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To Be or Not to Be: Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a complicated issue for many of us because it revolves around anger, which is a VERY complicated topic for most of us.

We're all a little weary of classifications, but let's throw one out that works as well as any of them do. Most of us have an UNfavorite emotion, and we fall into two camps 'those who can deal with anger, but not tenderness; and those who can deal with tenderness, but not anger.

For those people who are into anger, it's the all-purpose emotion. This was often the case with males in the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers. Conditioned not to show 'weakness,' they learned the emotion they could show and still appear manly 'anger.

Now here's the thing about anger. It's always justified, always harmful, and never a reason to do something in itself. This is a complex set of emotions to deal with. In coaching Emotional Intelligence, I have worked through this with many a client. We think Emotional Intelligence (EQ) 'understanding and managing your emotions (among other things) 'is now the new Holy Grail. That if we master EQ, we can finally be 'happy,' which for most of us, at least initially, means not having to experience those nasty emotions 'fear, anger, jealousy, inappropriate sexual impulses, and disgust.

However, our emotions are our guides, and all these so-called 'negative' emotions come from our most primitive brain 'the reptilian brain. They are lean and mean all right, and extremely powerful to experience, because they're there to keep us alive. We had to experience disgust (you can almost feel your esophagus and stomach preparing to hurl as you gag, curl your lip back, flinch and whatever) because it kept us alive. We had to recognize, for instance, rotten meat.

Now let's go with this emotion, disgust. It's almost an instinctive reaction. Let's go with it because it's as difficult to deal with as any of them.

In modern day life, the things we have an automatic disgust reaction to, may seem inappropriate to us, or what's called in psychology, ego-dystonic. In other words, we feel it and at the same time feel we SHOULDN - T be feeling it.

It's hard to even write this, but here I go, into my own personal ego-dystonic land. If I walk into someone's house and it's a 'pig sty' to my way of thinking, and I'm disgusted, I immediately start slapping myself around because 'she can't help it, she's got 4 kids under the age of 6; or I've got a maid and she doesn't, so what right do I have to criticize; or, I'm thinking, maybe I'm being the perfectionist-in-recovery I'm capable of being, and I criticize myself for my unrealistic and overly-demanding standards.

But my self-criticism doesn't change the fact that the house is disgusting. It goes on and on, as I quarrel among my brains. The primitive one smells the cat urine in the living room carpet, the dirty diapers in the garbage pail, and the stale cooking odors, and sees the spilled milk curdling on the kitchen floor 'while my limbic brain is telling me to be nice to people, or that people won't like me if I'm critical (and of course everyone MUST 'like me'); be compassionate and understanding; and my neocortex is telling me it's not right to judge other people.

No matter how sophisticated you become, no matter how well you learn to 'manage' your emotions, no matter how much EQ you study and absorb, no matter how 'good' a person you are, when you see an outdoor public toilet in China 'you may gag. Why? Because you Wiser Self, your inner instincts learned over the eons, knows about Salmonella and eBoli.

No matter how 'mature' you are, when someone shoves you out of line in the grocery, or butts ahead of you, you'll get angry. Your territory has been invaded. It's an instinct.

Are you justified in getting disgusted at an unsanitary and smelly toilet? Are you justified in getting angry when someone butts in line in front of you?

Our emotions are always justified; if not to others, we can rationalize them to ourselves. However, what we think about it doesn't matter. Our emotions just are. THEY don't care if they're 'right' or 'wrong.' Until we learn to accept them, live with them, and not necessarily act on them or even verbalize them, we will be in conflict this way.

Now we come to forgiveness. Most of us have one or more things lurking around we can't forgive someone for doing to us. In some cases it could go way back, like a mother who favored another sibling, or a father who committed incest. It could also have just happened 'a neighbor who was rude to you on the phone, or a manager who gave you a bad performance review.

You are angry. You say things like, 'How could they do this to me?' and 'How could she talk to me that way?' and 'What he did was not just wrong, but egregiously wrong, and I cannot forgive him. Ever.' (egregious = conspicuous, beyond the pale, apart from the herd, flagrant).

And you're absolutely right to be angry. What was done may be inexcusable. But in the last analysis, it isn't whether they deserve to be forgiven, it's whether you want to go on living with that knot in your stomach, or ulcers, or fibromyalgia, or compromised immune system, or lashing out at others over small things.

Forgiving someone else is something you do for yourself. Forgiving or not forgiving them will not make one iota of difference in what occurred, or what might happen in the future, but it will free up tremendous energy and allow you to get on with your life.

If that louse you were married to did awful things, why would you allow this to live in your head for years, poisoning your other relationships, draining you and making you bitter and hostile, so no one wants to be around you and you can't stand yourself either? Why would you do this to yourself, after he did that to you?

Be good to yourself, even when others aren't. Especially when others aren't. Be totally selfish about being good to yourself. As Doc Chidre said, 'Forgiving releases you from the punishment of a self-made prison where you are both the inmate and the jailer.'

You can't hold a man down without staying down with him,' wrote Booker T. Washington, and you can't hate someone, or hold a grudge, without staying right there with it, living it every minute just as if it were still going on.

Forgive! It's the emotionally intelligent thing to do. If you have trouble with this concept, call an EQ coach. You deserve it.

About the Author
Susan Dunn, MA Psychology, Emotional Intelligence Coach, I help people become better communicators and develop their emotional intelligence through coaching, Internet courses and ebooks. Susan is the author of "Nonverbal Communication."


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