Saturday, January 7, 2012

Finally Forgiving Yourself

In the last several months - years really - I have encountered people in my close circle of friends and family who can't seem to get rid of a chip on their shoulder. More often it is not so much a chip, more like "the chains they forged in life" like Jacob Marley's character in Scrooge.

I have borne witness to how much this can gnaw at them day after day, month after month, and year after year.

The guilt is most often about a certain set of events in the past which they wish they could go back and act out differently.

Sometimes the guilt is deserved - they really did act terribly, hurting not only themselves but others in the process.

And sometimes the guilt is absolutely false. It was not their fault for a terrible thing that happened. These people have almost taken on guilt as a personality trait, like good-humour or kindness or impatience. There's been times I've taken this on.

Regardless of whether the personal sense of guilt is deserved or false, the remedy is the same and is available to all - self forgiveness.

If the guilt is real, if I have harmed someone by my words or actions, it is my responsibility to attempt to contact the person(s) I wronged and admit my wrongdoing. They may accept my words, they may not. And sometimes it does more harm than good to contact them at all.

And then the "perpetrator" must take up the task of giving up personal guilt and regret. This could take a lot of professional therapy.

It's almost a certainty that those with a long history of false guilt will need a good professional therapist as well.

Sometimes people who are religious find much comfort and redemption in their particular faith. I realize this. But even for many of these people, this is not enough. For instance, they may say, "God has forgiven me, but I can never forgive myself for what I've done."

Now, the question will be asked: "What about murderers and molesters and Osama bin Laden? What do you do with them?"

My first answer is that we have a justice system for a reason, and society needs to be protected from people who are obviously ill and could very well cause pain again.

But simply locking up criminals in prison for 25 years and leaving them there does little but cost the taxpayer an exorbitant amount of money.

Let me say this for the first time during this article: Every human being should be treated with kindness and respect. This applies to Paul Bernardo, Russell Williams, and Moammar Khaddafi. I've heard people say: "Lock 'em up and throw away the key!" or even "I wish I could be the one to pull the switch!" Where does this get us as a society? Let me quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr:

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. The chain reaction of evil………must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

Here's another quote, by Mahatma Gandhi:  “If we practice an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, soon the whole world will be blind and toothless."

So what do we do? FORGIVE. Perhaps you are like me and have read remarkable stories in the newspaper of parents of murdered children who have gone as far as to visit the murderer in prison, forgive him/her and sometimes even befriend them.

One of my mantras is: Each human being is Loved and Lovable. I wish I could convey that to those who have experienced "real" guilt and false guilt.

This is a personal choice that must me made, and some never make it. They take their guilt and crippling regret to their grave. My friend, I don't want that to be you. Find a way - personally or with a professional - to take those chains off and start anew.

Every human being should be treated with kindness and respect. Learn to let your guilt go and treat yourself in this way.