You are not alone

If you are a man who has been the victim of abuse, rest assured that you are not alone.

If you are a man who has been the victim of abuse, rest assured that you are not alone. Whether the abuse was verbal, emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, financial, or a combination of these, you are not alone. Whether you were abused by your wife or girlfriend, your husband or boyfriend, your father or mother, you are not alone. Whether you have endured the abuse for a month, a year, or a decade, you are not alone.

If you are here because you think you might be a victim, there’s a good chance you are. Though this may be a first step for you, it is a huge step to take. Understanding the nature of abuse and its effects is crucial to your recovery.

For those of you who are in abusive relationships now, you are probably beginning to face a very difficult truth: you must leave. This is not about if, it’s about when and how. And as you may have already realized, you cannot wait to be liberated; you must free yourself. Frederick Douglass summed up his courageous escape from slavery as an act of will: “I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

The goal of this blog is not fully clear to me yet. I know that there are many websites and resources for men who are learning what it means to be a victim of abuse, so I want to add more than just encouragement. My hope is to provide whatever help I can to struggling men. What that looks like in my head right now is a sort of database, a crowd-sourced pool of resources for men to find help at a very local level. This may include phone numbers and addresses of male-friendly shelters, hotlines that offer support for abuse victims, and contact information for local support groups. If you have any ideas, suggestions, or information, please visit the contact page and send me an email. I would love to hear from you.

Every situation is different, and each one requires a unique solution. However, the more information that is available, the more stories that are shared, the more voices that are raised, the more we can establish connections that will allow us to help ourselves and others. By building a substantial network of resources, we can help individuals reclaim their lives and combat the myths about men as victims of abuse.

I am not an expert in psychology, mental health, relationships, or the law. I have no official credentials to offer, nor any professional experience to draw from. I have nothing but my own experience and my own research to offer. Still, for whatever it’s worth, I want to share my story and what I have learned so that I might help others in some way. This seems like as good a place as any to begin: you are not alone.

If you need immediate help, call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-7233.
Toll free, 24/7/365.

Silent Night

As we all know, the holidays are supposed to be full of cheer. We are reminded by all the advertisements depicting happy families gathering together around a meal or a Christmas tree, all the movies (looking at you, Hallmark) that celebrate love new and old, all the social media posts of parents and their children visiting Santa or baking cookies or opening gifts.

Yet all too many of us know that there are also empty seats at many tables, ones that may one day be filled again, but for now remind us of what we have lost. The holidays can bring great joy, but they also come bearing less welcome gifts of loneliness, regret, and grief. Many parents do not get to see their children delight in all of the holiday festivities that they used to enjoy together. If you celebrate Christmas, then Christmas Eve may once have been an exciting night of anticipation and sleepless children eager to open just one more present.

But not anymore. For alienated parents, “Silent Night” takes on a whole new meaning.

The most insidious thing about alienation is the silence. I don’t mean just the absence of sound in general; you may be surrounded by any number of distractions (of your own making or just by virtue of where you happen to be). By silence, I mean the absence of your child’s (or children’s) voice. Though they may be alive and well, you do not get to share in whatever joy and laughter they are experiencing. You don’t get to hear their excited chatter, their ridiculous jokes, their random questions.

Before they were stolen from you, you likely took all of this for granted, right? Even their complaining and bickering would be music to your ears at this point.

If you are new to this, I’m sorry. There is simply no consolation that I can offer. Even the helpful refrain of your allies, “It will get better one day,” will do little to calm the storm in your broken heart. I wish I could say that it does get better, that it will hurt less one day, that you will learn to cope with it. I can’t promise that. Maybe you will find some way to heal, and I hope you do. But for now, it’s going to hurt like hell.

If you have lived with this for a while, then you know that it’s like no other pain you’ve ever felt. I’m sorry for you, too. All I can offer in the way of comfort is that you are not alone. There are many others enduring the same thing, for whatever it’s worth.

But back to the silence. I can’t speak for everyone, but in my own experience, I tend to try and fill the silence rather than feel it. I doubt I’m not the only one, though. We become experts at finding ways to distract ourselves from the heartache because, if we don’t, we will have to deal with it directly. Not that this is any different from how people react to other problems, but there is something especially crippling about having perfectly happy, healthy children who do not want you in their lives.

