Sally says goodbye… from the Sunday Times

Usually, this column takes the form of a letter from you to me, but this week, it is the other way around. This is my last column as your “agony aunt”, a position that has brought me both pleasure and comfort. This may seem at odds with my reputation for being fierce, but along the way I have come to understand that platitudes are of no use to anybody. I could say, it’s OK, hand you a tissue and pat you on the back, but that leaves none of us the wiser. It is not OK and the reason, on the whole, is ourselves or how we are looking at a particular situation.

So here are some of the things that I have been banging on about for the past eight years: resentment, self-pity, blame and emotional responsibility. Resentment is corrosive, it eats into our hearts and souls and lives. It consumes our every waking hour, and if there is one thing that is truly damaging to our emotional health, it is that.

It is all too easy to allocate blame, but, in the end, it becomes a prison of our own making. Yes, somebody may be at fault, but the fault happened days or even weeks ago, and only through our own thoughts do we keep it alive. We cannot change people, places or things, the only thing we can change is how we respond to them and by taking responsibility for our own behaviour. It may be painful to come face-to-face with the fact that the people for whom we reserve our deepest resentment actually don’t care. They are not carrying the burden of those emotions and, while they may feel guilt, they are getting on with their lives while we slowly suffocate under the weight of our feelings.

In order to write a reply to your letters, I was forced to face my most uncomfortable truths

We, and not them, are responsible for how we behave. This is when, more often than not, I get into trouble.

We are not used to taking responsibility (“Why should I? They did it to me”), so our default position is blame. We might hate our mothers (a recurring theme in your letters), but we often lose sight of the fact that it is up to us, not them, to put boundaries in place, the most important of which is the word “no”. It is not a word we like because people might not like us. Well, they might not, but without boundaries, there will be no respect and they will trample roughshod over our most tender feelings. And so we enter the vicious cycle of resentment, blame and self-pity.

Here’s another word that enters into the vocabulary of self-responsibility: “Sorry.” It is not to be used carelessly because it is an action and not just a word. We can say it time and again, but unless we show regret through thoughtful deeds, it is meaningless.

Humility (another word that gets me into trouble for seeming too harsh) does not mean humbling or humiliating ourselves; instead, it is the strength to take responsibility for our mistakes and to admit to them.

As for self-pity, we run from victims, lest we be caught in their cloying embrace and their ceaseless, circular stories that always end on the same page: me, myself and I. They are, in effect, self-centred — which is another word people hate, because they confuse it with being selfish. Selfish is a hoarding word; self-centred means concentrating on ourselves to the exclusion of all others — our feelings, and ours alone, matter. We are naturally self-centred because we inhabit our own minds. We have our faces pressed to the mirror so the only reflection we can see is ourselves. But what if we take a step back and change our perspective?

That is where I have come in. I have been a sounding board, an echo that might resonate in a different dimension. And you, as strange as this may sound because I’m the one who gets to talk, have been my most important and precious teachers. Every time I received a letter, the problem always resonated in some part of me. In order to write a reply, I was forced to face my most uncomfortable truths.

I am intolerant, impatient (generally with myself) and apt to get things completely out of proportion. I can seethe with resentment and I can fixate on blame, until I realise, after pondering that same issue for hours at my desk, it is the very same trap I can fall into so easily.

So, it has been a two-way street and it was always a joy when we met in the middle. Thank you for your letters of gratitude over the years; and to those who have stopped me to say they loved the writing. The memory lingers like a favourite scent. I hope I have helped a few people, but you have helped me far more than you will ever know. For which, many thanks., @sallybrampton


Leave a Reply

  • Teresa rossi says:

    Dear sally, like you I have suffered mental illness, I am on the mend once more and wiser for it, even reducing my medication! With a good psychologist a lot of prayer and masses for healing and reading about brave people like you I am nearly there. Everyday begins with the words of John Henry Newman. ; Lead Though Me On. God bless you Sally and all who suffer mentally.
    Teresa X

  • Helena says:

    I always read your column first. I deeply miss your wise, caring and always so to-the-point perceptions and answers. I am a Finn (a nation without small talk skills ;-)) and your direct words and way to handle complex topics always felt true to me. I learned a lot. Wish you a lovely Autumn! Thank You. Helena x

  • Emma Freemantle says:

    You are such an inspiration – your weekly wisdom helped me in small ways very often – even if the situation written about did not directly relate to mine.
    Thank you for that, and good luck in all that you do in the future,

    With very best wishes


  • lynda says:

    I missed this in the magazine (not sure how) and for weeks, nay months, have eagerly opened my Style looking for the next column… It was only when it failed to materialised I resorted to Google and found you here. It is a testament to you that so many others feel exactly the same as I do… gutted. (Although I am a bit peeved as I thought I was the only one!!) My Sunday night bath with a glass of cold fizz and the Style mag will never be the same again. It wasn’t broke so why did they fix it? The new offering lacks depth and integrity… Like eating candy floss instead of fine dark chocolate. Fashion and Style don’t have to be flippant. Still, I have found you here and, as long as I don’t drop my iPad, my Sunday night ritual is saved… Blog away, please.

