Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
Q: How can I be sure I have completely forgiven my former spouse for abuse, abandonment and alcoholism? Can this really be done properly without contact with him (via letter)? We were together for 20 years and have two grown daughters who do not have good relations with their dad either. I have not spoken to him since the messy divorce 15 years ago. He remarried right away. And how can I be sure I have completely forgiven myself for my part in it? Through much work spiritually, I have learned to embrace all the good we had together and I have compassion for him and his abusive childhood, but is this enough? I am capable and gregarious, with satisfying work and many loving friends and family. I have a good relationship with God. I am more content and confident than ever, but I have not found a satisfying, serious relationship that I clearly want. So I must have more work to do here…any ideas?
— Eileen O., Summit, New Jersey
You are asking a question that might seem self-evident. What if you had written, "How do I know if my arm doesn't hurt anymore?" When pain is gone, it's gone. But the mind isn't that simple, for two reasons, and both apply here.
There's more than one layer of pain in the mind. You are experiencing residual pain that lies deeper than you have yet reached. It's lodged in a place where your identity is. In this place, you may not want to remember the past or hold on to it, yet somehow another aspect of yourself says, "I have to hold on."
It's complicated to get at such feelings because, in a sense, you must unwind a whole tangled ball of yarn, pulling out some threads and keep others. Intensive self-examination and often long-term psychological therapy is required, with no guarantee of success. In my experience, the deepest trauma turns into one's cross to bear. I'm sorry to use that phrase, but please know that old burdens can be lightened. You have been lightening yours for 15 years, and the healing process will continue, thanks to your degree of self-awareness.
The mind keeps looking at itself and finding flaws. This is a familiar game and one you can't win. Your letter expresses self-doubt more than residual rage against your husband. Thus, in writing to him you hope, in fantasy, to gain his support or an apology. Banish this from your mind; it will never happen. Self-doubt also comes through in your remark that not finding a new relationship reflects something left undone by you.
If so, what's left undone is finding your own feet and becoming your own person without a man. One big reason you stayed married to an alcoholic husband who abused you is because you desperately believed you needed him. That need continues to linger in the back of your mind, and you hope you can transfer it to a new man in your life. My best advice is to work more on finding your true self and less on forgiveness. Forgiveness will come when being yourself is enough to fulfill you.