It’s not that I begrudge anyone who does get to spend time with his or her kids. I’m actually really happy for my friends and family who post pictures and videos of their children having fun and laughing and singing and playing and, well, being children. It brings me such joy to see their joy, to share in it vicariously and celebrate their happiness.

And so, lacking any real point to this post, I’ll close with this. If you are sad or angry because you do not get to spend the holidays with your children, that’s okay. Even if you are surrounded by other loved ones, it’s okay to grieve for those you have lost. If you are happy to be with friends and family in spite of not seeing your kids, that’s okay, too. You shouldn’t have to feel guilty for having fun and spending time with people you care about. There is no right way to be an alienated parent, nor any easy solution to the pain you feel.

And if you are struggling through another “Silent Night,” I hope you can take at least some solace in knowing that it will not last forever.

Happy holidays, and may the empty seats at your table be filled soon.


If you manage to extricate yourself from an abusive relationship, you’ll probably find a few surprises waiting for you. One, you’ll begin to see yourself for who you actually are, which is likely a very different person from the one your abuser tried to make you think you were. Two, you’ll begin to recognize that most people are not like your abuser: manipulative, controlling, deceitful, etc. Three, you might just find yourself wanting to trust people again.

This last one was truly a surprise to me. After what I had experienced for so many years and realizing that my trust had been seriously misplaced, I doubted I would ever be able to do it again. To be honest, I didn’t even want to be in a situation where trust was part of the equation. On a certain level, this is understandable; you will likely find it difficult to believe that anyone (other than your allies, and there may even be doubt about some of them) will treat you with genuine kindness and respect without the possibility of some deranged desire to control you lurking underneath. This is perhaps for your own good, at least for a while until you have a solid emotional foundation and a clear understanding of yourself.

I would go so far as to recommend that you heed the abundance of caution that your brain will produce upon re-entering the real world. Take some time getting reacquainted with normal, healthy relationships where people generally say what they mean. Enjoy the feeling of being able to say what you think, go where you want, eat what you like, talk as you please, but don’t feel compelled to do it all at once or around just anyone. It’s okay to guard your heart for a while.

However, be prepared to find yourself in what might seem like an impossible position: looking someone in the eyes and feeling the urge to trust him or her. What then? How can you possibly feel this way at all? And why would you ever risk being hurt so badly again?

You might feel the urge to run, to turn away from the questions entirely so you don’t have to answer them. After all, remember what got you into the abusive relationship in the first place. Trust, right? If what I’ve read and heard is true, many victims of abuse share a particular characteristic that makes them especially vulnerable targets: empathy, of all things. It is a dangerous virtue because it’s almost like a neon sign advertising the person’s capacity for putting up with all kinds of injuries because of the overwhelming desire to help others. So when you find yourself wanting to be a part of someone’s life in a way that requires mutual trust, it can be pretty terrifying.

This isn’t at all limited to romantic relationships, by the way. Even making new friends can lead to such a dilemma, and I would advise you to approach them carefully. Abusers may very well be in the minority, but there are enough out there to warrant a slow, deliberate approach to developing new friendships. Not that I would suggest a scorched-earth policy in which you forsake all future happiness to avoid the possibility of further injury, either.

I wish I could tell you that the answer is just to open yourself up to people and give them a chance. For many, it’s not that simple. Everyone’s time frame is different, and every survivor of abuse will take a different path towards a new life. Maybe the best way to put it is to trust your heart, but only when it has healed enough to do its job. You will probably be burned again at some point, perhaps on the very next attempt, but you will be stronger than you ever were before and much more capable of handling it. On the other hand, you just might find someone who is worthy of your trust and who will actually accept you for who you are.

That would be quite a nice surprise, indeed.


You’d think that escaping from an abusive relationship would be liberating, that you would immediately and permanently feel the sense of freedom you have so long anticipated.

In some ways, this is true. Just knowing that you can go where you want and talk to whomever you please is a relief. You can go to bed at night without worrying about being interrogated or insulted or baited into a marathon argument that lasts until the wee hours of the morning. You don’t have to look over your shoulder every few seconds to see if you are being watched.

Unfortunately, for many survivors, there is no ultimate sense of closure. What if you still live in the same town as your ex? What if you have children together? What if the network of mutual friends keeps trying to pull you back in?