  • Paulina11 says:

    Thank you Sally. I’ve found many great inspirations in your letters. Especially when I was younger and felt lonely and just not good enough. Now I re-read them sometimes and I am so relieved that I understand better now. One thing that changed for better too is that I try not to analyse my relationships with people. It’s about trusting myself and knowing myself better instead. Thank you for the hours spent on pondering difficult problems. All best!

  • Marie says:

    I learnt so much through reading you each week, Sally – your column was like a beacon of truth, a lighthouse guiding my path whatever the weather and I miss it dearly. I’ve literally learnt to decipher most of what goes on around me and make sense of my life thanks to you; one massive moment for me was learning of the phenomenon of the narcissistic mother – decades of childhood guilt (and weight) fell away when I became aware of the narcissistic personality disorder in my mother and sister. It all suddenly made sense. You write so beautifully too, Sally – you’re always such a joy to read. Whatever’s happened to the ST of late? All the reasons I used to enjoy reading it have disappeared. I hope to find you in print again soon, Sally – in the meantime I send you a huge thank you and lots of love x

  • Steve Wynne says:

    All of what I wanted to say about your wisdom – which comes from experience – and your clarity about boundaries and integrity has been said by the other responses. As a coach I know that your rewards come unexpectedly and often when you least expect them. Thanks for inspiring me in the things that I do and helping us through life’s messy arrangements. Another inspiring coach once told me “Make a stand and the world will change” – which I have found to be true. Seems like you are too and I am sure your change of direction will be perfect. Looking forwards now to your blog!

    My best wishes, Steve

  • Margaretta says:

    I feel much better equipped to deal with the Easter hols having spent the time I would normally devote to reading the ST perusing your website instead. Much happier to spend my time here instead of ingesting so much negativity that I really can’t afford anymore. Thanks for making your work so accessible Sally, it really is a true delight. x

  • Grainne Simms says:

    I will miss you terribly, am missing you already; like others, I felt you were the best thing in Style and felt disappointed when you were not published in the fashion specials. Wishing you all the very best for the future – will be looking out for your name with interest – and much love. G x

  • Ann says:

    I too was sad to read this was your last column – yours was the only agony column I ever bothered to read! They are always wise and thought-provoking and sometimes very challenging. I will miss it but hope to continue to hear your voice – it is certainly one worth hearing.

  • Rachel says:

    I was very sorry to hear that you would no longer be writing your column in the Sunday Times. It was always one of the first things that I read when I setting in with my paper on a Sunday morning. Every week, you helped me to learn about myself and others and helped me to gain a new perspective on various topics. I will truly miss you! Best of luck in your new adventures!!

  • Lesley says:

    Ah well, first week down without Sally in ST – cold turkey begins here, alas! Really duff editorial decision to lose Sally Brampton- total idiocy. My rant is masking a sense of genuine loss.
    However, heartened by the thought of new projects for you and delighted to have found a way of hearing your voice.
    Love, admiration, and thanks in equal measure to you, Sally Brampton. Can’t wait to hear what you will make happen next!
    Kind regards
    Lesley Lane

    • Mike says:

      You put it so much better than I expressed it my other posts.

      • Sue says:

        Totally agree. Won’t repeat everything everyone else has said so well. Your column was often the only thing I read in the ST. Miss it very much and glad this page is here.
        Best wishes for everything you do and thank you.

  • David says:

    Hi Sally. I share most of the comments below, so will try not to repeat them.
    Your column was one of my “must reads” in the Sunday Times. I especially enjoyed your occasional references to, and use of, Buddhism – a practise / philosophy / psychology that has helped me enormously in all aspects of my life.
    I’d often read a letter and then try to guess how you’d respond. More often than not I was wrong of course, but it was a good way of challenging me to look at situations from alternative perspectives.
    Many thanks for enriching my life. Please know that you will have touched many others similarly.
    All the very best.

  • Alison says:

    Really sorry to read your last article In last weeks ST. I just wanted to say I always looked forward to them & will miss them. All the best & thank you

  • Chris says:

    Your final ST column has moved me deeply. I’m struggling with my feelings towards someone who does not now feel the same way towards me and perhaps never did. It is very hard to diagnose resentment, self-pity and so on in oneself, but you have greatly helped me to do so. Thank you. And good luck in your new ventures.

  • lisa says:

    Always looked forward to reading your column every sunday, have mulled over and reflected on your advice and wisdom for my own life situations many times, I wish you ever success and happiness in your future endeavours.

