In the psychological realm, there is, generally speaking, the self and the other. There are also objects, which matter less in this context aside from the symbolism that occurs when we use them in conjunction with specific actions. The focus in this article will be on the self and other. The core concept is forgiveness. This notion seems to be of paramount importance right now in many social circles. It seems that we need to be able to forgive ourselves and others for our and their shortcomings more quickly.
From a place of forgiveness, we can rest on a bedrock of confidence where we can question ourselves, our motives and our values. It is from this bedrock that we can build a secure house for action - for moving forthrightly into the world.
This introduction would not be complete without mentioning the platitude that goes something like; the highway to hell is paved with good intentions, or we judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions. Plans are of critical importance but only when we can live in our truth enough to enact them in the physical domain. After all, if I intend to do charitable work and all I do is lie, cheat and steal, then I am certainly not in alignment with my so-called values.
Now, this journey, like all essential undertakings in life is not easy, fun or straightforward. We need to be honest enough with ourselves to shine the light of awareness onto the dark spots within. There is a quote that has been attributed to several different people, but it goes something like this "What you most want to find will be found where you least want to look." [JBP] So in that light, let us embark on this conquest.
The Importance of Forgiveness
When we have our heads in the weeds of the day to day, we certainly miss the big picture and often many of the fine details because when we are intently focused on one small aspect of our lives, there is an inherent narrowing of our conscious awareness. Because of this, we need to learn to step back and see things for what they are. Most common situations in life involve a relationship in some form, colleague, friend, relative, lover, etc. If either person is blaming the other, this is wrong. Any time two humans interact on any level, it is a union, a mixture of the two personalities.
“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” - C.G. Jung
It is never the “fault” of one person. We can learn to see our shortcomings and insecurities. We can then separate them from the projections that others have upon us. Then we can understand that our weaknesses and vulnerabilities arise from a self-pressure that we impart under the perceived expectations of others. It is often useful to think of the other person as a mirror. If we generally get adverse reactions from others, perhaps it is us and not them.
We should be aware of how we generally operate in the domain of life. We behave based on our perceptions of how others think of us. This concept is to say, we make choices, based on what we think others will think of us. This mental construct is a little bit crazy if we contemplate it. We have to project our mind space, into the head of another - which is impossible - we then model how we think that they will perceive our action. Is it not easier to accept ourselves for who we are unconditionally and not worry about the people who stay or leave our lives?
In psychotherapy, there is a conventional technique of imagining a younger self. We can bring ourselves back to a day before some trauma that happened in our lives. If we can imagine vividly enough, we can even have a conversation with that younger person. We can think and feel the way they did. If we can get to this younger self, we can realize that they were a person who was our most dependable friend. There was never any negative, self-limiting, doubt, bitter or resentful thoughts. They were the one who loved us for who we were. They were the ones that had joy, for the sake of wonder. The challenge here is, can we fully let go of the expectations of others so that we might no longer have that negative voice that always highlights why we are not enough? Can we realize that we are enough without counting any of our trials, tribulations or triumphs?
“Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.” [JBP]
There is a debate as to how much our inner landscape can affect the outer world. Some people believe that:
“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” - Napoleon Hill
That screams free will. There are folks on the other end of the spectrum in the realm of fatalism or determinism. Those are the ideas that everything is pre-determined and that we are merely just little impulse machines. It is likely that neither of these is correct. Like with many things in life, it is probably a balance. There is no free will, but things are not determined, or in the words of Nietzsche there is no free will, but merely strong or weak will and here is why:
“Therefore, just as sensations (and indeed many kinds of sensations) are to be recognized as ingredients of the will, so, in the second place, thinking is also to be recognized; in every act of the will there is a ruling thought; - and let us not imagine it possible to sever this thought from the “willing,” as if the will would then remain over! In the third place, the will is not only a complex of sensation and thinking, but it is above all an EMOTION, and in fact the emotion of the command. That which is termed “freedom of will” is essentially the emotion of supremacy in respect to him who must obey: “I am free, ‘he’ must obey” - this consciousness is inherent in every will; and equally so in the straining of the attention, the straight look which fixes itself exclusively on one thing, the unconditional judgement that “this and nothing else is necessary now,” the inward certainty that obedience will be rendered - and whatever else pertains to the position of the commander. A man who WILLS commands something within himself which renders obedience, or which he believes renders obedience.” - Friedrich Nietzsche
Where does all of this fit into self-forgiveness we might ask? This concept is the very crux of being able to forgive oneself. If for whatever reason, we are too attached to the notion that we cannot be forgiven for who we are or what we have, then, in fact, we cannot be. If however, on the other hand, we realize that we play some part, albeit potentially small, we can move toward forgiveness. When we recognize the paramount importance of this forgiveness, especially toward ourselves, we can provide an internal driving force toward that goal.
