In the past few years, I have experienced the painful intensity of someone’s contempt. This was not a romantic connection, gone sour. It was a layered and complex soul contract, a cherished friendship I had fully imagined would weather the storms and seasons of change.
It wasn’t only the contempt that came as a shock, but the complete lack of communication surrounding it. Suddenly this person with whom I had been walking closely for years simply turned their back on our alliance, dismissing and denying all that we had shared, and refusing to tell me why.
Needless to say, this impacted me deeply. Never before had I experienced someone’s grievance in such a way, alongside a complete refusal for process or resolution. The energetic severance came alongside waves of unspoken hostility that felt violent to my sensitive system.
My heart ached, and my mind scrambled for some semblance of understanding. The venom stung with particular strength because of the depth to which I had opened and shared myself, my life, and my family within the connection.
Here I was, a skilled healing facilitator and counselor, and I couldn’t fix this. Even with all my tracking skills and immense self-awareness, I couldn’t track what could have led to this quality of severance. It baffled me. I felt helpless and powerless.
My deep understanding regarding the nature of projection didn’t ease the hurt. It felt mythic and archetypal somehow—this unique experience of being turned against. It carried a specific flavor of betrayal I had never tasted before.
I had never been one to harbor extreme contempt, but I’d certainly experienced my fair share of grievance. Following my divorce from my children’s father, ten years earlier, I went through a difficult phase of holding my ex-husband with toxic resentment and blame.
Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of justifiable reasons for feeling disappointed and angry. But eventually, I was confronted by the suffering I was causing myself and those around me, in my refusal to take responsibility, to lay down my cause, and forgive.
Through that experience, I could no longer deny the harmful consequences of projection. My willingness to see and own my part in the dynamic radically informed the way I make use of the mirror every relationship provides.
It wasn’t until this recent experience in which I became the recipient of somebody’s immense grievance, that I recognized how much more painful it is to be held in contempt than to hold in contempt. In my experience, it’s a much hotter fire, and so a much steeper opportunity for deepening in truth and love. Perhaps this is due in part to the element of helplessness, of not being able to control the other person’s experience or way of handling it.
When we are the ones holding or transmitting contempt, the power lies within us to bring self-responsibility, healing resolution, and forgiveness to the table. But when we are the ones being held in contempt, we are at the mercy of the other’s uncontrollable process and timing.
When someone refuses to find resolution with us, or if they die before they have forgiven us, we are left to discover a resolution and forgiveness within ourselves that doesn’t require their participation. In this case, I needed to open wider and burn deeper, so I could discover a way to make medicine of this challenging mirror. I prayed to allow it to teach me in the unique way it was designed to. I prayed to make good use of it.
I have known for a long time that the relationships that humble us in the deepest ways are always the ones designed to bring us all the way home. What I couldn’t have known until this experience, is the way in which the people who hold us in the greatest contempt directly serve the widening of our hearts, encouraging outrageous forgiveness and self-forgiveness. If we can dare to be still, open and undefended, then their refusal to forgive only deepens our own forgiveness, and their refusal of love only broadens our own.
When we feel held in the grip of contempt by someone we have loved and cared for, we have a few different choices. We can beg for their forgiveness. We can write them off, cutting them out of our lives. We can suffer, allowing this reflection/projection to feed our own shame and self-loathing. We can join them in war, judging and condemning their position, sending them poison-filled arrows. Or we can use their painful mirror to still us and to humble us.
All of these options have their place, and also their consequences. It’s natural to explore all of these responses, and in this case I certainly did. But I finally discovered that in choosing to make use of the mirror, this option held the greatest promise for allowing the painful rupture to source evolution, awakening, and healing.
Writing someone off who holds us in a grievance, or in a dark projection, can be a healthy form of boundary. When we can feel that someone wants to hurt us, even subtly or energetically, it’s a natural, healthy instinct to defend or protect ourselves. And in many circumstances, self-defense is an absolutely appropriate and necessary response. But in the case of contempt, a more fruitful opportunity usually awaits.