If there are any vestigial ties to your abusive partner, you will not be able to free yourself completely. This isn’t just about cutting off all contact (which of course you should do); she will continue to exert whatever control she can through whatever means are available.

There may be periods of days or weeks, maybe even months or years, when it seems like the storm is finally over. You may find yourself thinking you are finally free. But beware: even volcanoes lie dormant for long stretches before erupting with little or no warning. Do not begin rebuilding your life at the base of a volcano, no matter how peaceful it may seem.


Father’s Day

There will be many posts written today about the joy of being a father or having one who is alive and well. I will read those and share in that happiness. Sadly, I know there will also be many posts written today about fathers who have lost children or children who have lost their fathers. I will also read those and share in that grief.

Such is the nature of holidays that celebrate a specific person or event in your life. For some, it is a day of gratitude and love; for others, it is a bitter reminder of loss and sadness. For many, including victims of alienation, it is both.

And by “victims of alienation,” I mean both victims, the father and the child. Having experienced both sides of this myself, I can say with confidence that it is painful no matter which side you are on. The grief is different, of course, but it can be detrimental to your mental and physical health either way. Such a state of separation, when caused (or nurtured or encouraged or supported or ignored) by a third party, is utterly senseless and cruel. No father should have to watch his kids turn into strangers, and no child should have to believe that his once loving, caring father has magically become someone else.

This should be a day of celebration. Instead, far too many people face it with mourning, or with anger, or with indifference.

 For those of you lucky enough to have a father of some kind (biological, step, adopted, or other), treasure him while you can.

For the fathers out there lucky enough to have a relationship with your children, enjoy it while you can.

For those of you on either side of an alienated relationship, I hope that you will find peace today somehow. I grieve for you because I grieve with you. May the future bring change, and bring it soon.

Step 6: GTFO!

The final step to leaving an Abusive Partner will almost certainly be the most difficult. No matter what plans you have arranged or how many allies you have, actually walking out the door is probably going to terrify you. It’s okay, though. That fear is normal. Be prepared for it, and you can conquer it.

A few final thoughts here:

When the time comes, you cannot hesitate. You cannot indulge that sympathetic or empathetic voice that led you into this mess. 

You may think that what you are doing is crazy, or cruel, or cowardly.

You may be wracked with guilt and anxiety.

You may wonder if you are really doing to the right thing.

You may believe that leaving means admitting some kind of defeat.

You may feel like a failure, a loser, a quitter.

However, remember that you are not doing this casually; you are leaving an abusive partner who does not love you. You are saving your own life because it is worth saving. You deserve to live in peace and happiness and comfort as much as anyone else.

These negative thoughts might try to hold you back, to make you stay a little longer. DO NOT GIVE IN! Your stuff is packed and the coast is clear. Go, and don’t look back.

Your fears of her retribution are justified. After all, if she has behaved in such a way to force you to leave under these circumstances, she’s not suddenly going to be nicer once you’re gone.

Be prepared for her to retaliate in any way she can.

Guard your finances closely.

Be cautious about who you talk to and what you say; you must know which allies you can trust.

Do NOT give her any excuse to call the police on you. Don’t ride by her house or send threatening texts. Don’t touch her, even if she shows up and tries to force your hand.

Be prepared for the “smear campaign.” She might try to destroy your reputation by telling everyone how terrible you are.

If you do have children with her, brace yourself. You might be shocked by her callous ability to use them as weapons against you. This might be the sickest, cruelest way to punish you, which makes it all the more likely.

However, all cases are different. What I have discussed here represents a few possible scenarios. Your particular AP may do all or none of the above. She may have a very different set of tactics to use against you. She may completely cut you off, in which case you should consider yourself lucky.

My advice is to prepare for the worst. She may attack you openly and brazenly, or she may conceal her vengeance behind acts of kindness. Do not underestimate her.

If it turns out that she wishes you no ill will, good for you. Do not underestimate her. She may well be trying to lure you into a false sense of security in order to attack you while you are not expecting it.

No matter what, don’t back down. Once you are gone, you are free. Go live your life like you want to, like you deserve to. There will be much pain and sorrow, but there will be joy and peace also. 

Step 5: Make a plan

Here’s the short version:

For those of you trying to extricate yourself from an abusive marriage or a co-parenting situation, try to find a good attorney as soon as you can. Ask around town for recommendations. Be advised that lawyers will perform a conflict check, which means they will ask for your name and your spouse’s name to make sure there are no conflicts of interest.

