, anything – to get through to you, so that you believe in your own worth and the possibility of better things for yourself, both in how you feel and in your life beyond the boundaries of your interior, believe that it is possible to learn to act from positive emotions and in spite of fear, instead of from negative emotions, directed by fear. Hopefully strongly enough that you feel able to go through the process of getting there.

I am not claiming saintliness, I am only human, too. I have faults. I have limits. I cannot, could not, indefinitely hold on in the face of prolonged, relentless stresses and escalating destructive behaviors. And of course I want you to feel and express remorse for the harm you did, but whether or not you do, I still want you to be well. Which I don’t imagine happens while you armor yourself in the lie that my expressing positive feelings toward you means you did no harm, or that I am okay. You did, and I am not.

I know on some level, however deeply buried, you know the truth, because that has to be so for you to construct relevant (if not believable) lies. Which means the only way I can see that you are going to be able to change how you feel about yourself, to have your dominant emotion be something other than fear, to actually feel good, do good, be good (instead of waging a dishonest campaign to be seen as perfect with lies that never change the behaviors you are clearly ashamed of, or at least fearful of the consequences of their revelation), is to begin with honesty, follow honesty with action, take honest note of the apparent consequences of your actions, and repeat.

And though I don’t think you ever allowed yourself to believe it, in spite of all the evidence, I really do want you to feel good, do good, and be good, and not see those things as impossible, impossible for yourself, or unable to exist simultaneously. And yes, even if you never try to make right all the things you made wrong, I don’t want you to suffer. I don’t want you to feel good about about causing harm, either, to yourself or to others, I don’t want you to feel indifferent to it. Because either would make it rather unlikely you would stop doing so, and I want better than that for you, and for the people around you. Unconditional love does not mean love that feels no pain, pretends not to feel pain, has to subject itself willingly to repeated harm, nor love that believes pain is inconsequential if it is caused by the loved one.

Be honest with yourself. Start there. Within the confines of your mind, where no one else ever has to know the words, own the truth. Own that you did things that caused harm. Own that you sometimes did things knowing you would cause harm. Own that you did things that caused harm, also sometimes knowingly, to cover doing other things that caused harm. Own that you continue to do harm. And not, as you would have it, for “self-protection.”

Try to be honest about how you characterize your motivations. You feel vulnerable, yes, and your feelings matter, but they are not all that matter; reality includes the space we share with every other living creature, and in that shared space, whether you feel vulnerable does not necessarily mean that you are. When you are the person with all the power and all the privilege, all the material and physical and social advantages, you are not vulnerable to someone who has none of those things. Your lies are not “protection” against an external threat. They are told to receive what you believe are the benefits of being perceived as your lies paint you, and/or to evade the consequences you believe being perceived based on the truth of your actions and their results might bring.

There is also the possibility that doing harm and getting away with it result in you feeling powerful. I wanted to believe this isn’t so, in spite of everything I have experienced with and because of you. I acknowledged it as a possibility, but I didn’t want to think it is true of you. Now I am more willing to admit that I believe this is at least part of the truth – one complicated by the fact that I believe you also, at times, maybe even simultaneously, feel yourself to be helpless. If it is so that doing harm, that not being held accountable for doing harm, are things that you experience as feeling powerful, I imagine beneath lies fear, and the harmful things you do that give you that feeling of power are maladaptive coping mechanisms for converting that emotion into or masking that emotion with one that feels more bearable.

Whatever your motivation, the cover-ups themselves are harmful. To you, and to others. Subjecting a person to true actions and dishonest words about those actions is gaslighting. Dishonest accounts shared beyond the scope of those present to experience harmful actions is an attempt to redirect the negative consequences of your actions from you onto those harmed, as well as being manipulative of those whose reactions you are trying to control. Being dishonest destroys any chance of intimacy, whether or not those you are dishonest with are ever aware of it – because you are aware of it, and live with the knowledge that others’ feelings about you are not based in truth, and the fear of the truth being revealed.

That is very likely to keep you feeling not just isolated, but afraid. We are social animals who need each other, particularly when we feel vulnerable; if you feel certain no one truly knows and thus no one truly cares for you, when you feel vulnerable, the certainty – however accurate or not – that there is no help to be had is likely to exacerbate the fear inherent in moments of vulnerability. And anyone who is trying to help you, anyone whose help you seek, will be doomed to almost certain failure when they lack honest information upon which to base their advice and assistance.

