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 types of emotional conflict that, when left unresolved, negatively impact our psychological well-being: (1) those inflicted on us by others, (2) those we inflict on others, and (3) those we inflict on ourselves. In each instance, we are victims and abusers. Victimized by the transgression against us, we self-abuse with our anger and resentment. When we transgress, we abuse the other and victimize ourselves with our shame and guilt.
We self-victimize when we harm ourselves – a particularly insidious form of emotional self-abuse.
We retain an abundance of destructive information, formed by our core and intermediate beliefs – toxic neural input seemingly impervious to uprooting due to their repressive nature. A lot of this information stems from the unresolved debris of our negatively valenced emotions. Valanced is a psychological term used to characterize specific emotions that adversely affect our daily lives. Emotions like shame, guilt, and resentment negatively impact our thoughts, behaviors, and relationships. When left unresolved, they permeate our neural network with negative energy and obstruct the process of recovery.
Mistreatment by Other
We often hold onto anger and resentment because we convince ourselves it impacts those who harmed us. However, they are likely (a) unaware or have forgotten their transgression, 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 past and the other’s influence. Our innate drive for vengeance can be formidable; our baser instinct wants retribution. Forgiving removes our need for retaliation. It rids us of our vindictiveness.
Space is Limited
Mistreatment of Other
Forgiving ourselves for harming another is accepting and releasing the toxicity of our actions. It is 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.
Self-transgression is particularly cataclysmic. It is defining ourselves as deserving of abuse. Self-pity, contempt, and other hyphenated forms of self-sabotaging behavior devalue our self-esteem. Self-transgression invariably leads to blaming to relieve ourselves of the guilt.
Forgiving ourselves is challenging for those of us with social anxiety because our actions are underscored by our negative core and intermediate beliefs. By withholding forgiveness, we allow the transgressor to occupy valuable space in our brains. We are so inundated from childhood with the concept of forgiveness, we tend to disregard its power and significance.
The goals of recovery and self-empowerment are 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 we have acclimated. We justify, savor, 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.
The process of recovery consolidates and accelerates neural restructuring by feeding it positive stimuli to counter the years of symptomatic negativity. But our brains have less room for healthy input unless and until we evict the bad tenants. Retaining the toxicity of our self-destructive emotions aggravates our anxiety and depression, and compels behavioral obsessiveness, avoidance, and other personality shortfalls that impact our interconnectedness and self-esteem.
Negatively valenced emotions do have their usefulness. They can be revealing and motivating, precipitating emotional and spiritual growth and broadening self-awareness. Notwithstanding, resolution is important to rid ourselves of their neural residue. The inability or unwillingness to forgive is self-defeating.
Recovery requires letting go of our negative self-perspectives, expectations, and beliefs. It opens our minds to new ideas and concepts. Holding onto shame, guilt, and other hostile self-indulgences keeps us imprisoned in the past. Forgiving opens us to new possibilities unencumbered by prior acts.
I vividly recall a very likeable young man in one of our recovery groups 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 ramifications, he denied himself the opportunity to purge the toxicity of his anger and resentment, much like a cancer victim refusing chemotherapy.
Forgiving is Not Forgetting
Forgiving expels negativity. We cannot hope to function optimally without absolving both ourselves and others whose actions impaired our emotional well-being. Our behaviors and those of others may seem indefensible, but forgiving is subjective. It is for our own well-being.
It is important to recognize that forgiving is not forgetting or condoning. It does not excuse transgressor or transgression; it takes their power away. Our noble self forgives; our pragmatic self remembers and remains mindful of the circumstance.
Holding ourselves or others accountable for harmful behavior are justifiable responses. Holding onto the corresponding anger and resentment is self-destructive. We forgive to promote change within ourselves and, as architects, we reap the rewards.
Stand Outside of the Bullseye
When we find it challenging to forgive someone for the harm they have inflicted upon us, it is helpful to consider their perspective. What was their motivation? What was their temperament? What was happening in their own lives?
Our social anxiety compels us to over-personalize, prohibiting alternative viewpoints. Our cognitive distortions blind us to any reality that conflicts with our self-centered point of view. There are at least two sides to every story, however. Stepping outside of the bullseye and viewing it from the other’s perspective reveals the larger narrative. It broadens our understanding of the motivations of the perpetrator. It allows us to consider what pressures they were under, their environment, and their influences. Perhaps they were trying to teach us a valuable lesson or scare us into correcting our behavior. Imperfect motivations may not excuse the act; nonetheless, it is important to understand the intent.
One additional factor to consider is our personal accountability. Perhaps our behaviors were less than exemplary.
Write a Forgiveness Letter
Many experts tout the psychological benefits of writing a letter to the person who harmed us, sharing our perspective of the event. How did it make us feel? What are its residual effects? How did it impact our relationship with the person and how do we feel about them now?
How would we have approached the situation? What would we have done differently to mitigate its emotional impact? What is our responsibility for the act?
Closing the letter with a statement of forgiveness and understanding concludes the situation and alleviates our feelings of resentment, shame, and guilt.
To resolve self-inflicted harm, we write that letter to ourselves, applying the same criteria. Through compassion and understanding, we recognize and accept that we are imperfect beings doing our best to live up to our expectations and potential.
Finally, we destroy the letter. Burn, bury, or shred it. There is no reason to allow a past, intangible action to preoccupy our thoughts. We symbolically wash our hands of the toxicity. The purpose of this exercise is to evict the bad tenants from our neural network, allowing room for new possibilities.
Make Amends and Move On
Rather than beating ourselves up for past behaviors, it is emotionally cathartic to apologize, make amends, and move on. As mature adults, we learn from our mistakes; if we choose to repeat them, we recognize we still have work to do. Given that our perpetrators have moved on, forgotten, or never took responsibility in the first place, making personal amends may be unfeasible and possibly dangerous. The most rational way to make amends is through altruistic and compassionate social behavior, e.g., teaching, compassion, and random acts of kindness.
Why hold onto something emotionally enervating from the past we cannot change or alter? The past is immutable. We have no control over it. It is the here-and-now and how it reflects on our future that is of value. The only logical response is to accept that it happened and realize it has no material impact on the present unless we allow it to fester. It is time to let it go and move on.
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