The Way of Self-Forgiveness

October 19, 2012 – The Jewish High Holy Days ended recently culminating with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It therefore occurs to me that a discussion of the concept of forgiveness – whether asking forgiveness of others or self-forgiveness – would be in order.

Actually the concepts of forgiveness from others and self-forgiveness are related. For before asking forgiveness of others, we need to learn to forgive ourselves. Forgiving ourselves gives us peace of mind, which in turn helps us stop holding ourselves back from being fully engaged in life due to self-recriminations over the past. So let’s consider the Way of Self-Forgiveness as a means to help ourselves move forward and live our lives to our fullest capabilities. We’ll use the term “Action” to denote both the commissions and omissions for which we haven’t yet forgiven ourselves.

There are 4 stages to self-forgiveness encompassed by 4 questions:

1. What was our Action for which we are seeking forgiveness?

2. What led us to take that Action – that is, what benefit were we seeking?

3. Did we achieve/realize that benefit?

4. In retrospect, are we proud of that Action, i.e., would we do it again?

Forgiveness, to be meaningful, must encompass not merely the specific Action in question, but also all similar, possible, future actions. That is, forgiveness must engender a belief that the Action will not be repeated in the future. So when seeking forgiveness – even from ourselves – we are not merely addressing one specific past Action; rather we are undertaking not to repeat the Action.

The concept of forgiveness presumes, therefore, that we can change. To fully grasp how we can change, we must understand what propelled us, in the first instance, to take the Action. There is a fine line between rationalizing and justifying an action on the one hand, and understanding how we could have taken the action on the other hand – that is, the distinction between defending an action versus understanding the context of the action.

Once we understand the context we can begin the stages of self-forgiveness.

Cognitive psychology and the principles of coaching posit that we take actions to satisfy our feelings and our feelings arise from our thoughts. It is necessary, therefore, to understand the thoughts which gave rise to the feelings which in turn led to the action.

Now, our thoughts can be conceived as having two levels: The lower level thought is the specific thought which gave rise to the feeling which we intended our Action to appease. The higher level thought can be described as our value system, that is our parameters of acceptable behavior which are based on our value system. This defines WHO we are.

So, the lower level thought “I want to be happy” would give rise to the feeling “I feel unhappy” which in turn would propel us to take an action (“this act will bring me happiness”). We choose the specific action based on our determination that the action will likely satisfy our feelings. We also choose the specific action from among the actions which we deem permissible based on our value system, that is our higher thought. This is the full integration of our higher and lower thoughts.

Often, after the deep contemplation necessary to seek and achieve self-forgiveness, we realize that the Action we are really seeking forgiveness for is not merely the specific action; rather, the Action which is the object of our self-forgiveness is our abandoning or otherwise betraying our value system – our higher thought. For example, a misplaced value might be the ultimate cause of a decision to take an action. This is the real challenge in self-forgiveness. We are not just seeking forgiveness of a solitary action. We are seeking forgiveness for betraying our WHO – the essence of who we are which is based in no small respect on our value system. When we betray our WHO, we lose our moral compass. We lose sight of our true north. And without that we are truly lost, for we are then no longer living as the cause of our lives. To live as the cause of our lives, we must live in line with our higher thoughts – our value systems.

Self-forgiveness begins with acknowledging the betrayal or abandonment of our value system. Once we realize that remaining true to our value system far surpasses the benefits derived from any specific action, then we can pave the way towards reinforcing value. By reinforcing value, we concretize our resolve of not repeating the Action and thereby undertake to adopt thoughts which will lead ultimately to different actions. Doing so, fulfills our moral imperative of fully integrating of our higher and lower thoughts. This then is the Way of Self-Forgiveness.

Following the Way of Self-Forgiveness can help us shift our mindsets, stay true to our higher thoughts, get over our past, and live our lives fully engaged in the present.

Consider then Create the Possibilities.

Adam J. Krim                                                                                               

About Adam J. Krim

Adam works as a Certified Professional Coach, delivering soft skills training seminars on a variety of topics, including Time Management, Harnessing Stress, Decision Making, Problem Solving and more.
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