I think your fear is so overwhelming that you are unable to see your actions outside of that internal context. I think your fear is so overwhelming that you might not even be able to recall your actions as angry or threatening or abusive, that you might not, even in retrospect, be able to see your tendency to respond to expressions of emotional distress as if they pose a physical threat. Negative emotion, including sadness, whether your own or someone’s else’s, seems to be so inextricably linked in your nervous system with violence that it seems likely your mind simply does not draw a distinction between the two.

I think most likely, doing harm is, for you, a side effect of your inability to control extreme, reflexive fear. Including the fear that feeds your unwillingness to risk exposure, whether in a moment where you feel vulnerable in the presence someone else’s apparent unhappiness (because you associate it so strongly with a concomitant threat of physical violence); or in calmer times when help is available but you won’t avail yourself of its full potential, because your survival response is also triggered by even thinking about admitting out loud to behaving poorly or causing harm or having acted in defiance of what you yourself believe to be right, since you were so often hurt when you were young, including when you honestly expressed perfectly normal, healthy responses to the things you were experiencing.

“Being bad” would be my guess of how your unconscious labels all of the things you won’t allow yourself to admit, whether to yourself or to others, since these are fears rooted in an abusive childhood in which one of the cruelest abuses was convincing a tiny, beaten child that he could deserve to be hurt, and had the power to make another person hurt him and therefore, logically, had the power to stop that harm from happening.

And both things being, to his mind, true, if he got hurt – “in trouble” and “punished” –  it was his fault, not just because he “caused” it, but because he failed to do the secret thing to “make” it stop that he was apparently supposed to inherently know how to do without ever having been told, or failed to do a variety of impossibly contradictory things that he was told that he could do to stop the violence that never stopped, and was convinced he could have done but failed to do because he was “bad.”

In addition to being mentally, emotionally, and physically abused, you were taught that cruelty could be justifiable, and that you were to blame for every bad thing that happened to you and every bad thing that anyone else did. That not only were you getting hurt, but you “deserved” it,  so in addition to all the pain being inflicted you had (have) the additional pain of believing you were (are) not “allowed” to lay blame where it belongs, and blaming yourself for something you were powerless to stop; the pain of not being “allowed” to feel sad or angry at those hurting you, which of course you quite naturally and justifiably felt, but expressing those feelings was “punished,” so you suppress(ed) those feelings, which then, of course, bled (bleed) out in less-than-constructive ways, because what we bury in ourselves we carry with ourselves, and the emotion unexpressed tends to get amplified and distorted more the longer it is locked up instead of let out. And you felt (feel) badly about feeling badly, because you were taught that the bad things and bad feelings were all your fault, and you didn’t deserve to complain about them.

And of course your grasp of reality around emotion and suffering, and your ability to trust in yourself, and to value yourself, and to see yourself as a separate human being with limited power, and possessed of flaws, and worthy of kindness and respect, and never deserving of pain, and capable of loving and being loved, as all people are, were all thoroughly undermined as you were being hurt, being told it was your fault while also being told it wasn’t even happening, being told you were loved while your were being treated hatefully, being told those who had and cruelly misused power over you were powerless, and being told you were all-powerful while every single day was full of tangible evidence that you were helpless.

If you were not helpless, if you were capable of causing and stopping abuse, you would have stopped it. You didn’t want it, you didn’t cause it, and you certainly didn’t deserve it.

Is a life in which you seem to be constantly frightened, to feel hatred of yourself, in which you act out when you feel petulant or powerful or disconnected or despairing  or terrified enough to act without regard to the harm done to yourself or someone else, and then spend the rest of your time trying to construct and maintain a shield of fabrication, omission, and twisting of bits of truth, really what you want for yourself?

I don’t believe it is.

Is that, in part, at least, an accurate description of what life is like for you? Of course I can’t speak for you, not even where I am echoing things you have said, because I do not know when you were honest with me, but I do think that what I have written here is true, or part of the truth.