We can now shift from the idea of forgiving, toward what needs to be overlooked. To be able to hit a target, we need to know what the starting point is and how the mark looks. Then we can establish a plan of attack.
To start, perhaps there is a notion rooted in something like original sin. This postulate is the idea that we as humans are all perfectly flawed (have some sin). In an era of perceptually perfect people, our notion of reality has largely become distorted. When did we ever pick up the idea of “perfect”? What is meant by “perfect”? If we look up the definition, it alludes to “as good as it is possible to be.” It seems as though we have convoluted that into a concept of existing without any flaws. This mental construct can never be the case with the human experience.
So, if we can see that we are lost within the forest of our emotions and flaws, what is it that we are to do? The first and foremost thing we can do is “Treat yourself as if you were someone that you are responsible for helping.” [JBP] This is the idea that somewhere deep inside of us, we don’t feel that we deserve the best treatment (mentally and physically) possible. Take for example going to the gym. If we thought that we deserve the best, we would go to the gym regularly. The results of the gym are numerous and positive. However, because in the back of our mind we don’t feel that we deserve the best, we let that slide. Jordan Peterson makes a powerful example of this in his book; he talks about when our pet is sick. If we go to the vet and the animal needs medicine, we are sure to give it the proper dose daily without forgetting. If on the other hand, we go to the doctor because we are sick, we will not dose ourselves appropriately. His postulate is that because we genuinely don’t look at ourselves as beings with high value - because we see the entirety of our horrible inner landscape - that we ascribe to ourselves a bit lower sense of self-worth.
Now as a part of facing these inner shadows, several essential words come to mind. Let us, for now, focus on truth and awareness. We should try to “Act so that [we] can tell the truth about how [we] act.” [JBP] If we do not live up to this standard that we set for ourselves, we must forgive enough, to tell the truth in spite of not wanting to expose our actions. This concept ties back into the earlier notion of us acting to create some idea in the head of another person hopefully. If we let go of that, the truth becomes more comfortable because there is no expectation there. This point is a good lead into the concept that we are not able to control the way others think, or feel toward us. We can guide their thought pattern, but deep down they are the ones who decide. This aspect can also be tied back to the discussion about free will.
We can't change the way other people think and feel about us. We can only accept it and continue with the flow of life. We can choose to focus on the positive aspects of the time that was had during the interaction or relationship. All interactions are impermanent, either growing or dying. The only constant is change. The only person we can change is ourselves.
It is important to note, as we work on ourselves that we realize we are terrible communicators. The critical aspect here is that if we are horrible at communicating our thoughts, and emotions, then others will be as well. We must realize that it is tough to act appropriately when our feedback is distorted at best. Mixed signals are never accessible. When the other gives positively reinforcing feedback when the situation in their mind is not favorable, things get messy. The most important thing that we can do is “Do not hide unwanted things in the fog.” [JBP] We cannot help others to be more truthful, but by being accurate, honest and forgiving to ourselves, we can lead by example. This action will also tend to bring more of those people into our lives.
With all of this talk about being more truthful, accepting and forgiving, we must recognize that we will encounter a double bind. It is constant work to live more in alignment with ourselves, to be gentler and more forgiving in our inner dialogue. However, at some point, we will discover, that there is a part of us that will not accept or forgive. This aspect is the case no matter what we try to do. This notion is the judgemental part of the ego. No matter what we do, we will be wrong by way of this part of us. So then, the ultimate act of acceptance and self-forgiveness is to be able to accept the part of us that does not accept. When we get to this point, we can start accepting and forgiving others.
