Forgiving is Self-Empowerment

Robert F Mullen, PhD

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“Dr. Mullen is doing impressive work helping the world. He is the pioneer of proactive neuroplasticity utilizing DRNI – deliberate, repetitive, neural information.” – WeVoice (Madrid Málaga)

“It is not ‘forgive and forget,’ as if nothing wrong had ever
happened, but ‘forgive and go forward,’ building on the past mistakes
and the energy generated by reconciliation to create a new future.”
– Alan Paton

There are three forms of transgression important to us: (1) those inflicted on us by others, (2) those we inflict on others, and (3) those we inflict on ourselves. We are both victims and abusers. We are victimized by the transgression against us, and we abuse ourselves with our resentment and hate. When we transgress, we abuse the other, and our guilt and shame for the act victimize us. Self-transgression is both self-abuse and victimization.

We retain an abundance of destructive information, formed by our core and intermediate beliefs – toxic neural input seemingly impervious to uprooting due to its resistant or repressive nature. A lot of this information stems from the unresolved debris of our negatively valenced emotions.

Valenced is a psychological term used to characterize and categorize specific emotions that influence how we approach our daily lives. Negatively valenced emotions like shame, guilt, and resentment adversely impact our thoughts, behaviors, and relationships. When left unresolved, they permeate our neural network with negative energy and obstruct the process of recovery. 

Withholding Forgiveness

There is credence to the cliché that by withholding forgiveness, we allow the transgressor to occupy valuable space in our brain. The design of recovery and self-empowerment is to (1) replace or overwhelm our negative thoughts and behaviors with healthy, productive ones, (2) produce rapid, neurological stimulation to change the polarity of our neural network, and (3) regenerate our self-esteem. These objectives are inhibited by our negatively valenced emotions.

We fail to challenge these emotions because they sustain us. We justify them, savor them, or wear them like a hair shirt. Not knowing any better, our neural network is accustomed to this negativity and continuously transmits the chemical hormones and other physiological benefits that sustain and give us pleasure. We are so inundated from childhood with the concept of forgiveness, we tend to disregard its power and significance.

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Forgiveness in Recovery

Recovery requires restructuring our neural network by feeding it positive stimuli to counter the years of negativity. But our brains have less room for healthy input until we evict the bad tenants. Retaining the toxicity of our negatively valenced emotions aggravates our anxiety and depression, and compels behavioral obsessiveness, avoidance, and other personality shortfalls that impact our interconnectedness and self-esteem. The inability or unwillingness to forgive is foolish and self-defeating.

Recovery requires letting go of our negative self-perspectives, expectations, and beliefs – opening our minds to new ideas and concepts. We remain imprisoned in the past when we hold onto shame, guilt, and other hostile self-indulgences. Forgiving opens us to new possibilities unencumbered by prior acts. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

Three Forms of Transgression

Forgiving those who have harmed us

We often hold onto anger and resentment because we convince ourselves it impacts those who harmed us. The irony is the likelihood that they are (a) unaware or have forgotten they injured us, or take no responsibility for it. The only person affected is us, the injured party. As Buddha purportedly said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; we are the one who gets burned.”

The act of forgiving resolves our animus and restores us to equal footing by eliminating the other’s influence. The innate drive for vengeance can be formidable, as our baser instinct cries out for retribution. Forgiving removes any desire for retaliation; it rids us of our vindictiveness. 

I vividly recall a recovery group member who refused to entertain any prospect of absolving his parents. “If you knew what they’ve done to me you wouldn’t ask me to forgive them.” His adamancy was formidable. Despite his awareness of the personal negative ramifications, he denies himself the opportunity to remedy it, much like a cancer victim refusing chemotherapy.

Forgiving ourselves for harming another

Forgiving ourselves for harming another is accepting and releasing the guilt and shame of our actions. It’s important to recognize that transgression against another subjectively affects us more severely than the person we harmed. We feel guilt for harming them, and shame for being the type of person who would cause harm. These self-destructive emotions can only be resolved by accepting responsibility, making direct or substitutional amends, and forgiving ourselves.

Forgiving ourselves for harming ourselves

Transgression against the self is particularly cataclysmic. It is telling ourselves we are deserving of abuse. Self-pity, self-contempt, and other hyphenated forms of self-abuse condemn us and devalue our self-esteem. Forgiving ourselves is challenging for those of us with social anxiety because our self-abasement is underscored by our negative core and intermediate beliefs.

Forgiving is Not Forgetting

It is important to recognize that forgiveness is not forgetting or condoning. Forgiving does not excuse the transgressor or transgression; it takes their power away. Our noble self forgives; our pragmatic self remembers and remains mindful of the circumstance.

Negatively valenced emotions have their usefulness. They can be revealing and cathartic, motivating emotional and spiritual growth and broadening self-awareness. Notwithstanding, resolution is important to mitigate their toxic neural residue.

Forgiving expels negativity. We cannot hope to function optimally without absolving both ourselves and others whose actions negatively impacted our well-being. Our actions and those of others may seem indefensible, but forgiving is subjective – for our own well-being. Holding ourselves or others accountable for harmful behavior is a justifiable response. Holding onto corresponding anger and resentment is self-destructive. We forgive to promote change within ourselves and, as the architects of forgiveness, we reap the rewards. 

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