I don’t think that where you feel hurt or cause hurt are all that you are. I don’t mean to paint a caricature of you. I am just trying, still, to understand, and not just for my own peace of mind, though I am trying for that, too. I am trying to understand in case there is the slightest chance it might be of help to you. I am trying to understand in case there is some truth in my feelings that you might be a very different person at heart than the person who has his back turned to me. In case that heart might turn you around. In case there is a chance that out of the ashes there is a played-out phoenix metaphor I will actually have cause to use.

I certainly hope so. I have had too much of pointless suffering. Suffering that serves a purpose would be a welcome change. If real good came out of this for both of us, I would consider it well worth it. For now, I just feel like hell. Like that is where I am.

I think maybe you are wrestling with a belief born of abuse, that is mingled parts fear and desire – that it is possible for you to control everything, that somehow you control things when what you don’t want happens, or when you are in pain, without knowing how; and that when you most wish to have control – to be able to stop pain, or avoid it – you somehow fail to achieve it.

I know words can’t really begin to touch emotion posing as reason, and I know how powerful this particular knot of pain can be, but I stop here to ask us both to consider this: the notion of control includes awareness, agency, and certainty, not ignorance and helplessness and doubt. How can we “make” things happen without having any desire to or understanding of how we do? How can we be said to be in control when we have no ability to affect the outcomes we do want?

Even if you never do what you want, even if you follow every dictated or inferred “rule,” you cannot control every outcome. I suppose in part that is what fuels the harmful behavior – because I think your primary motivator is actually wanting not to feel or be hurt, and somewhere early on you got convinced that when those things happen it is your fault, that you can be to blame for what another person chooses to do, or for an act of nature, even. So no matter how much you try to discern or invent and abide by an ever-shifting list of “rules” which mirror the gaslighting bullshit some abusers subjected you to when you were small and caught in the inescapable trap of needing them to survive while having your life constantly endangered by them, you don’t always get what you want.

Sometimes people get upset with you, or don’t like what you do, sometimes you hear things that don’t flatter you, and you equate “displeasing” someone with them intending to do you serious physical harm. I think your central nervous system was twisted up so that any expression of negative emotion is tied to the experience of violence and the concomitant possibility of permanent injury or death –  which makes honesty difficult for you (because you showing negative emotion was one a countless false “wrongs” you were taught were the cause of the pain inflicted on you) and intimacy impossible.

And not just because you know that what exists between you rests on a dishonest foundation. When another person knows you may be telling the truth sometimes but are lying a lot, they have no chance of knowing when what you are saying is meaningful; while knowing that you lie is incredibly meaningful as a sign of disrespect, and when the lying is prolonged, a sign that you are indifferent to inflicting suffering, because as you well know, gaslighting is one of the most lastingly damaging forms of abuse.

And I think sometimes, when once again you come up against the reality that you cannot always get a positive response from people, when by your standards you have been “good” (whether by their standards you were is not something you are really capable of hearing, if your fight-or-flight is triggered when you witness criticism, anger, hurt, sadness…), and you feel helpless and out-of-control in the way that frightens you most, you “act out” by indulging a desire/deliberately acting to hurt someone else…or hurt yourself.

Probably part well-fuck-it-I-can’t-do-anything-right-so-I-might-as-well-do-something-wrong-if-I-am-going-to-get-hurt-anyway, part externalizing blame for your own unpleasant feelings and actions and exacting a kind of “payback” (you “made” me feel this way/act this way/I am “punishing” you/I hide what I really think or feel or want and you don’t see what I hide and that is your fault so I will do something to get your attention and “make” you see me), part a misguided belief that having been the victim of abuse you cannot be its perpetrator, part the unconscious assumption (that I think is the base belief of many who were/are subjected to the prolonged, inescapable kind of violence Judith Hermann categorizes as “captivity”) that someone else hurting you is inevitable, and it is better to cut short the agony of waiting for it to happen by trying to “make” it happen somehow.

I have already gone on at length here, as I imagine I might again. If you have read this and made it to the end, I hope somehow I have managed to get through to you. Because for everything that has happened, for all the time I spent trying and failing, I still wish that I could.

Please take care of yourself. And, if the time comes when you are ready to have an honest conversation, please get in touch.



p.s. I just want to add that no matter what has happened to you, no matter what you have done, you do not deserve to suffer. No person does. You deserve to be healthy and happy. I hope you are, and if you are not, that you will never give up on yourself, and keep trying until you are.


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