What follows is a list of things to consider as you make a plan to escape. This is not an exhaustive list, but it should help you organize and prioritize.

  1. Allies: Make a list of people you know you can trust. If you have friends, family, or neighbors who can help you, make contact as soon as it is safe to do so.
  2. Time frame: If you have the luxury of time, consider carefully when you might leave. If possible, plan far enough ahead so you will be able to make all necessary arrangements. If not, take care of the high-priority items on this list and be ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice.
  3. What to pack: This will vary greatly depending on your circumstances (see “Assess your situation” post). The very first thing you should do is prepare a “go-bag” containing the fewest number of necessary items. It’s best if you can hide it somewhere away from home. That way you can retrieve it should you be forced to leave in a hurry.
  4. Diversion: Again, your personal situation will dictate the manner of your departure. Even if your AP is not prone to violent outbursts, I think the best time to leave is when she is not around.
  5. Kids: Unfortunately, for many of you this is a terrible reality to consider. You must decide what is best for your kids. If you are worried at all about their physical safety, don’t be afraid to take them with you. As unpleasant as the thought may be, the stories you see about women drowning their kids in the bathtub (or men shooting their wife and kids) don’t come out of nowhere.

NOTE: Telling an AP that you are leaving or planning to leave is a bad idea. Do NOT give her the opportunity to talk you out of it. If you have reached this point, if you are secretly planning an escape, the last thing you want to do is give her a foothold. She will play on your guilt, your sensitivity, your fear, whatever weapon she can use. Once you have a plan in place, commit to it. It’s going to hurt in ways you can’t even imagine, but your mental and physical health are worth protecting.

Keep reading for more detailed explanations.

1. Allies

Don’t just think about the emotional side of things; be pragmatic.

  • Financial support: think about family or friends who can help you pay for things like transportation, housing, food, etc.
  • Safety: you may need to find a place to stay that your AP doesn’t know about. When you leave, you do not want her tracking you down. A distant relative or a former coworker might be options. Anyone whose address your AP wouldn’t know or think to look up.
  • Trust: figure out who you can trust. Avoid her family, friends, coworkers, etc. Also good to avoid mutual friends if possible.  No matter what, keep the number of people who know about your plan to a minimum. Obviously, posting anything on social media is a bad idea.
  • Transportation: if you need a ride or someone to haul your things for you, make those arrangements as soon as possible. Call a cab or an Uber if need be.

2. Time frame

Unless you are in an urgent need to leave, take some time to get everything situated. Once you pull the cord, you may never have another chance to secure valuables or important documents.

  • Not so fast: your chances of forgetting something are much higher if you are in a hurry. Take a breath and relax. Make a list somewhere of everything you need to do. Prioritize that list and take care of the top things first. Save all nonessential things for last.
  • Not too slowly: while you shouldn’t rush through the planning stage, don’t waste time, either. As you’re probably aware, even a good situation can deteriorate quickly. Remember, you are planning to escape from an abusive situation, so there is a sense of urgency.
  • Above ALL else, be safe: no matter how long you take, do not put yourself at any unnecessary risk.

3. What to pack

This is probably one of the hardest things to plan for. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Go-bag“: I can’t stress this enough. Do this immediately, or at the first safe opportunity. Keep it as small as possible. Pack the following:
    • At least one set of clothing (don’t forget underwear, socks, etc.)
    • Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, contacts/glasses, razor, shampoo, soap. Anything you need to spend a night or two away from home.
    • Money, if possible. Gift cards are also a good idea.
    • A disposable cell phone and charger.
    • An additional charger for your regular phone. You don’t want to have to stop and purchase one when you leave in a hurry.
    • Irreplaceables (see below)
  • As discussed in “Safety First,” start with the irreplaceable things (objects of sentimental value such as pictures, family heirlooms, birthday gifts, memories of the kids, etc.)
  • Important documents such as pay stubs, bank statements, tax returns, birth certificates, wills, anything legal or official. Make copies of everything you can. Take pictures, if necessary. I promise, you will need some or all of these things at a later point in time.
  • Replaceable valuables like your favorite books, movies, CDs, etc. can be packed away as time allows. If there are a lot of them, start moving them slowly so they aren’t missed. You could even hide them away all at once under the guise of “cleaning out.”
  • You probably take your clothes for granted, but wherever you end up, you’ll need them. Again, you might pack away a good portion of them as part of the “cleaning out” process. Even things like socks and underwear are easy to forget about when planning ahead. Make sure you take enough of them.
  • Carefully consider what jointly owned items you might need to take. Pick your battles here; just because your mother gave you silverware for the wedding doesn’t mean you need to take it with you. I would only take what is logically “yours.” By the way, anything gifted specifically to you (by her or anyone else) is yours. It belongs to you, so do with it what you will. The nice phone or wallet she gave you for your anniversary is not hers to demand back. Likewise, the expensive necklace you gave her isn’t yours. Let it go.
  • Be careful about items of great expense/value such as cars. Any assets in jointly held accounts are also tricky. Consult an attorney regarding the legality of taking a car that is titled to both of you or cleaning out a joint account.

