What if I have hurt another, inflicted pain, or abused someone else? Can I forgive myself if that hurt remains unresolved?
We cannot live in the house of forgiveness if the pain we inflicted on others is left unattended.
The husband who slanders and degrades his wife by constantly calling her a bitch or a whore, the mother who beat her children, the friend who gossiped privileged information about another friend, the man who stole money from a colleague, all may claim to have locked these memories away into the recesses of the mind, but this does not ensure such abuses are truly forgotten.
A tough guy’s surface talk of sports, work, and what he would do to the attractive girl walking past him were he given the opportunity, may seem to be a crude attempt to prove his manliness, when in reality, it serves to distract him from the buried guilt, shame, and terrible regret and self-anger he has over his past abusive treatment of his wife and children…
Emotionally strong people are often construed, in our society to be those who are stoic, tolerant, and able to keep their feelings in check.
We as a society need to repaint this picture.
Strong is the man or woman who is able to take responsibility for his or her actions, who is willing and able to have the strength and courage of vulnerability in speaking his or her regret, sorrow, and shame for past and present actions.
Who has the wherewithal to listen to the grievance that others need to express for the harm caused by his or her words and deeds.
Who is able to offer genuine, heartfelt apology for any physical, emotional damage, or harm caused.
Abusive and inappropriate actions create a cost to those on the receiving end.
Taking responsibility in words and in action by committing to never indulge in verbal inappropriateness and harmful, shame-making behaviours to others may be enough to address the cost created from past actions. However, situations may demand that additional penance is merited.
Affected parties may demand that the person create physical distance from those once hurt, or pay monetary compensation. Actions may dictate prison time.
The extent of the penance may be appropriate to the inappropriateness of the deed. If so, it is important to own the penance as a retribution for the deed committed as an opportunity to balance the books, so to speak, for wrongs done.
In taking responsibility for our inappropriate actions it is easy to feel regret, and regret can easily turn into self-anger.
Regret is vastly different from grieving or mourning. You may feel sad about the way you brought up your daughter and mourn lost opportunity for a relationship that will never be encountered in the same way again, but if you continue to regret how you conducted the relationship, you are inflicting anger upon yourself.
It is important to mourn your losses for a time. To be sad for not being present to your children when they were growing up because you were working most of the time, for being abusive towards your partner and losing her love she once had for you, for spending money and incurring crippling debt.
Mourning such losses allows for emotional expression and eventual emotional release. It helps us resolve past burdens so we can move on from them and attend to our needs and the needs of others inhabiting our present life.
It is equally important to limit our regret. We have the right to voice the regret we feel for not meeting our own expectations or the expectations of others for a short time so that we can move on from it. But re-iterating, repeating, and indulging in that regret is just another form of beating ourselves up, of inflicting anger upon ourselves.
If regret is followed by the timely resolve not to indulge in such behaviour again, or to do better next time, then self-anger has been transformed into resolve and has ultimately served a useful purpose.
Sustained regret, being the continual beating up of ourselves, is not a healthy and appropriate form of penance.
This is easy to say, but regret can be infectious. No matter that the incident we regret was half a lifetime ago and the people we hurt have long since moved on from that which we regret, the incident still turns up on quiet nights before falling asleep or those times when we are alone and have time on our hands.
Regret can be a form of attention. It may be the catalyst for others to comfort us, to assure us that we are good people and not who we hold ourselves to be. We may unconsciously choose to hold onto our regret so that we can capture the attention it provides for us.
Alternatively, we may not be someone who readily expresses anger, so we hold a good quantity of anger inside. Anger is a vibrant, moving force that does not like to sit still for too long. At least by holding onto regret anger has some movement, albeit towards ourselves.
Releasing regret may well challenge me to express anger in a different direction, probably outwardly. For someone who has spent their whole life and upbringing invested in squashing anger this will likely seem scary and/or inappropriate.
“I will never tell my father how angry I am that he yelled at me every chance he got, why would I bring up my past to him?” he or she may say.
Or, “I can’t be bothered to write down my anger as Pietro’s blogs suggest, I have other more useful things to do,” someone proclaims.
And so we hold onto our regrets for years, because it is easier to continually direct our anger in the form of regret towards ourselves than to re-direct our anger in appropriate, healthy ways and fashion to others.
Letting go of regret may well be letting go of an addiction, one which has served us throughout the years to claim attention, or to avoid justifiably directing anger outwards.
Cracking, weakening, or diminishing the hold of regret is dependent upon the ultimate acceptance of our limitations.
Regret is invariably only half of the story. The other half of the story must take into account those limitations that existed for us at the time the incident took place.
Eliminating the Stranglehold of Regret will be posted on Friday, August 21st @ 3:00pm PST. Join the conversation.
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