When we resumed our therapy sessions in September Agatha was excited about having enrolled at the university. She was taking a special course designed to reorient old students who were returning to study. We agreed that she would come to psychotherapy weekly until the end of May. As our sessions evolved she expressed how she experienced my being supportive of her and how it gave her courage to rage at her husband’s many acts of abuse.
At first it seemed important that I witness her intense rage and resentment but as the months went on her resentment did not dissipate. In fact, it seemed to become more intense. Her anger was not an interpersonally contactful form of anger. She was just enraged and unaware of what she may have needed in a healthy marriage. Over the next few sessions, whenever I could get a chance, I talked to her about the caring qualities that she needed, and were absent, in her marriage. Periodically she ignored my opinions of what she needed and would again express her intense resentments. It was as though the rage and resentment were providing some form of self-stabilization.
Eventually she began to cry about what had never occurred in her marriage and how her husband was not only abusive to her but how he was neglectful and abusive to their two children. I talked to her about the tension I could see in her face and neck when she was resentful. She angrily said “You want me to forgive the bastard and I will never forgive him”. I explained that forgiveness was not about forgetting the abuse he did but it was about letting go of his influence over her and that as long as she remained resentful she was under his domination. She cried and said that she had always felt so controlled by him. As she wept her whole body relaxed.
The next session began by Agatha saying “my resentment is killing me. If I am going to survive I need to forget all the awful things he has done. I need to make a new life for me”. We talked about the difference between forgetting what occurred versus not letting what occurred influence us any longer. Over the next few sessions we talked both about making a conscious decision to stop the resentments and various ways of “letting go”. We talked at length about Agatha’s hurt and anger at her husband as well as her responsibility in provoking some of the physical fights that she had with her husband. She concluded that she should have ended the relationship the first time he raped her, that she protected him and never told his family about the physical abuse, nor reported him to the police. She wept as she described how she spent “half a lifetime waiting for him to change”. She added “now I am going to change. I am going to stop my hatred of him because this resentment is killing me. I will make a new life”.
In the late winter she met a man who attended the same university course. They quickly developed a respectful and caring relationship. She was excited about her “new life”. She then told me that she had a confession to make. She described how for a few years she had walked past my office twice a day and would look at the “psychologist” sign on the door and “hope”. She had tears in her eyes as she talked about crossing the street to look into my window so she could see what I looked like, hoping that I would be sympathetic, kind, able to understand her and help her create a new life.
She described the importance of expressing her anger and how I had never criticized her for her rage. She added that the most important thing was to let the anger go because the “resentment was killing me”. Agatha had a sense of renewed hope that she said she had not felt since she was an adolescent.