4. Diversion

Ideally, you will be able to pack your things and depart without much trouble by waiting until your AP is not around. If this is not possible, consider how you might buy yourself the time. Be creative, and ask an ally for help.

  • Take a sick day from work. Use that time and privacy to get your things and get out.
  • Suggest a weekend away for her. She can go visit her parents or friends while you make your escape.
  • Use the cover of night. If she’s a heavy sleeper (naturally or medicated), you might be able to leave at night.
  • As a last resort, if you are forced to leave while she is there, call the police and have them supervise the proceedings. This could be really uncomfortable for everyone, but if it’s the only way to ensure your safety, it’s absolutely worth it.

A note about the deceptive nature of this process: Remember, you are planning a covert escape because your abusive partner is unpredictable and potentially dangerous. If she will not offer you the basic courtesy of decent, rational behavior, she cannot expect you to offer her the kind of honesty that a normal couple shares. In the act of saving your life, your moral code may have to adapt to the necessity of a dire situation.

5. Kids

It makes me physically ill even to think about this, but if you have kids, you must be prepared to make some very difficult decisions. As you know by now, your AP is probably not afraid to use the children as pawns in her sick games. She will use them against you at the first opportunity, especially if she knows it’s the only way to hurt you. Unfortunately, there is no right answer here. This is truly a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” decision. 

  • Should you take them with you?
    • If they are your biological and/or legal children (i.e., adoption), you probably have the right to take them with you when you leave. However, you must check with an attorney about the specific legal situation regarding custody in your state/country.
    • Be warned, if you do choose to take them, your AP is going to accuse you of kidnapping. She may try to have you arrested no matter what the law says. She will claim that you traumatized them. She will try to convince not just the people around her, but the children themselves. Be prepared for this.
  • Should you leave them with her?
    • In some cases, an AP may focus her abuse solely on you and not the kids. If this is the situation you are in, consider leaving the kids at home. They will be upset by your departure, but it might be better than taking them with you and upsetting them even worse. As with everything else, this depends entirely on the details of your own situation.
    • If you do leave them, be prepared for the accusations of abandonment. Your AP may try to convince you and the kids (and whoever else) that you left and never wanted to see them again. She may use this to try and prevent you from having any access to your kids at all.
  • No matter what, the decision MUST be made with the best interest of your children in mind. If you fear for their safety AT ALL, do what you must to protect them.



Coming back

It’s been a long, busy summer. I’ve neglected the blog for a number of reasons, but honestly they just amount to excuses.

Though I haven’t written in a while, the topics of abuse and parental alienation have not been far from my mind. I think often of the friends I have made here, and I wish I had been more involved the last couple of months.

Nevertheless, it is time to wade back into the swamp and reach out to the poor souls who can’t see the water rising around them. I started this blog with a simple message, and its truth resounds as loudly as ever: you are not alone.

Pillars of Joy: Day 8 (Generosity)

“The Dead Sea in the Middle East receives fresh water, but it has no outlet, so it doesn’t pass the water out. It receives beautiful water from the rivers, and the water goes dank….And that’s why it is the Dead Sea. It receives and does not give.”

