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Learning to forgive the self

By G. Balasubramanian

Clara was sitting in her seat in a melancholic mood. Lucy, noting that Clara was alone, approached her with the question ‘What happened?’ Clara looked at Lucy with an angry face and said, “I cannot forgive him at any cost.”

“Are you talking about Smith?” asked Lucy,

“Yes, I can’t forgive him. He shouldn’t have insulted me in the presence of others.”

“But he said he didn’t mean it. He said it was just a joke.”

“Sorry, that was not the way one goes around joking. I can never forgive him.”

“But then, Clara, if you carry this small event in your mind, it will only go on hurting you. Just leave it at that. Possibly, you were a party to the situation.”

“Yes. I am ashamed I was there. I too feel guilty” she continued.

Like Clara, there are many of us who carry the sense of shame and guilt in our mind, for one reason or the other. Without taking responsibility for our own contribution, we tend to get upset and angry with others. We play the role of a puritan justifying our role and our stand. It doesn’t help always.

Forgiveness is an excellent value. It liberates us from several emotional hangovers, pains and disturbed feelings. It delinks us from our past and ushers us into a vibrant present and a peaceful future. Unfortunately, many of us tend to punish the self by carrying trivial experiences associated with negativities. Over a period, it becomes a trauma haunting us continuously and systematically. Often it manifests into a permanent emotional trait impacting our positive personality. “For many, trauma is like being lost in the woods and walking around in a circle. It is Deja vu all over again,” says Ken Wells, author, psychologist and therapist.

Dinesh was indeed in a depressive mood. He had got a layoff notice from his office. Though his performance has been reasonably good, the company was in a job-cutting move, and he was a victim of that. “If my boss wanted, he could have really retained me.” He complained to his colleague. The move disturbed his mental balance so badly, he shut down his doors and he refused to meet anybody. He held everyone in the organization responsible for his exit. He felt sad that even his personal professional coach in the office didn’t help him. A sense of shame prevailed in his mind. He also suffered from guilt that he didn’t display an outstanding performance that compelled the organization to retain him. There are many like Dinesh who yield to shame and guilt for even small failures and suffocate from within. Unfortunately, they don’t know how to forgive themselves as much as they forgive others. “It's one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive” says Maya Angelou.

Under normal circumstances, we tend to believe that forgiveness is something which is related to others, which we offer to the sinners, to enemies, to people who confront us or criticise us. We never think that there are occasions we need to forgive ourselves for things which we have done consciously or unconsciously which has caused embarrassment, pain or hurt to someone or has been the cause of humiliation to others. In doing so, we have often hurt our own inner self and disturbed it from its latent peace. “I think that if God forgives us, we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.” Says C.S. Lewis.

Oftentimes, we tend to single out people or hold someone else responsible to an act of shame or hurt from which we suffer, least realising that a major share for such assaults lies with our own incompetence to understand the self, its strengths, limitations and the context in which it is playing its game. On certain occasions, our manifested ego seeking a fulfilment for its greed, over projects our personality which plays a superhero holding everyone before as a potential threat or as an enemy. It is particularly important that we need to undergo an inner engineering of the self to return to normalcy. “The more you know yourself, the more you forgive yourself” says Confucius.

Though it may be easy to forgive others, forgiving the self is not an easy task. It calls for abundant strength. It calls for a self-talk, when you debate with your own self and seek clarity for the things you have done. It calls for self-acceptance with some humility. Says Dr. Brene Brown in his book “Daring Greatly” – “With an awareness of shame and strong shame resilience skills, the scenario is completely different. You still want folks to like, respect and even admire what you have created, but your self-worth is not on the table. You know that you are far more than a painting, an innovative idea, an effective pitch, a good sermon, or a high amazon.com ranking.” Truly, forgiving the self opens the gateways of a fresh perspective, vision of a new horizon, the opportunity for a new possibility and recognizing the self-worth. “Forgiveness is for yourself because it frees you. It lets you out of that prison you put yourself in” says Louise Hay.

Some tend to believe that forgiving the self is just a way of seeking an excuse. It is indeed not so. Forgiving the self is a way of mobilizing the strength within. It is a journey back to one’s real identity. It is a way of seeking peace with the self, releasing it from a zone of conflict or chaos. “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong” says Mahatma Gandhi.

Many suffer from a sense of guilt or shame not necessarily from their actions, but their very thoughts. They seem to remain immersed in a deep sea of negativity. They withdraw into their shells and believe that the consequences of their thoughts will hide their legitimate goodness and they will stand to punishment sooner than later. Immersed in these thoughts, they tend to punish themselves, whether they get punished by external sources. They need to understand that they are victims of negativity and hence suffocate inside the dark clouds of impurity in the mind. Forgiveness of the self helps to cleanse the negativity that lies therein. Says Thich Nhat Hanh in his book “Buddha Mind, Buddha Body” – “Every thought you produce bears your signature. You can’t say it is not you. You are responsible for the thought and the thought is your continuation. Your thought is the essence of your Being and your life and once produced, continues. It can never be lost. We can conceive of our thought as a kind of energy that will have chain reaction in the world. That is why it is good to take care that we produce many good thoughts every day.”

According to Mark Twain “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” Forgiving the self produces that fragrance that spreads in every cell of the body to transform the body, mind the spirit to an entirely new world of engagement with an excellent inner re-engineering.

Let us learn to forgive ourselves!