  • vivien rosenblatt says:

    Hi Sally
    I have emailed you goodbye to your address at the times but just in case you dont get it I say goodbye again here. You will be sorely missed and your responses to others have always helped me remind myself of all the important issues that you highlight in your goodbye letter.
    Your insight, clarity and warmth were just a few of your amazing strengths.
    I sincerely wish you well for the future and am so glad I can now follow you online.
    Best wishes
    Viv R.

  • Anne Lovell says:

    Leaving when YOU wanted to – Congratulations! Readers will miss you and you’ll miss them – but not for long! The next thing is always the most exciting. Good luck!

  • Sally Brampton says:

    Thank you for all your wonderful comments. So lovely to hear from you. Your words matter so much to me. I am terribly sad to be leaving the Sunday Times but sometimes it’s good to get off the treadmill and look up rather than down

    • Mike says:

      Good to hear you feel positive, but it does sound as though the ST wanted you out! (Fools! – the best part of the magazine)

  • woodytwoshoes says:

    The Sunday Times must be mad to make you go! Your column is the reason I buy it. Best thing in the paper! Will now follow your blog, love you!

  • Dutchie says:

    Have read your columns every week. They were always inspiring and I will miss them sorely! Thank you for all your wise words and recommendations. xxx

  • Jeremy cotton says:

    Sally, a deep thank you for your last 8 years in the Sunday Times. Always read with breakfast. You are one cool lady. All the best, for the future. Xx.

  • Ann says:

    I am so sorry to see you are leaving the Magazine, I will miss reading your page.

    Today’s article was particularly profound and I found myself looking into my “inner self” and thinking of others.

    I wish you all the best for the future and thank you for sharing you wisdom.

  • agathe says:

    I hope you change your mind and go back to being an agony aunt in the Times or another paper. You are a voice of reason and compassion much needed in this world.

  • Janis says:

    So sorry to see you go and very best wishes for the future…i will miss you every Sunday .thank you for your wise words over the years. Xxx

  • shirley says:

    I didn’t know you were stopping writing columns in Style magazine. Your letter today made me cry with its depth and humility. Your column was amazingly wise and definitely helped give me some perspective. Thank you for all that. Kind regards to you from a fan :).

  • Julia says:

    A big thank you for bringing sanity (so to speak) to agony aunting! By that I mean honesty and clarity. I rarely read agony columns before, nor indeed a great deal about fashion, but when you surfaced in the ST some years ago I was really intrigued, read, and then read every week because there was normally something in your column that got me to think, introspect (not in any over indulgent way you understand…). So a big thank you for sharing your wisdom in print, and a big cheers to your future!

  • Lynne Reilly says:

    I was disappointed to read today that Sally is saying goodbye. I have just loved her

    words of wisdom every week . Her article has always been the first thing I pull out of the paper just before I read Gizzi and her wonderful recipes. She is the best agony aunt I have ever read. I wish her the best of everything in her own life.

  • Melody says:

    I’ve always really enjoyed your column in fact it’s one of the first things I go to in the magazine section, and I’m always very impressed by your measured responses which still manage to say something meaningful and wise. Really going to miss you actually but all the best.

  • Dear sally,
    Thank you so much for you column. You have always mirrored my thoughts and feelings and although I will miss your weekly insights I wish you well..
    Heena Johnson

  • Mike says:

    Disappointed to read you are departing from the ST – I have read (I think) every column over your years there and only once disagreed with you advice.
    Many weeks I have wanted to fire off an e-mail to you about how much I agreed with you! (It wasn’t until today I realised your Website existed!)
    I did e-mail you once in praise and you were kind enough to reply. Twice I have come close to actually e-mailing you with an issue of my own, but never got that far as so often you answered others and in doing so told me what I needed to know, just as you have with your farewell column today.
    Your advice is always pertinent but often difficult to put in to action (my issues centre on jealousy and insecurity; at least I know but find it hard to deal with.)
    I will miss your weekly column and always felt short-changed with the ST Style magazine held it over for the fashion issues!
    So I’m glad I have found you here, please keep giving such proper advice and taking people’s issues seriously, they may seem trivial to others but they affect the lives of those experiencing them.
    (60 year old male!)

    • Liz Seeber says:

      I really enjoyed your column, first thing I turned to in ST style and shall miss your careful and considered responses.

      • Kate says:

        Oh no! It was the only thing I read in Style! Oh well, at least I’ve discovered your website.

        • Maeve says:

          I just wanted to add my best wishes to you, Sally, and to thank you for all your sound advice over the years. I always looked forward to your columns and invariably found something to take away for the week ahead. In a world often given to hyperbole, your sense of calm, your clarity and your sincerity shone through. Sincere thanks and all best wishes.

          • Loeke Stok says:

            Sad to read you are no longer contributing to the ST Magazine.
            You offered empathy, clear analysis of problems in a friendly, sometimes firm way. You shared, shouldered, gave a positive outlook and a way forwards.
            Thank your for the many years in which you through your columns have contributed to my greater understanding and improved patience (I hope!!).
            Kind regards, wishing you well in every respect,