This is the last of 8 posts exploring the 8 Pillars of Joy as outlined in Douglas Abrams’s The Book of Joy, featuring the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

In many ways, the eighth and final Pillar of Joy is a culmination of all the others. If you can’t remember the entire list, which you probably won’t unless you deliberately commit it to memory, at least remember this one. Generosity combines each of the other pillars into one of the most fundamental virtues that joyous people have. You cannot be truly generous unless you recognize and appreciate other perspectives, learn to accept and forgive other people, and have compassion for even your enemies. This is because generosity requires joy, which is a product of these other traits.

We are all familiar with the mantra that it is better to give than to receive, but according to Abrams, there is actually some evidence that this is more than just a handy proverb for parents to repeat around Christmas. He explains that “Generosity is so important in all of the world’s religions because it no doubt expresses a fundamental aspect of our interdependence and our need for one another. Generosity was so important for our survival that the reward centers of our brain light up as strongly when we give as when we receive, sometimes even more so.” This raises a question that also came up in the discussion of compassion, are we really wired for some kind of non-competitive behavior?

The Archbishop definitely thinks we are: “We have been brought up to think that we have to obey the laws of the jungle. Eat or be eaten. We are ruthless in our competitiveness….We have downplayed the fact that actually our created nature is that we are made for a complementarity. We have become dehumanized and debased.” There is a strong consensus that as our world has grown increasingly interconnected by technology and trade, we have grown proportionally disconnected and isolated. Materialism and commercialism have certainly infiltrated our lives in ways that we can no longer even recognize, and the definition of “success” continues to change so that our grasping fingers are always just short of reaching it.

I know this is not exactly an original idea, but it is important to be reminded of it from time to time. No matter how much we enjoy giving, we seem to return to our obsession with getting. Like an alcoholic or a serial dieter, we know what will make us happy and healthy, but we are always tempted by the siren call of behaviors that leave us temporarily gratified and inevitably unsatisfied. What a beautiful irony that the cure for selfishness is generosity. The best way to get more is to give more.

Abrams says that generosity is “something we learn to enjoy by doing.” From my own experience, I know this is true. I really enjoy helping other people, and I am lucky that my life has afforded me many opportunities to do it. Sadly, I don’t have the financial freedom to give much in the way of monetary help, but I have always liked being able to give time and energy to people whenever possible. Perhaps there is something selfish about this arrangement, but that could be part of the whole design. If it didn’t feel good to help others, we might not do it at all.

I thought about dissecting my 8-day (well, 2-week) experiment to see what kind of impact it had on me, but I decided against it. Why? Towards the end of the book, Abrams discusses the incredible trait that the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop share. He says, “the quality they both have, perhaps more than any other, is this generosity of the spirit. They are big-hearted, magnanimous, tolerant, broad-minded, patient, forgiving, and kind.” Joy isn’t a product formed by the perfect execution of a recipe. It’s not a skill that can be learned by practicing various techniques. It’s the result of being a certain kind of person or living a certain kind of life. You don’t find joy by looking for it. You create joy by living a life that is conducive to being joyful.


Pillars of Joy: Day 7 (Compassion)

“…compassion is a sense of concern that arises when we are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to see that suffering relieved.”

This is the seventh of 8 posts exploring the 8 Pillars of Joy as outlined in Douglas Abrams’s The Book of Joy, featuring the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

As he does in many other places, Abrams points to the exact meaning of a word in order to explore its complexity and nuance. In this case, he tells us that “compassion” literally means “suffering with.” To me, there is a distinct difference between sympathy (which is a only a step above pity) and compassion because the latter is based on this notion of co-suffering. Whereas sympathy, and even empathy to a point, seem to separate the observer from the sufferer, compassion reveals the connection between two living souls.

You may not know who John Donne is, but you have likely heard one of his most famous lines: “no man is an island.” According to Donne and the Dalai Lama, we are all inextricably bound to one another in some way, perhaps metaphysically. If so, then compassion is an interesting illustration of that connection. There must be a reason that another person’s happiness or pain could possibly become my own in some way.

Similar to his views on gratitude, the Dalai Lama believes, “Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.” Again, this reveals a sort of paradox in which we can heal ourselves by focusing on others. To emphasize just how important this concept is, Abrams quotes the Dalai Lama repeating his refrain later, “the more time you spend thinking about yourself, the more suffering you will experience.”

