Here's a parable from the abuse counsellor's book which stood out to me.

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There once was a man whose neighbors had a large and beautiful maple tree growing behind their house. It gave shade in the hot summers, turned stunning colors of fire in the fall as it dropped its leaves, and stood against the winter snow as a magnificent wooden sculpture.

But the man hated his neighbors’ tree, because the shade that it cast into his yard made his grass grow poorly and stunted his vegetable garden, which was his passion. He pressured the neighbors repeatedly to either cut the tree down or prune it drastically, and their response was always the same: “You are free to cut any branches that stick out over your property, but beyond that we are going to leave the tree alone, because it is beautiful and we love it. We are sorry about the shade it casts on your side, but that is what trees do.”

One summer the neighbors went away on vacation for a week, and the man decided to rid himself of his aggravation. He took a chainsaw and cut their tree to the ground, making careful cuts so that the tree would not fall on the neighbor’s house and destroy it but also directing it away from his own yard, so he wouldn’t have to clean it up. Then he walked home, fully satisfied if perhaps a little afraid.

The next day he took his chainsaw, threw it in the dump, and prepared himself to deny having any idea who had brought the giant down, even though the truth would be obvious. There was only one hole in his plan: He didn’t realize how popular his neighbors were, and he didn’t know how unbearable it would be to have the entire local population turn against him, to the point where no one would even look at him or talk to him.

So the day finally came when the man realized his life would be wrecked for good unless he dealt with his destructive and selfish act. What steps did he have to take in order to set things right?

THE STEPS TO ACCEPTING RESPONSIBILITY

1. He had to admit, and admit fully, that he cut down the tree. He dreaded looking at people and saying, “Yeah, it was me”—even though they already knew—but he had to do it. He had to stop claiming that the neighbors had cut the tree down themselves so that they could blame him and turn everyone against him. And when he did admit his act, he also had to acknowledge what an old and impressive tree he had killed, rather than try to save face by insisting that it had been small and ugly.

2. He had to admit that he had cut it down on purpose, that his actions were a choice. He couldn’t claim that he had been so drunk or enraged that he didn’t know what he was doing. He couldn’t say, “Well, I just meant to put a little cut into the trunk as a warning to them, but I accidentally cut too far and the tree fell down.” In short, he had to stop making excuses. Furthermore, he had to admit that he had goals that he tried to further through his destructive behavior; he needed to be honest about his motives.

3. He had to acknowledge that what he did was wrong. This meant that he had to stop blaming the neighbors and playing up how victimized he had been by the shade. He had to make a sincere, heartfelt apology.

4. He had to accept the neighbors’ right to be angry about what he did, which meant that he had to be willing to truly acknowledge the effects of his actions. He had to take in the anguish he had caused. He had to stop asserting that they were “making too big a deal over one stupid tree” and that “it happened along time ago and they should be over it by now.” Although apologizing was important, he also had to accept that saying he was sorry was only the beginning and that it meant nothing unless he also looked seriously at the damage he had done.

5. He had to accept the consequences of his actions. First, he had to provide reasonable monetary damage for the value of the destroyed tree. He then needed to plead guilty to the criminal charges, so that the neighbors would not have to go through the ordeal of testifying against him. He had to stop seeking sympathy from people for the problems he himself had caused, along the lines of: “Poor me, I had to pay out all this money that I can’t afford because of their tree when the only reason I cut it down was because they were wrecking my yard with it.”

6. He had to devote long-term and serious effort toward setting right what he had done. No amount of money can replace a mature tree; there’s no way to erase the effects of such a destructive act. The man therefore had to make amends. He needed to buy as large and healthy a young tree as he could find in a nursery and to plant it carefully behind the neighbors’ house. What’s more, he had to water the tree, protect it from deer, watch it for diseases, and fertilize it as necessary for years. A young tree takes a long time to securely establish itself.

7. He had to lay aside demands for forgiveness. He had to recognize that even if he sincerely were to take all of the steps I have described, the neighbors might still be left with pain, hurt, and bitterness, and the man had no right to tell them how long their bad feelings should last, especially since he was the cause. People might be nicer to him now that he had stopped denying what he did, but they wouldn’t necessarily ever like him. The neighbors might never
want to be his friends—and why should they be? If they did decide to be friendly with him at some point, he should see their forgiveness as an act of kindness and not as his due for replacing the tree.

8. He had to treat the neighbors consistently well from that point forward. He couldn’t decide to stick it to them five years later by cutting down a rosebush, for example, and then say,“Okay, I messed up, but shouldn’t I get credit for the five years that I’ve been good? You can’t expect me to be perfect.” Asking someone not to cutdown the neighbors’ flowers is not the same thing as expecting perfection.

9. He had to relinquish his negative view of his neighbors. He had to stop speaking badly about them to other people and accept that most—perhaps even all—of what he disliked about them actually had to do with their responses to the damage he had done and their refusal to be bullied by him. He had been the creator of their hostility toward him.


W32
X30
S2

June 2019 | Runaway husband
May 2020 | Legal separation
Xmas 2020 | Divorce hearing