Q. My family and I have a history of feuding, and unfortunately we often resort to violence as a way of venting our anger.
As a result, I have lost two husbands and both my sons in violent incidents. I’ve always tried to keep my hands clean, but recently I’ve been jailed in connection with the death of my brother in law.
Since then my house has been set on fire and a rival clan has mocked me and my situation.
How do I learn to resist my anger and my impulse to lash out and break the cycle of violence and retribution?
A. It has taken me some time to find a way to respond to your letter. It’s the tone in particular I think that shocks me. You sound as if you’re speaking about a mildly upsetting situation that has landed you in a spot of bother. I don’t quite know what to say. This situation is far beyond “unfortunate” and the death toll well exceeds your explanation of the violent venting of anger. I can’t imagine how any part of you feels clean after such an ongoing legacy of death, let alone your hands.
There are many ways to deal with violence and the destructive expression of feeling, but you don’t sound as if it is an excess of feeling from which you suffer. It sounds instead as if something in you is not quite alive to what has happened and what continues to happen to you and those close to you. So the question you may need to find an answer for, is what is missing? How have you gone on, day to day, concerned with the cleanliness of your hands, while your loved ones died?
However, you have written this letter, and I can hear that things have come to a place for you where you are now facing incarceration and death yourself, and that this has brought you to the point of wanting an end to the violence. I also hear your desire to deal with your own role in the death that has been a way of life for your family.
What I don’t hear here is your grief. This is not an accusation J.M., but it’s almost impossible to break any cycle without first feeling what it has cost us and what our actions have cost others. There is so much here to face, and I find myself almost admiring your ability to go on. Retribution is a kind of going on as well. We skip right past the pain to the punishment. If I can say one thing here, it’s don’t let yourself skip past the pain again.