Thursday, July 28, 2011

Transformation and Self-Forgiveness

"You cannot forgive yourself until you commit yourself to personal change."  Forgiving Yourself by Beverly Flannigan

Both books written by Beverly Flannigan, Forgiving the Unforgivable and Forgiving Yourself, are two of the most helpful books I've encountered on this pithy subject.
Not only does the author assist the reader in identifying the possible wrong doings, harm and hurt they perpetrate to others, but she offers her readers a critical self assessment to engage in the journey back from ill by those same wrong doers.
In another tradition, one would say that the self-forgiven as Flannigan describes it are those who have taken the hard step of self inquiry and recognized themselves in truth; they wake up to what they do.

We all experience moments of bad, terrible, even perilous judgments that result in harm, sometimes irreparable harm to others. And we may be the cause, the prime element, of that harm. Now some suffer, some may even be dead.
Can we forgive our self for what we do wrong? Accidentally, unintentional or not, the harm is there and cannot be easily removed or retracted. For those who succeed and move on in their lives, change, vast changes are necessary.
Transformation is the name of one of the final chapters of Flannigan's book, Forgiving Yourself.

"Transformation is the subject of countless novels, treatises, movies and textbooks. In a sense, philosophy, psychology and theology all address the essential nature of human beings, and how or if a human being can change fundamentally.
She writes that when people are transformed, they change in a most fundamental way; they in a sense, recreate themselves. Some feel re-born, a newness that their now long struggled for clarity now brings to their daily life.
When one forgives others, one engages in a process that finally admits light to one's own life: now able to see other's limits, weaknesses and faults, they move from unawareness to clarity regarding injury inflicted by others:
 "incorporating that injury into his life" story and no longer blaming nor considering oneself injured; changed--one who is blinded by emotions, wishes and desires to one who now sees the world as it is; they accept change, and a number of its alternate scenarios.

Though similar, self-forgiveness is different in that one struggles with one's own mistakes, faults and weaknesses, gains insight and clarity of one's real, true nature and motives; realizing that everyone is flawed or weak in some way, all exist despite being in a perpetual state of imperfection.
Feeling a guilt which holds one in a recurring pattern, as if imprisoned to face their actions over and over again, genuine self-forgiveness produces someone who no longer hates, feels ashamed or guilty about them self because they now use the self knowledge gained through transformation to set their new course in life. Some who were not spiritually aware of their essential inter-connectedness to others becomes one who now recognizes their essential spiritual interconnectedness to others and to their community.
In any case, transformation requires a relentless, intensive search for truth in all situations, "a continuing undiluted confrontation with truth." It is finally by this means alone that one may forgive them self.

The result of this forgiveness may be a partial or complete re-working of one's values and priorities; what one once believed,  spent time, engaged, valued, ones' associates may all come under scrutiny as the natural course of the transforming process.
For the one who under takes such a task, a new vitality and joy is rightly his reward. Now 'older and wiser,' a person invariably reunites with his human, spiritual community through use of effective, appropriate coping strategies which do no further harm to himself or others; by transforming his life's basic assumptions, by engaging in purification rituals one reconnects with other people, and spiritual activities. Flannigan paraphrased, p. 149

Flannigan further identifies five significant coping strategies often used to reduce life stresses, most of which while potentially beneficial may also be used in a weapon-like way for harm.
Apologies and confessions may at first notice seem quite similar, they have a fundamental difference: apologies are the glue that reconnects most things in life. But they also have the effect giving the authority of acceptance or rejection to another. For this reason, many people refuse to apologize for their mistakes.
They are willing to engage in harm and walk away rather than face another's scathing recriminations or outright rejection.

On the other hand confessions "allows another person to see one's deepest flaws." An apology acknowledges flaws to people who already know about them.
A confession bares one's limitations; it's  in the spirit of forgiving, part of the way to transformation, thus apologies are a necessary first step.
Taking the risk that the offended may not receive our words or gestures well, we do it anyway with the hope of reconnecting. Humility then is at the core of apologies, a recognition of our basic lack of perfection, our clumsy, faulted ways. Apologies "whether directed at another or spoken to a surrogate, open communication" with primarily one's self and potentially with others is the way to transformation.

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