By Esther Mann, LCSW
I have just made a complete mess of my life and don’t know what to do. Here’s what happened.
I’ve been living in the Five Towns for the past seven years. I’m friendly with a group of women that, I have to admit, I aspire to be like. They look great, have beautiful homes and great lifestyles, and also do plenty of chesed. They are on committees and involved with PTAs and also the sisterhood of our shul. I’ve worked hard to establish myself as “one of them,” but always kind of feel like an imposter. I’m really a simple girl from a humble background. Same goes for my husband. Thank G‑d he does nicely, but he doesn’t come close to earning anything like what these women’s husbands earn. I always feel like I’m trying to play catch-up but still remain miles behind these people in every which way. It’s a lot of work for me, and I never really feel secure about myself.
I reach out to these women significantly more often than they reach out to me. I sometimes wonder whether they would notice if I suddenly disappeared. But somehow, I’m determined to be a part of that particular club, and it isn’t easy. Among them there is one woman, Bracha, who is more on my wavelength. She is the only one with whom I can really relax and let down my guard. Like me, she’s also not quite at the level of these women and also tries hard to belong. Thank goodness Bracha and I can share our struggles with one another.
A few nights ago, I was at a simcha with this group of women, and Bracha was not there. She was under the weather and had stayed home. For some reason I was feeling particularly vulnerable and “left out” that evening. Without Bracha for security, I didn’t know where to put myself. Two women in particular, whom Bracha and I jokingly call the Queen and Princess of the community, were particularly cold to me and made a few comments that I took badly. Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but I came home feeling unworthy.
When I got home, I immediately ran to my computer to tell Bracha all about my painful evening because I knew that she would understand what I was feeling and give me much-needed support. I used some choice words for the Queen and Princess and really did not hold back with my feelings of contempt toward them. I’m not sure exactly how this happened—maybe I was talking to my husband while I was on the computer—but I accidentally hit a button that forwarded my e‑mail to this entire group. As my finger was lifting off the key, everything suddenly felt like it was happening in slow motion. As I watched the “sent” message show up on my screen, I knew my life was over. I blew it big time! There was no going back. My name would be mud in this community from that day forward. I feel devastated.
I told my husband that I can never again go to shul. I can’t go to functions or even walk down Central Avenue anymore. I am so embarrassed that I don’t know what to do. I know that I can’t hide at home for the rest of my life, but I really feel like my life here is over. When I suggested to my husband that we move to another community, he thought I had lost my mind. But I really don’t know what to do.
I feel like a criminal that got caught red-handed and I’m sending myself to my own prison! Is there any way out of this awful mess that I created?
Many years ago, when I was attempting to learn how to navigate a computer (with much resistance), my son did not understand my hesitancy. Over and over again, he would say, “What are you worried about? It doesn’t bite. It can’t hurt you.” Actually, he wasn’t entirely correct. Because of the speed with which information can be spread around, almost like a wildfire, a computer can be a dangerous thing. One click of the mouse, and life as you know it can be easily and quickly altered.
So you are understandably wondering how you can salvage this mess that you find yourself in. Is there a way to turn back the clock and undo the deed? Unfortunately, the answer is no. The deed is done. There are some steps you can take to perhaps minimize the damage, which I will get to soon, but e‑mails, like spoken words, cannot be taken back. It’s out there in the universe forever.
But more important to me than how to fix this mess is the greater question of how you got into this mess in the first place and whether this event is a powerful learning opportunity for you and will ultimately even serve as a painful gift or at least a wake-up call for how you should be living the rest of your life. Sometimes, life places an enormous “Stop” sign right in front of our eyes, and if we don’t see it, we’re destined for a lifetime of failures and pain.
You need to ask yourself why you have been working so hard to belong to a club that you don’t belong in and that probably doesn’t even want you. What’s wrong with connecting with women who are like yourself? What is it about yourself that is so unacceptable?
Clearly, you have a great deal of soul-searching to do. With all your newly freed-up time, I would suggest you get to know yourself and try to discover where this insecurity is coming from. We all wear masks to occasionally blend into situations that aren’t necessarily a perfect fit. But when one’s mask has taken over one’s true identity in the dramatic way that yours has, there is clearly a hole where one’s sense of self belongs.
Once you rediscover who you really are and why that isn’t enough for you, it’s time to start working on your core. This isn’t about fancy clothing and the right car. It’s about feeling whole and valuable as a human being—knowing that you are lovable just the way you are. And if you discover that there are major flaws in your character, work on those flaws so that you can stand with your head held high.
Know yourself, know where you belong, and begin the process of finally accepting yourself for who you are with pride and dignity.
OK. Now let’s talk about cleanup—but not so that the Queen and Princess should welcome you back into their circle with open arms. Frankly, I don’t understand why you would ever want to put yourself back into a situation that is uncomfortable and unfulfilling. However, what you did was not nice, and it requires that you apologize. You should call every woman that you offended and give her a heartfelt apology. Be honest. Explain that you were feeling insecure and (perhaps just in your own head) unwelcome and as a result lashed out. Take responsibility for the e‑mail. It was wrong. It should never have been sent to Bracha, let alone seen by the entire group. Hopefully, they will find it in their hearts to forgive you. Either way, move on.
I would like to believe that you will never again fall into such a dismal pattern. This awful faux pas has given you an opportunity to grow up and live a more authentic life. Seize this opportunity and run with it.
Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Lawrence. Esther works with individuals and couples. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 516-314-2295.