Contempt can be a form of psychic attack, and so it’s certainly important to take care of ourselves in whatever way is needed so that we are out of harm’s way. But there is a fine line between protecting ourselves from attack and refusing the teaching that it is here to deliver. We can choose to not be available to the toxic energy of contempt, while still remaining open to the deeper medicine in the mirror.
In this case, my natural response to this mirror was to dive into a ruthless process of self-reflection, devotedly digging out any blind spots, oversights, shortcomings, and mistakes on my part. What was I missing? What was mine to see? How could I take responsibility for my part in this painful rupture?
In this excavation process, I uncovered several key mistakes I had made in the relationship. I could see the places where I had failed to be impeccably true at all times, due to my own attachments. I could see my own humanness, my own tender growing edges, places where my vulnerability had gotten in the way of my clearest navigation in our relationship.
It was deeply humbling and useful to see all this.
It’s entirely possible that none of what I saw within myself had anything to do with this person’s contempt. And yet still, it was a skillful way to use the mirror to be humbled and to deepen in self-awareness, self-responsibility, and self-forgiveness.
The trick of course, in this kind of self-reflection, is to not use it to punish ourselves. How close the energy of remorse can lie to the tendency of self-beating. Our mistakes, shortcomings, oversights, and flaws do not make us unworthy of healing resolution. We can simply see the mistake, and then be still. We can sit with the simplicity and sincerity of “I’m sorry.” We can feel the grief of this, if necessary.
The temptation is to use the sorry-ness to indulge a drama of regret. But instead, we can allow it to inspire an ease of self-forgiveness. We are not perfect. We are learning. We are sorry, and we can forgive ourselves. If we can open and receive the most heart-wrenching mirrors, and resist the temptation to turn away, then we can use these mirrors to see ourselves more honestly, so as to broaden our capacity for self-compassion and self-forgiveness.
Once I found forgiveness, then I began to let go more deeply. I let go of the connection and the pain of the severance. I allowed myself to feel grateful for all our connection had served, but I distanced myself energetically from the pain of what remained unresolved between us. I had seen what I had needed to see, and the rest was out of my hands.
Obviously, it was not my preference to have someone I had loved and cared for hold me in ill regard. I didn’t enjoy the feeling of someone harboring a derogatory and disrespectful narrative about me and the connection we had shared. This was certainly not the way I had wanted it to go. But finally, it really wasn’t my business.
Many months passed. I thought I had already received the greatest gifts that this mirror could provide, but I was wrong. One day out of the blue, news came that brought this person’s powerful disdain front and center in my awareness. It hurt deeply, and I writhed in the face of it. My mind spun in trigger, and my emotional body grew inflamed. I burned for one whole day and night as if taken by a fever.
The next morning, in the wee hours, open and raw, I woke to fresh wisdom. I saw the way in which I was still defending against this hurt; a way I was still avoiding letting it have me.
And so, in a moment of true clarity and surrender, alone in my bed, I turned all the way towards this sword of contempt. I opened my chest wider, undefended, begging for a clean kill.
I stopped all movement and allowed my heart to be penetrated, completely and fully. What a stunning surprise I discovered, as this sword pierced through the pain of rejection, failure, and worthlessness, opening my heart into greater self-love. Suddenly I could feel only gratitude for this ruthless teacher and teaching of contempt. I realized, once again, how everything can be used to bring us deeper home to love.
While this experience of the “clean kill” certainly supported tremendous clearing and freeing up of the energy, it was not the end of it. How can we ever know when something is finally complete? For the most part, I am free of it. But every so often, while sitting at my altar in stillness, or in the first tender moments upon waking, what remains unresolved arises once again in my awareness. I notice the place where my heart still aches in response.
I watch the temptation to defend against it, to brush it away and refuse it. I feel the instinct to try and fix it, to do something, anything, to make the pain go away.
But as I simply open, soften, and turn towards the pain without defense, the deeper layers can be met.
Finally, it doesn’t really matter what sources the pain we are given to meet in our lives. As long as it’s here, we can open to it. We can ask to make good use of it. When we refuse to move and can receive the sword cleanly, as direct annihilation, then we can discover the greatest treasure of unshakable self-love, and we can shine this truth in all directions.
Visionary art by Autumn Skye 💖