Archive for November, 2013

The Presence of Self-Forgiveness

November 3, 2013

Forgiveness implies a problem – that something is wrong somewhere. A pain has manifested in someone and if I caused that pain, I was wrong and have to make amends. It does not matter that I did not know I caused the pain or the situation was out of my control. I did something wrong.

The message that there is something wrong with us gets reinforced throughout our lifetimes as we encounter the world and its ever-changing rules of engagement. Our laws, media, parents, teachers, and our children will tell us: you are wrong – you did something wrong – you have to fix it – you deserve a punishment. Laws can send us to prison or make us pay a fine. The media will deify those who are prettier/thinner/richer/smarter than us and punish the rest of us with stories and articles about how we are inadequate and here’s what we need to do change that. And if you can’t change, here is how you can “accept” (aka “forgive”) your failings. Punishment from parents could be anything from a frown to withdrawal of privileges to (in the worst case) abuse. Punishment from teachers includes failing grades, public humiliation, and a visit with the principal (who, despite popular spelling tricks, was never your “pal”). Punishment from your children is anyone’s guess. Take a look at your life and tell me what it is.

We also inflict self-punishment, a double-whammy when we’ve wronged ourselves. Hindsight 20/20 is the largest contributor to the embargo of my ability to forgive myself for transgressions against others or myself. For some reason, as I realize why I “should” have not done what I did, I proceed to believe that I “should” have known better and “should” have behaved better. A berating marathon begins and the punishment phase can last a lifetime.

An Internet search for ideas about self-forgiveness brought up the web site Greater Good sponsored by the University of California at Berkeley. While the site implores you to become a member (you can be happy for only $50.00 a year), there is plenty of free material, including some insightful articles and a quiz about forgiveness. All things being equal, I would think that how I apply forgiveness to others would be similar to how I apply self-forgiveness. I took the quiz and found out I have a moderate capacity for forgiveness.

Only moderate? Being the over-achiever I am, moderate is not good enough. Where am I failing to be an excellent forgiver? My test results showed that while I would not want anything bad to happen to anyone, I have a tendency to avoid and withdraw from people who mistreat me (duh – who would hang around?).

I thought about myself as the person who I would need to forgive: What if the person is me?

What if I am avoiding the me – the self – who I was when I made the transgression? What if I have withdrawn from that self who committed a real or imagined sin? I chose the word “sin” here because there were plenty of them sneaking around while I was growing up Catholic along with that offensive right hand we were told to cut off (Matthew 5:30).

Hmmm . . . I wonder where I got the message to avoid or “cut off” from the part of me causing the offense lest I be cast into the horrors of hell for all eternity?

Perhaps it is time to visit with those selves and offer them my right hand in forgiveness.

©2013 by Barbara L. Kass