Forgiveness of Others
Once we have fully forgiven ourselves, it is time to start applying this mental process to others. If we can get into the mindset that whatever we let go about ourselves and how we did that should be no different than how we approach others, we are already at a good starting point. Once we fully accept that we are perfectly flawed, we create space in our mental landscape to let someone else in under the same pretense. Once we let one person in under the unconditional love that we are, we can slowly add others.
Of course, we must be careful here as any time we become vulnerable with another - which this scenario mandates such a situation - then we are opening ourselves up for pain. We must realize that this is the natural course of things. Everything exists in unity; this is to say, we cannot have pleasure without pain, love without indifference, dark without light, etc. We need to know one to know the other. The point here is that we should go out into the world, let people in, but be cautious and discriminatory. We must be the keeper of our solidarity until we find someone else who is as committed to that solidarity as we are.
Keep in mind that we should be quick to question ourselves and forgive others. This all ties back into intentions. Most people don’t “intend” on being selfish, but they are. Most people don’t “intend” to be hurtful, but they are. So if we can look at others through this lens, we can give some space for them to mess up, recognize that they have and to come back around. To be successful at this, we must “Make friends with people who want the best for [us].” [JBP] We must also be willing to forgive those who do not want the best for us and move on.
Now, we should examine the flip side of the coin to see what happens if we are not able to forgive others. This dark side is the pathway to living a bitter, resentful and perhaps arrogant life. “Do not allow yourself to become arrogant or resentful.” [JBP] We become angry and resentful when we harbor expectations for others, and they do not meet them.
The sad part is that most times when we have these expectations, we do not express or communicate them. This lack of communication will set up the situation for failure from the beginning. I’ve spoken with people who are having issues with relationships. They say, “Yeah, they are doing this or that, and I’m not happy with it.” My first question is “Have you talked to them about it? If not, why?” Most of the time it is out of fear of making the other person angry, or sad. It is critical to note that by not expressing this the two people are on a different wavelength, or think of it as being on different floors of a building. We can yell all that we want from the other level, but the other person will likely misinterpret what it is that we are trying to say.
If we want to be sure to try not become bitter, resentful or arrogant, we should stay humble and curious. A great reminder of that is something like “Remember that what you do not yet know is more important than what you already know.” [JBP]
Why is it so hard for us to forgive either ourselves or others? We live with a thing called ego. This segment is the headstrong part of us, the thinker, the analyst, the critic, the cynic. If we do not take the time to sit alone and become still, we will never see the separation between the ego, and the self. Within us, there is the experience and the experiencer. The experience is constantly changing, shifting and inherently chaotic. The experiencer is the stillness, the continuity that has been there all along. It is our life’s work to realize that deep within us there is a stillness. Think of it as a stormy ocean. Even when the storm is raging on the surface, deep below the sea is calm and still. There is that stillness within us.
We can walk this path toward forgiveness, and it will give us great ease. We must start with learning about who we are both as an individual and our place within the psychologically constructed society. These are the strong forces that drive our decisions. We must also recognize that what has happened to us in our past does not define us. It is a tool for our learning. We can choose to forgive ourselves for what we hold onto and others for what they have done to us. This action is the first step away from being a victim. Once we have fully accepted this treacherous internal landscape and have learned to leverage our strengths, we are ready for the second portion.
We can then step into the world, fully ready to take on whatever life throws at us. We must realize that life is chaos; it is a series of problems. That is okay. Once we do the internal work, we are ready to face those challenges. We must take note as well that most of the inner work happens as a result of outer experience. It is essential to make time for oneself but to also move forthrightly into the world - they are our teachers, our mirrors, our mentors. We cannot go it alone. This dichotomy necessitates the next step, that is the forgiveness of others.
If we do not forgive others, we will inevitably become at least bitter and resentful. This approach is the recipe for a lonely and angry life. Only we have the power to see others being just as perfectly flawed as we are. Once we accept the flaws in others, it will help us to recognize the flaws within ourselves. We will find those who love us unconditionally for who we are, and who we are not. We must keep an open mind and heart.
“Always remember to not believe the things [that] you tell yourself in moments of insecurity or self-doubt. You are so loved. And you are so worthy of that love. Don't define yourself by those who don't want to care. Look at yourself through the eyes of those who do care” - Erin F