Why is this?
The issue of forgiveness can refer to both the forgiveness that is asked for and the forgiveness that is given. In the case of self-forgiveness, one and the same person is responsible for both.
It may seem a little strange to imagine a situation where we would have to apologize to ourselves, but the idea is not so absurd. We all commit an act that is detrimental to our mental health, physical and moral well-being, and we do so knowingly. What do we do in these situations? Most of us probably move on, sometimes learning our lesson, sometimes not. But what happens to the moral charge contained in the wound we have – intentionally or not – inflicted on ourselves?
It is often forgotten, buried in the depths of a memory that we rarely visit! We could even talk about repression, if the injury we have done to ourselves has traumatized us.
But in the end, why talk about trauma in a context where we have created our own pitfalls and where we have deliberately sabotaged our own well-being?
First of all, because we do not necessarily need others to experience a traumatic situation: it is quite possible, today, to undergo a great emotional shock through the media and cinematographic content that is proposed to us all day long. A violent film, a shocking image, a pornographic video or even the revelation of a lie or a betrayal by a friend through social networks, are all micro-traumas (and sometimes even much deeper traumas), which, added together, can end up weakening and making a person vulnerable.
Secondly, because we are quite capable of voluntarily putting ourselves in traumatic situations: this is what happens when we are in a state of shock, i.e. when we have experienced a trauma from which we have not yet been able to recover, when our psyche is as if frozen, absent of itself, and we are then unable to make the link between our different emotions to understand that a certain situation does not suit us. This state of stupefaction can then generate repetitive endangerments: we are no longer able to tell if something is good or bad for us, because our emotional barometer is altered. Our psyche is in fact totally blocked: suffering is put on the back burner, it is the way we have found to protect ourselves from it. This is why, when we live with an untreated trauma, we can sometimes be dangerous for ourselves: indeed, we are more likely to encounter new potentially traumatic situations, because, unlike people whose psyche has not suffered a shock, our evaluation of danger could be altered.
Finally, because the definition of trauma is the momentary impossibility of assimilating a disturbing event, which means that our psychic apparatus will remain occupied by this trauma long after it has been experienced. It is indeed possible that it tries to understand what happened to it, which requires energy and literally makes our neuronal connections work. In its quest for understanding, our psychic apparatus could therefore be attracted by situations with the same traumatic potential as those it has already experienced, not because it has acquired a taste for them, but because it is trying to assimilate, to understand the trauma of which it has been the victim, which is a means of regaining the upper hand over what has been imposed on it. One of the reasons why all this takes time is precisely the fact that a certain number of traumas, in particular sexual ones, require a certain psychic maturity to be assimilated and supported. Experiencing a trauma the first time could therefore lead us to risk repeating it several times until it is understood.
Now that we agree that trauma can act long after it has occurred and cause collateral damage, it is interesting to link the ability to forgive oneself to the recovery and resilience needed to recover from trauma. Let’s remember that we were talking about moral load earlier: after inflicting a wound on ourselves, we tend to move on without reflecting on the emotional consequences and the feelings provoked in us. This means that we would somehow allow an emotional residue, that of the injury, the power to act and reappear in us at times when we do not expect it. What is originally a moment of temporary shame, brief fright, surprise or shock, and which may seem insignificant in our minds, is then likely, in addition to other elements, to become the master of the game in our own house and to exert an influence on the image that we have of ourselves.
Here is the interest of practicing the art of forgiveness: to forgive oneself one’s own mistakes is to be able to recontextualize them in a space and in a temporality, and thus in a certain way, it is to set limits, mental dams to the consequences of one’s mistakes. “I recognize my mistakes for what they are, no more and no less, I am able to meditate on them and learn from them, without letting them invade all areas of my existence; I transform myself into a being capable of responsibility rather than guilt.”
If, on the other hand, we are concerned about the consequences of our mistakes and we easily feel guilty, it is in our best interest to learn to forgive ourselves, because guilt calls for mistakes, just as the state of dumbfoundedness puts us at risk for potentially traumatic situations. For those who easily feel guilty as well as for those who are aware of frequently putting themselves in danger, this is not a reproach nor an exhortation to do more or better. These mechanisms protect you and sometimes defend you from emotions and psychological states that are difficult to bear. The challenge is not to learn in one day to grant absolution, but rather to find our way to that inner strength that allows us to look with a kind eye at our vulnerability, to accept and love ourselves even in our weaknesses.
Why do people who are at peace with themselves appear strong? Perhaps because the strength they carry within themselves and have agreed to acknowledge and reveal to the world is the mark of a power of love rather than a power of will. Love accepts the mistakes of the past, is intoxicated by the present and looks forward to the future with peace of mind, whereas the will is sometimes at war with the past and worried about the future, dissatisfied with the reality that the present can offer. In concrete terms, forgiving oneself means deciding that the joy of what can be counts more than the unhappiness of what is no longer. In the same way that forgiving someone who has hurt us sometimes requires all the strength of our being, forgiving ourselves is one of the most difficult tests because it requires from us, not what we give in to easily – brute force, inflexibility, determination -, but what we most often struggle to let be born in ourselves – gentleness, openness, trust -. The force of will is useful and very important for many situations in life; but the Heart has healing powers, it resurrects life where it had deserted and gives free rein to Joy.
How does it work?
- Feeling vulnerable after a micro-trauma is normal; although society increasingly gives the impression that violence, by dint of being omnipresent, is integrated and is no longer as shocking, numerous studies in cognitive and clinical psychology show, on the contrary, that people undergo traumas and sometimes even become accustomed to violent behaviors, whether they are victims or responsible for them. The images and messages conveyed by some cinema, television and pornography are not intended to represent reality: their objective is to “entertain”, to make a spectacle and represent only a certain type of societal fantasy, which is not intended to become yours.
- It is also normal to experience a state of shock after a trauma. It is therefore important not to rush this psychological organization and it is highly recommended to get help from a psychologist, who will have the tools to help you carefully untangle your feelings.
- Seeking to repeat a trauma that you have experienced in order to understand it is also normal and common: there is no reason to feel guilty about it. Your whole life is made up of regressions and leaps forward; it is normal that your psyche does not always follow and it is necessary to give it time to explore and revisit the events, like a police inspector dealing with a particularly difficult enigma. However, it is preferable that you be accompanied by a professional in the case of a difficult trauma so that he or she can help you better cope with this assimilation.
- Finally, if you happen to forget the reason why the issue of forgiveness is so important, here is a short summary: forgiving yourself allows you to welcome the future with more serenity and to live the present moment fully. By dint of small forgiveness, we strengthen our heart and our capacity to love and to love ourselves, which helps to make us benevolent, generous and unselfish. By ridding ourselves of guilt, we open ourselves up to responsibility, which allows us to become more mature, to take more measured risks and to experience more joy in our daily lives.
“Clemency is the most beautiful virtue of kings, because it implies the habit of overcoming oneself. It is beautiful, it is sublime to forgive one’s enemy, when one has only one word to say to crush him.” – Pigault-Lebrun