Though it may seem contradictory, especially in light of the Darwinian model of human nature many have come to accept, the Archbishop believes that we are actually wired for compassion. How could that be? Compassion seems like an evolutionary defect at best, or a terrible design flaw at worst. However, Tutu firmly believes that a sense of compassion is actually necessary for the level of cooperation that has enabled us to thrive as a species. There are plenty of scientific studies that reveal cooperation among other animals as well (see reciprocal altruism). At the risk of conflating the two terms, it seems pretty clear that compassion and cooperation are at least related.

Perhaps we are wired for compassion towards others, but certain people present very difficult challenges to that otherwise natural response. People who have wronged you in some way may be unlikely to elicit compassion from you, abusive partners in particular. However, it could be an important part of your own path to joy to recognize that abusive behavior often arises from a state of suffering. Rather than despising or just pitying your AP, try to see her as a wounded soul who deserves to be healed herself. Honestly, wouldn’t the best outcome be for her to find peace and live a happier, healthier life in which she is no longer abusive to you or others?


Though forgiveness basically boils down to letting the offender “off the hook,” compassion takes a step further and creates “a more empowered state where we want what is best for the other person.” This is how Abrams distinguishes between compassion and empathy, which is “simply feeling another’s emotion.” Think about your AP, or anyone who has hurt you, and you can probably identify how she is suffering in one way or another. To be clear, abusive behavior is never okay, but it can be very helpful to identify where it comes from. If your goal is to punish her, that’s an easy and rather unsatisfying path. If your goal is to be happy, try recognizing that everyone has room for improvement and the right to be treated as a person in the process.

Lastly, it is crucial to learn compassion for yourself, in the sense that you should want what’s best for you and remember that you deserve it. Self-pity is a terrible state to be in or to witness in others; self-compassion is a healthy state that is necessary for cultivating joy for yourself and those around you.

Next up: Generosity

Pillars of Joy: Day 6 (Gratitude)

“Thanksgiving is a natural response to life and may be the only way to savor it.”

This is the sixth of 8 posts exploring the 8 Pillars of Joy as outlined in Douglas Abrams’s The Book of Joy, featuring the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

A month or so ago I posted about some things that I am grateful for. I don’t remember why I wrote it or what made me think about gratitude, but I thought it was important at the time. As it turns out, gratitude is one of the most important components of living a joyful life. There are various meditation practices that specifically use the feeling of gratefulness as a focus of attention. Plenty of studies have shown that being thankful has physical and emotional health benefits.

Superficially, this is obvious. You simply feel good when you are grateful to or for someone. There is more, however; in The Book of Joy, Abrams quotes a Benedectine monk named Daniel Steindl-Rast as saying, “It is not happiness that makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy.” That’s an interesting reversal of what I would expect. Perhaps it’s just a pithy one-liner, but I suspect there is some actual truth to it. More likely, gratitude and happiness exist in a circular relationship to each other. It could be difficult or impossible to decide which one actually causes the other. Either way, gratitude is clearly more than a mere feeling of thankfulness–it is inextricably tied to happiness, which means that we can’t really have a discussion about joy without it.

Elsewhere, Rast explains that “joy is the happiness that does not depend on what happens. It is the grateful response to the opportunity that life offers you this moment.” That line made me stop and reread it a few times. Joy is happiness, but a specific kind of happiness that doesn’t occur in response to events, a state of being without regard to consequences. Just being thankful for opportunities creates a joyful attitude that won’t be altered by whatever comes out of your efforts. That may seem impossible to some, but I am willing to pursue it in my own life.

In that earlier post about gratitude, I acknowledged a lot of people who have meant something to me or who have given me much to appreciate. Among that list was my ex-wife because she bore my children. Perhaps that was not gracious enough. She also gave me some great gifts, introduced me to amazing books, movies, and music, and taught me some valuable lessons about life and love. There were times when she was tender and soothing, there were moments of light and laughter, there were occasions when we felt like a family. Sadly, even these memories are slightly shadowed by the negativity in our relationship, and it’s getting harder to find ones that aren’t tinged at all.

Maybe that’s the point, though. Maybe the whole point is to feel and express gratitude even when there doesn’t seem to be much to be thankful for. It’s sort of the same as the forgiveness idea where we have to distinguish between the action and the actor. In this case, we have to remember that even though someone has caused us pain, that person may still also be kind and loving. Just like forgiving someone by detaching the action from the person, we can feel gratitude for an action rather than the person.

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