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Forgiveness, Self-Image, and Rectification

There comes a point as we’re growing up where we all learn that just saying “I’m sorry” isn’t good enough. At that point, we are seeking forgiveness for our actions, which is very much centered outside of ourselves and beyond our direct control. This need for forgiveness may be sought from our parents, our siblings, or our community. As we go forward and deal with more of the things that life throws at us, things that can also relate back to blame, shame, and guilt or reacting from a place of fear rather than love, there’s always a need for the principle of forgiveness. But for forgiveness to be effective, it must first and foremost not originate from outside ourselves, it must come from within ourselves. And that process goes from recognizing that we need forgiveness, addressing the illusions around our own sense of self, and then beginning the process of rectification with those outside of ourselves.

When we talk about forgiveness, it is usually in the context of forgiving others. Yet, that never addresses the feelings and hurt that we may be feeling inside ourselves, especially when the situation is something that we feel righteous about. For forgiveness to be effective in healing, it has to start within the self before it can be offered to those outside of ourselves. This requires us to see our feelings for what they are, even if the feeling is in a context that would present us in a bad light.

Such feelings may conflict with how we perceive ourselves. One of the biggest issues we have to address is recognizing and dealing with the fact that we are experiencing this expression, and that it may not match our own sense of who we are. The idea that we may want to see harm/suffering in another person goes counter to our own self-image. So the goal of getting recognition of our pain from them may be left unfulfilled. We have the greatest power to change this by forgiving ourselves first. This allows us to be able to move forward even if the people around us are not capable of providing that emotional recognition of our feelings and needs that were not met. At which point, once we are able to acknowledge these things, we move into the acts of atonement and amendment, which require actual actions to rectify the situation. This is when we shift focus from within ourselves to the outside world and we find ourselves back at the statement “sorry isn’t good enough.” The act of rectification is the a necessary steps of “doing” versus “saying.” Many of the struggles we face everyday, as well as in the greater context of our society and the world, can be addressed by first recognizing the forgiveness that must occur within ourselves, then extending it outwardly, so that the outward expression is reflective of the inward expression. 

An example is when a child breaks a vase. That vase, to the child, is just an object. To the parent, it may have been a gift from a loved one who has passed or maybe the first item they bought with their own money when they moved out on their own. The sentimentality of the object is greater for the parent, and causes them to lash out at the child. The child says “I’m sorry.” And as far as the child is aware, they mean what they say. And yet the parent will attempt to blame, shame, and guilt the child because the parent is acting from a place of reaction and their own hurt. Forgiving the child for the accident may not come across their mind. The fact of the parent’s hurt makes the apology from the child not sufficient. It is assumed in this scenario that the child must make an apology and ask for forgiveness. It is the parent who must practice forgiveness, as they watch the child pout, cry, or become distant. The parent must say “I forgive myself for being angry at my child who didn’t know what this meant to me.” The self-image the parent is under, is that the child’s understanding of the world and experiences would recognize the sentimentality this object holds for the parent or that the child’s action was due to malicious intent. The feeling that they are a bad parent because they shouted at their child perpetuates the blame, shame, guilt, and hurt feelings that create distance in the relationship. By recognizing the hurt that they felt, and acknowledging that they lost their temper, this provides the opportunity for healing and actual forgiveness for their moment of not being a parent, but being a person. The rectification comes by taking the child aside, explaining what was important to them about the vase. Then the parent ideally should spend time with the child to connect, and have fun, and honor their relationship as being as important as the vase. This example, while simplified, is necessary on larger levels from the disagreements between siblings, to couples, and ultimately, to our greater society. 

Harm is done due to the difficulties associated with blame, shame, and guilt, plus the reactions of fear, all which work to protect the ego. Uncovering and processing these experiences is part of improving our well-being, and part of a deeper practice of mental health. Seeking out help with this is part of moving forward in life. The act of seeking help is, in its own way, an act of forgiveness.