An Anger Antidote: Forgive YourselfApril 12, 2012 10:50 pm Life and Work
Have you ever gotten angry, really angry at something that happened to you or something that you did? I have, and sometimes the anger is so strong that I could barely control myself. When I was young, I couldn’t even do that. I would shout, scream, kick objects, and even punch the walls with my bare fist. As I become more matured, I realized it was stupid of me to hurt myself or my surroundings over sometimes very trivial things. Nothing would have changed for the better. Thankfully this loss of control did not happen often.
Note: I focus on anger, but this post could be about any strong negative emotion about oneself or another, like shame or hate. And the method I use to handle anger works for those other emotions as well.
Anger is a strong emotion. It comes abruptly and overwhelmingly. And most of the time, unless reign in, it results in damage to oneself or others. Anger is not a “bad” emotion, it just “is”. How you react to anger determines whether you or others are hurt.
Anger changes with your age. When young, my anger was directed outwards; I was angry at others. It was the fault of others, they caused it. Or it was the environment, misfortune, the fates conspiring against me. It was never my fault, never my responsibility. As I matured, the anger turned inward; I was angry at myself. It was my fault, I was responsible. I trusted others blindly, I didn’t plan for the unexpected, or I was too weak and powerless.
When I got tired of beating myself over and over, I learned to forgive myself. To accept that I was an imperfect human, that there was no blame, and that I can only strive to do better. That was the key to handling and dissipating the anger. If you can truly forgive yourself, you will realize that you have come to accept yourself. Acceptance without blame and forgiveness without anger are two parts of the whole. Eventually acceptance will lead you to find that you really like who you are. Once you can honestly forgive yourself, you will discover that you can accept and forgive others.
Many of you may respond that you have always been able to forgive others. In the past, I would have claimed that same. However, when I think back, I realize that it was more of a judgmental and patronizing forgiveness with repressed anger. You have done wrong, but I forgive you. Would you believe such a statement if you said it to yourself? Does it feel like true forgiveness, with acceptance, without blame, without repressed anger? After forgiving someone or yourself, do you feel the release of something heavy (experience a lightness of being) or do you harbor a bit of resentment (he got off easy)? The former is a sign of true forgiveness.
Growing up, I was taught to forgive others without being taught to forgive myself. Somehow, the adults assumed that I would figure out how to do the latter myself. Geez, leave it to the kid to figure out the more difficult part. By nature, we think the best of ourselves. It’s obvious that we are not to be blamed. It is hard to admit that we have wronged someone and to apologize, especially if we hate that person. We are especially hard on ourselves when we think we are perfect. It is not easy to forgive ourselves. But if we never learn to forgive ourselves, how can we forgive others?
With practice, I have learned to forgive myself quickly. Immediate forgiveness is required to avoid accumulating more emotional baggage. I still take responsibility, but don’t blame myself. I even forgive myself for getting angry or irritated at the actions of myself and others. When a car cuts me off on the freeway, I forgive myself for that quick flash of anger and the urge to retaliate. I forgive the action. Maybe the other person is in a hurry due to an emergency. Or maybe it’s just a not-paying-attention boneheaded move, which I am also guilty of doing in the past. If I can’t forgive the other person, how can I forgive myself for doing the same thing?
It turns out that forgiveness is the method for clearing out regrets, mental mass from the past. Regrets are past incidences where we have not forgiven ourselves or others. Most likely, we or someone had somehow violated our own internal code of conduct. These incidences are unresolved and still contain emotions such as repressed anger. They have the energy to return to haunt us continually, like heavy chains wrapped around our very being.
To clear that past junk, revisit the regrets and forgive yourself for the anger you feel. Forgive yourself for the past decisions which you believe are mistakes (decisions might only become “bad” in hindsight) and forgive the actions of others that may have hurt you. Accept and eliminate all blame. Finally, forgive yourself for having past regrets and for beating yourself over and over with those regrets through the years.
Forgiveness works for other emotions than anger. Supposed that my coworker, who is my good friend, is promoted to a level above me. It’s natural (at least for me) to feel a bit jealous and resentful. I try to quickly forgive myself for feeling jealous and resentful (without blame or shame), so that I can move on to be truly happy for my friend. Wouldn’t you want your friend to do the same when you are promoted?
We are emotional humans and thus, very imperfect and irrational. We have done and will do stupid things, sometimes immoral things, and we may intentionally or unintentionally hurt others. Forgive yourself, forgive others, accept, take responsibility, and promise to do better. That is the best that we can do.