The Fallacy of New Age Self-Forgiveness
Every time I’m on Facebook lately, I see many well-intentioned but misunderstood shared posts encouraging the same theme. It’s usually something to do with self-forgiveness, not looking back and only looking forward, and not dwelling on mistakes. The truth is, none of these strategies really work the way people think and want them to work.
Mostly, this kind of thinking acts as a defense mechanism for a person’s ego. There may be guilt or shame around past actions, regret or genuine remorse for something they have done, or someone that they feel they have hurt. When a person proceeds to go about life in the same state of consciousness as when the regrettable behavior happened, without realizing any true growth, and without changing their behaviors to a learned skillful alternative, moving on is simply just wishful thinking. The circumstances of life may change, but without changed consciousness and the wisdom gained from insight into the ego mechanism holding them to that behavior, they will continue to walk through other experiences with the same noise playing in the background. And most of the time, they will be unaware. In these situations, self-forgiveness acts as an excuse for not being accountable for one’s behaviors or taking responsibility to change them, allowing an individual to “move on” without guilt.
Until one changes their subconscious patterning, these themes will continue to dominate one’s thinking and behavior. People and situations from the past may disappear, and one may feel like they can leave an experience behind them. Usually, this simply serves as a way to escape any unwanted associated feelings to an experience and justifies a decision not to look more closely. Problem is, karma doesn’t agree. It is a universal law that what you focus on, or try to convince yourself not to focus on (because the subconscious doesn’t know the word don’t) is what you are apt to experience and live by over and over again, no matter how much you think you are “moving on”. There is also the consideration that just because one has “decided” they would like to forget about a situation and not look back, doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been collateral damage. There may have been significant pain garnered by another party, and that may persist for them no matter what the other does. You cannot forgive yourself for hurting someone else, only the other person can forgive you for that. Hurtfulness whether by neglect, inconsideration, being unkind, or even purposely hurtful is still hurtful- caused by selfishness to the point of inconsideration. It is addictive behavior when you have to have what you want regardless, or despite, or without consideration of another’s feelings.Yes, it is addictive behavior when you can’t control your wants.
This would remain part of the karmic energy in one’s life even if they told themselves they deserved to move on from feeling bad. Karma manifests out of ways of being, in other words, habitual patterns of feeling, ways of thinking, and behaving. Negative karma or the energy to continue in the same cycles of emotional pain causing one’s own experiences of emotional pain does not change unless you change to more caring, thoughtful ways of being.
Karma flows in many different ways and is often not recognizable to people. One may in the future receive the same treatment from others that they have perpetuated in the past. Not acknowledging the need for change, one may continue to habitually inflict pain on others, thereby feeding the seed of that behavior. The karma can also be more subtle, such as robbing oneself of opportunity to grow and cultivate understanding. This is the biggest drawback and because one is not consciously seeking understanding and growth, it will go by unnoticed. Without understanding there is no compassion. Without compassion, there is no love. Without love, there is no growth or permanent change in behavior.
Self-forgiveness is not something to strive for. It is not something you can declare. When you live in a state of Love, you neither give offense nor take offense. There is nothing to forgive or to be forgiven for, rendering self-forgiveness a bit of a conundrum.
When you have recognized that past behavior has not been skillful (having any type of negative feelings towards an experience, someone, or something is usually a clue), the first resolve to make is to understand the subconscious patterns running the show. This can be a life long learning – sorry there is no fast track here. But little steps in that direction will eventually yield more skillful actions going forward. If you have caused pain for another, and apology or reconciliation is possible, this is always helpful. If it is not possible, you can still prioritize not hurting and practicing understanding as being action steps to becoming more loving. If you are not doing this, then you are not changing anything, and self-forgiveness is just an excuse to stay in selfish behavior.
Taking responsibility for being hurtful rather than forgiving oneself is the real path to one’s own healing. Taking responsibility means prioritizing ceasing hurtfulness so as to not cause hurt again. Without commitment to no hurtfulness, there is no change, no growth, no doing anything different and therefore no taking any responsibility for what was done. Taking responsibility to not hurt anyone anymore, continually working on planning how to be thoughtfully considerate of others, and acting upon those plans is the method. This entails choosing to not be selfish by letting go of one’s wants and not behaving in a manner that addictively pursues those wants.