Dear Carolyn: A couple of months ago, my girlfriend broke up with me. She was right to. I was unemployed at the time and took out my frustration on her, sometimes in psychologically cruel ways. I have no excuses for that, but have since come to feel profoundly remorseful for my behavior. I desperately want — need — to make amends and earn her forgiveness.

The problem is, she told me to never contact her again.

I have to respect that, but my guilt is killing me. There’s a line in a Perfect Circle song, “I’m more than just a little curious/ how you’re planning to make amends/ to the dead.” So, I guess my question is, how do you go about doing that? Can you?

— Trying to Repent

Trying to Repent: No.

This is our punishment sometimes for mistakes — that we can't fix what we broke.

It's not a penalty assessed by any code or standard of fairness; it's arbitrary. You could be left to find your own forgiveness for something much less or much more serious than this.

Here, though, it’s a gift. When the people we hurt aren’t available to help us feel better, we have to find our own ways to live with ourselves. And unless we’re skilled at rationalization, compartmentalization or outright denial, that typically involves a close inspection of our mistakes — closer than we’d like, and much closer than if someone had been around to let us off the worst of the hooks.

You admit you were “psychologically cruel” so, face value: What you did is really bad. It’s not, oops, “I took $20 without asking.” It’s “I tunneled into your psyche to cause pain from within because I wasn’t getting what I wanted.”

And while I absolutely understand wanting to make things right with the person you hurt, and accept as genuine your capacity for admitting fault, I think learning you’re capable of such cruelty under duress means your work is longer-term. Deeper exploration will help you see what part of your wiring and worldview led you to respond this way, and how to ensure it won’t happen again.

Maybe you're already there. Maybe your ex's departure and your regretful epiphany were sufficient to fix whatever underlying problem you had. But, again, cruelty is not something you can risk repeating when you try out your improved self-awareness on someone new. You need those patches on your soul to hold.

So give up on making amends, yes, you must: Even if a sincere “I was 100 percent at fault” note with zero expectations from you in return would ease her pain, you’re way too self-interested right now to provide a credible one.

Instead, treat the impossibility of going back as an obligation to repair this forward, to do the emotional overhaul that makes you kinder, more mature, less reactive. Dig into what frustrates you and why, and develop some healthy ways both to get ahead of that frustration and to manage it better when it creeps up on you anyway.

Vehicles to this understanding include therapy, 12-step programs, anger management classes — many sizes fit many. Sample, choose, get to work. When you have a better handle on your own behavior, the most important forgiveness will probably come to you — not from anyone else, but from within.

Dear Carolyn: My boyfriend of one year seems unable to let go of his ex-wife since their divorce over 10 years ago. I am not comfortable with her presence in my life through his daily references to her. I am hurt by his descriptions of her “bionic body.” Most intolerable were the photos of her on his phone. We were looking at other pictures and up she pops, naked, in a “gynecological” pose.

I have tried to discuss my feelings of discomfort, but he seems to not truly hear my pain, anxiety and discomfort. And now, my sexual confidence, shaky at best, has dissolved. I am a mess.

— Mess

Mess: It is terrible that he won’t listen to you. It is terrible that he isn’t kind enough to you to build your confidence.

It is terrible to the point of slack-jawed disbelief to know there's someone out there slobbering over his ex-wife's body to his current girlfriend.

But as much as I'd like to offer some hope that your boyfriend could be enlightened out of his creepy attachment to the past and his even creepier urge to use it against you, the person I have hope for is you.

You, currently, seem “unable to let go of” a boyfriend you respond to with pain, anxiety and discomfort, who doesn’t listen to you, who erodes your confidence.

That you can fix. Today, if you feel strong and safe enough to. Otherwise, get support: RAINN, 800-656-HOPE; National Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-799-SAFE. Emotional abuse is abuse — and over time it can sabotage your defenses. Yours are still strong enough to trigger a cry for help. Please call right now so the right people hear it.