(Part 2 of 3)



In Part 1 of Forgiveness) we took a look at how forgiving another is based on our ability to pardon ourselves for our imagined shortcomings rather than our ability to pardon an offending party for his/her actions. Letting ourselves off the hook can be difficult, but here are a few things that might help.


First of all, we must come to terms with the fact that we do not have perfect awareness of or control over our inner drives. We only have about 12% to 15% awareness of our inner world (our thoughts, feelings, drives, strivings, needs, etc.), and we canít have control or power over those things that we donít even know are in play. Thatís just the way it is. We have limited awareness of that which drives us and, therefore, have limited control over our impulses. Much of what we do is not even volitional; it is reflexive. That means that it is done without malicious intent. It also means that weíre not bad if sometimes weíre needy, impulsive, or lacking in awareness.


Secondly, consider the concept of need. We hate ourselves for having need, but we all have it. Do we sometimes get too needy? Of course, we do. Yet there is a reason for the level of need we currently have. There is a reason in our past (usually originating in our formative years). Our neediness is not our fault, and oftentimes our actions arising out of this need arenít our fault either. Should we get to work understanding and mastering our neediness? Yes, but awareness and mastery of self is a slow process and can only be done over time. We need to be easy with ourselves. There is no shame in not yet knowing.


Judging ourselves too harshly because of our neediness can stem from an unwillingness to accept the fact that we simply donít control everything. This can be a frightening thing, but it can also be a blessing. It is best to let ourselves be imperfectly human. Only then can we relax and not make a federal case out of it when we do some need-driven thing we wish we hadnít done.


In addition, sometimes harsh self-judgment of our neediness can be a bit of an ego thing. We want to be so good and so mature and so ďwith itĒ that we canít seem to tolerate the times we do something inauspicious or the times we look silly to the world. It can be tough, but better to celebrate being part of the human race rather than holding ourselves apart from it as though weíre special and above it all. It works out better just to let ourselves feel a little stupid and out of control, and then call it a day.


Third, we need to work on our level of self-absorption. When someone wrongs us, usually all we can think about is what he/she did to us. We donít want to think about our own part in the matter. Yet in some cases we do have a part in creating whatever occurred. Taking responsibility for that helps us to forgive. It also helps to take into consideration the other personís struggles regarding our actions. Playing the ďvictim cardĒ just reinforces our unwillingness to forgive.


Itís true that in some situations we simply donít have a part in a given matter. These are situations that involve a rather high level of pathology on anotherís part. An example of this is if weíre dealing with a person who has a character/personality disorder, an active addiction, a history of psychosis, an impulse-control disorder, or a severe mood disorder that affects perception. Here there is nothing for us to take responsibility for other than perhaps why we are drawn to such a person. However, it does help to acknowledge and register the level of pathology with which weíre dealing. In such cases, the old phrase, ďconsider the sourceĒ is truly applicable.


Fourth, we need to relinquish the cherished belief that if we are always good, loving, thoughtful individuals, we will receive the same treatment. It may be true that we reap what we sow in some universal sense, but in the microcosm of a relationship, donít count on it ó especially if weíre relating to someone with significant pathology. In such settings, it would better serve us to toughen up, set boundaries, and take no garbage. Too much goodness in the face of irreverence is simply throwing pearls before swine.


Fifth, we shouldnít get overly focused on religious beliefs that call for purity of thought and action. When wronged, we should initially be having all kinds of negative thoughts and feelings. If we arenít we probably arenít being honest with ourselves. Instead, weíre busy being a ďgood person,Ē but being a ďgood personĒ doesnít allow us to work through our anger. We canít work through our anger by judging it or pretending it isnít there. Good people have all kinds of negative and positive thoughts and feelings.


Sixth, we mustnít pressure ourselves to prematurely forgive. It takes time to ferret out and experience all of our negative feelings. If we donít recognize them and honor them, it discredits our heartís response to life. It invalidates our experience. This makes us hang on loner to our grudges.


