Had you asked me to tell my life story a few months ago, it would have gone something like this:

I was the daughter of a mentally ill mother and an absentee father. I was a foster child as a teenager, a runaway by the age of 17, and homeless by the age of 18. I’d seen violence and fought for my survival on more occasions than I’d care to remember.

Miraculously, at 18 I managed to find a full-time job at a local casino. Prior to that, I’d worked nothing but minimum wage jobs (at a staggering $8.25 an hour), and the jump to $11 an hour was enough to save my life. I went from sleeping in my 1996 Mercury Sable to living in a studio apartment in a quiet suburb of Chicago. I eventually moved to office work as an administrative assistant before working my way up to become a finance manager. I wrote a book, made friends, and lived happily ever after.

It was a real-life Cinderella story. Everything that I’d done — and everything that I will do in the future — I did in spite of my circumstances. I was a victim of unfortunate circumstances, but I’d risen above them to overcome the odds.

But I wasn’t the only victim.

There’s a traditional Buddhist meditation known as metta bhavana, also known as the loving-kindness meditation. The name comes from the Pali language. Metta translates to love or kindness; bhavana translates to development or cultivation. This cultivation of love has no limits or conditions. It doesn’t depend on whether or not someone “deserves” it. And it doesn’t expect anything in return.

I learned about this kind of meditation during my first round of therapy. At the time, I didn’t think I needed it. I’m fine, I told myself. I may have had a rough start in life, but now I’m a freaking finance manager for crying out loud! I’ve clearly moved on with my life.

My friends and my string of failed relationships didn’t agree. Neither did my history of anxiety attacks or my nightmares and subsequent early morning wake-ups. There were times when I’d wake up with nail-shaped scratches in my palm; I’d clenched my fists so hard in my sleep that they had left marks. At the urging of a friend, I went to see a therapist.

My therapist’s office was on the other side of town. As I stared at the walls — mostly filled with degrees, awards, and the occasional picture of a kid — I thought of what I knew about therapy. I figured that it would help me gain some perspective on my past and help me learn how to erase it from my mind.

Instead, the therapist told me that I’d need to confront my past. He talked about hypnosis techniques and meditation. Then he told me about a technique developed from Buddhist tradition that was known as the loving-kindness meditation. There were some parts that I could agree with, such as feeling metta for yourself and for a good friend. But when he started talking about feeling metta for an enemy — which, in this case, he suggested might be my family — I shook my head.

For those of us who are still healing from past trauma and hurt, this kind of love goes against every instinct in our body. How can we be kind to people who weren’t kind to us? How can we love someone who may not deserve our forgiveness, let alone our love?

I was so taken aback that I never went back to that office. Once again, I told myself that I didn’t need it; but if I’m being honest with myself, I think I was just scared.

One good thing came out of that meeting: an official diagnosis. I had post-traumatic stress disorder. I wasn’t surprised; having read about it on the internet, I knew I had the symptoms. Still, before that visit to the therapist I had declined to say anything until I’d gotten a professional diagnosis.

At the time, I didn’t understand why it was important to forgive anyone. Wasn’t I the victim? Why should I give anymore than I already have?

We resist the idea of forgiveness because in forgiving we risk getting hurt again. We’d rather heal ourselves by forgetting instead of forgiving. But if I’m being honest with myself, forgiveness was harder than being hurt. Forgiveness meant accepting that the people who hurt you are only human. It’s easy to justify running away when you’re running from a monster, but what happens when the monster is just like you?

There are five stages to the loving-kindness meditation.

You start by finding a quiet place and sitting comfortably. You close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, relaxing your muscles and your mind.

Then, you begin by practicing metta for yourself. You imagine experiencing complete peace and perfect love for yourself. You say a mantra:

May I be well. May I be happy.

May I be healthy. May I be at peace.

May I be free from pain and suffering.

Bask in that feeling of complete love and peace in yourself for a few minutes.

Then, shift your focus to someone with whom you are close. This person can be a child, a spouse, or a best friend. Direct your love and gratitude to them.

May they be well. May they be happy.

May they be healthy. May they be at peace.

May they be free from pain and suffering.

Repeat this step, and remember to bask in that feeling.

Then, when you’re ready, repeat with someone toward whom you feel neutrally.

Then repeat with someone who you hate.

It’s suggested that you hold an image in your mind of the person toward whom you are directing these feelings and envision yourself sending loving-kindness to him or her — even to the person you dislike (in some cases, especially to the person you dislike). While meditation can take as long as the practitioner desires, the recommendation for beginners is to spend three to five minutes per person.

The final step is to extend these loving-kindness feelings to all beings across the globe. From here, you can focus on a feeling of connection and compassion.

When you’re ready, open your eyes and reflect.

Had you asked my mother to tell my story from her perspective, it would have gone something like this:

She was a single mother whose daughter had been taken away by the state. She was an immigrant, and everything that she had worked hard for was taken away by a diagnosis from a psychiatrist.

It was a story that ended in tragedy. I resisted the idea of forgiveness because it meant no longer accepting that I was a victim. It meant taking responsibility for my part in anything that had ever happened to me.

I unexpectedly encountered the practice of loving-kindness meditation for a second time at a Buddhist meditation center. I decided, on whim, to attend a meditation class. I heard that the meditations were different every week, but I recognized the pattern as soon as I heard it — and, in a moment of panic, I thought about leaving. I thought that doing the meditation would cripple me. But the opposite happened.

After the first time, I felt free. I was no longer weighed down by my circumstances. I was in control of my own destiny. We don’t realize how heavy our burdens are until they’re lifted.

I meditate regularly now, but bad days still come. I don’t think there’s any way to keep them from sneaking up every once in a while. But it’s been months since I’ve had an anxiety attack. Sometimes, relief comes in the most unexpected ways.