Thursday, October 14, 2010

Beyond Guilt and Shame

"When people forgive themselves, we sense their merger with something big and beyond us; then it is we, who feel shut out and betrayed... forgiveness can provoke jealousy and anger... Forgivers have found the way to peace, while the rest of us watch in confusion, anger or envy." Forgiving Yourself by Beverly Flannigan

Writing further on the essential subject of self-forgiveness, Beverly Flannigan takes up the discussion of what is it in a life when fundamental assumptions about ones self are shattered? What occurs to the one who suddenly is confronted with a reality both different and less than the one which he previously owned? While "retaliation and revenge are an option, forgiveness of our self and others is another option."

Forgiving is a signal to yourself and others that you have learned, that you are once more engaged in the activity of life. It requires a braveness to step forward again with new knowledge and clarity into what is never to be fully known, that is life itself, and move forward. Is not mercy and a portion of justice important both personally and in our society? May it first begin with your self.

Often in our life, we meet with traumatic experiences, experiences which shatter what we previously thought or believed about ourselves. In the bright light of loss of face, the loss of self-respect, we may be plunged into self doubt and shame. When people begin to question their former assumptions about the world, spirituality, their colleagues, family, them self and others, what may have been assumed is now set into turmoil.

If for example, a person "lies, cheats, physically harms, or betrays others, these behaviors may not, at least initially, destroy the perpetrator's assumptions." Assumptions such as: I'm a good person--even though I cheat sometimes;they deserve it; I'm only working for my best... so I have to betray those with what I know; I live in a world where others accept my flaws, but that's because there is something wrong with them."

And when a person causes harm that remains and is injurious, that person perpetrates something which brings their previous assumptions into sharp focus. "An unforgiven wrong-doer is faced with a new set of assumptions," writes Flannigan. "Additionally they are responsible for destroying the very beliefs which held their world together... They now face the new idea that they may not have been a "good person" at all. And others do not unconditionally condone or accept their behavior," in spite of recognition of the transgressor's flaws. Nor can others be forced, or necessarily convinced, to continue in relation as before. The situation ruptures. Sometimes an apology must occur, sometimes, something more is required.

The injurer, for the first time likely, realizes that "other people do not have to condone their injurious actions, and that it is not they who have "now rendered the world less benevolent than it was, it's me." People are often shocked to find that there are limits. In civil society, there is a rhythm, an order which must be attended to; when one harms others, the injured begin to question themselves and what they formerly assumed.

Finally it is the injurer, along with the injured who will have to, like the victim, if they care about what they have done to permanently damage their own belief system, to build again, a new way and a new set of beliefs.

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