Itís true that some of us hang on to our anger too long because it gives us a greater sense of power and control, because it masks layers of grief that we donít wish to feel, or because we fear being overcome by depression if we relinquish our anger. Or we may refuse to relinquish our anger because we refuse to accept the reality that life involves suffering, that at some point we must give up our infantile demands and expectations that life should be other than it is. That said, the fact remains that our anger should be given a hearing before we blithely ask it to go away.


Seventh, we shouldnít confuse righteous beliefs with emotional maturity. One is superimposed on us as a ďshouldĒ (no matter how we actually feel), while the other involves an actual feeling. A belief that informs us we should feel compassionate and understanding is not the same thing as the actual feeling of compassion and understanding. If we tell ourselves how we should be feeling in favor of what we actually feel, it sets up cognitive dissonance within us which forestalls the process of forgiveness. Once we have acknowledged and validated our true feelings, our inner landscape will quiet down and we can get on to more benevolent feelings.


Itís unfortunate that we carry around social/religious beliefs that result in rules within us as though this were the same as conscious awareness and actual mastery of our true thoughts and feelings. We all want to be innocent, but once we have social/religious rules within our heads, we no longer feel fully innocent. We judge everything we do against these rules. We tell ourselves that we know better than to do or not do a particular thing. Yet in reality, we may not have achieved mastery over or understanding of the thoughts and feelings that drive us and make us do things we wish we hadnít. Then we judge ourselves even more. Remember, weíre not responsible for thoughts, feelings, needs, drives, etc. that we have no awareness of or mastery over ó even if we know about a rule regarding them.


We mustnít take this to extremes. Clearly weíre responsible to act within societal norms. We shouldnít go around hurting people. There is little wiggle room there. However, when it comes to things that we do or donít say or do or donít do within our relationships, we neednít be overly judgmental of ourselves. As human beings we were never charged with the task of being perfect, no matter what some rule says.


Most human beings want to be good, not bad. Most want to follow societal/ religious guidelines. Despite this, it can be difficult once we know a rule but canít fully live up to it. It can also be hard to live up to a rule, yet still secretly feel whatever desire thatís actually present. Itís better to accept the fact that we may not yet have mastered our inner needs, that sometimes they drive us to do things we wish we hadnít, and that true inner compassion and understanding may not yet have caught up to the rules. In other words, itís better to admit that weíre all works in progress. We must always remember that beliefs and the rules they generate exist to serve us, not the other way around.


Eighth, we need to get clear about boundaries. When weíre young, we all have boundary confusion as to what thoughts, feelings, drives, etc. originated within us and which ones originated from without. For example, we may think that our abuserís actions have occurred because of something that was or was not present within us rather than knowing that our abuserís actions originated within him or her. We end up thinking that all kinds of things are our fault that definitely are not.


 Unfortunately, as adults we still have that boundary confusion present to some extent. We may have an intellectual understanding that weíre not responsible for othersí actions, but we donít really feel this to be true. Consequently, we blame ourselves for all kinds of things, which keeps the feeling of self-forgiveness (and subsequently forgiveness of others) at bay.


Some of this may come about because of our own needs. For instance, we know that technically we are not responsible for childhood sexual abuse, yet the need or wish to be close or special or receive pleasure in some fashion might have been there. We blow that out of proportion and in our heads make it the culpability factor on our part. Yet it was only a need. It didnít invite abuse. It only provided a vulnerability. It only provided an area of weakness that a predator could see and take advantage of. It was never an invitation. It was never a condoning.


Ninth, we need to stop taking responsibility for others. Even if thereís something that we feel is our part in a given matter, we must look to see if itís the predominating force in what happened. If we are innocent on, say, the first five things that we question in terms of our own culpability, we neednít keep going, looking for a reason to explain why weíre indeed culpable. Yes, we may have done this or that (maybe not even intentionally), but was that enough to demand that we take full responsibility for an abusive action on anotherís part? Really? Are we the only one who was involved in this action or was the other person far, far out of line despite the one or two little things that we can honestly say we did to contribute to that situation? Do we really need to be responsible for both ourselves and the other party? No, we donít.