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Self-Worth, Forgiveness, & Repair

When you realize you have done something that didn't meet the needs of others, there is a natural feeling of regret, feeling sorry for the effects of your actions. To the extent that you can allow yourself to mourn the needs unmet by your actions, is the extent to which you can learn from the experience and move forward doing something different.

Creating real repair with someone and being able to behave differently in the future can get blocked by the view that your behavior and the reactions of others is an indicator of your self-worth. From this view, you have thoughts that you are bad, worthless, a failure, unlovable and that your terrible behavior is proof of it. This creates a cycle of violence both within you and in your relationships with others.

For you, it creates a sense of shakiness and vulnerability that can result in defensiveness and quick anger. If anything you do can lessen your self-worth, then it follows that any little bit of negative feedback from others is also a potential threat to your worth.  Being in the trance that your worth is not innate but rather depends on your behavior or the judgement of others, is a sort of hell realm that gives rise to a repetitive cycle of guilt, shame, depression and anger.  From this place you can't access compassion for yourself or for the person whose needs you didn't meet with your behavior.  This blocks healing in the relationship.

Being disconnected from your innate worth, you may put the other person in the position of the one who can restore your Goodness. "Please forgive me", becomes "please restore my goodness". This puts the other person in a tricky position. They may feel compelled to say "yes, I forgive you" in order to superficially meet a need to restore harmony. Also, they may have a voice in their head that pushes them to "forgive" to be in accord with the ideal of a compassionate person. In doing this however, needs for authenticity, empathy, clarity, healing, and true harmony are often at cost.

If there is already a dynamic in the relationship in which guilt tripping and demands are used to meet needs, asking the other to forgive you contributes to this dynamic. It feeds the dance of "power over/power under".

Forgiveness in the framework of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is about creating a quality of connection that gives rise to a natural giving from the heart.

When you are grounded in a confidence that life energy is inherently good (and you are a manifestation of life energy), and you can name critical thoughts as just thoughts rather than Truth, you can see your behavior differently. You don't get lost in a swirl of guilt, shame, and self-judgment ("self-attachment" as we might say in Buddhism).  Grounded in your inherent goodness, you can engage in self-empathy. You can reflect on the thoughts, feelings, and needs you had at the time with compassion for the past you who did the best s/he could.  You can grieve the needs not met and feel compassion for the person you affected.  This is the road to true repair.

Here is an example of a mistake I made around an agreement with my partner. I had critical voices that said, "You failed!" I could feel reactivity from my critical voices arising. It would have been easy to fall into the trap of asking for forgiveness. Because of my critical voices, I couldn't immediately go to empathy for my partner, but I did avoid the "please forgive me" dynamic. Here's how forgiveness from a NVC perspective sounded in this situation:

Initial Dialogue (in the morning)

Me: I have scheduled clients and won't work with you this afternoon as we talked about, can we do it Thursday?

Partner: (A look of irritation in his face). That doesn't work for me. I rearranged the truck rental according to what we talked about.

Me: I feel disappointed because I want to honor our agreements.

Partner: It looks like we didn't communicate clearly enough.

Me: I feel touched by your willingness to arrange your day to work with me, that caring means a lot to me. Maybe I can shift some things.

Partner: I am okay with it. No worries.

Second Dialogue (internal, self-compassion)

Me to Me: What happened? How did I make that mistake?

I am only two days into my new schedule and I didn't yet have clarity about how it all works. I was juggling several needs at once.  I am putting energy into making this change and it takes time for this transition to happen fully. It's understandable that I made this mistake.

Third Dialogue (with my partner later in the day)

Me: Babe, I am guessing that my scheduling mistake today was frustrating for you and did not meet your needs for consideration, teamwork, trust, and predictability. Is that right?

Partner: Yea, I plan my day carefully so there is a sense of flow and efficiency and I also like doing projects with you.

Me: Yea. I so regret that my mistake interfered with meeting those needs.  Is there more there for you? (pause to see if there is more he wants to express).

Me: I want you to know that I want to support those needs being met for you and I am committed to writing what we plan together in my calendar to help do that. I wonder if there is anything else you would like to request to meet those needs?

Partner: Just if you can let me know where you are holding things – as a maybe or solid commitment.

Me: I can do that.

In this dialogue you see the four basic elements of repair:

  1. Self-empathy
  2. Empathy for the other person
  3. Honest expression of regret about how your behavior didn't meet needs
  4. A plan of action about what you will do differently in a future similiar situation.


This week as you make mistakes and things don't go as planned, pause to breath several times a day and remind yourself of the needs you are trying to meet, the good intentions you have.  Giving more attention to intentions keeps the outer world from crowding in on you and popping you into a trance of wobbly self-worth.  You are born worthy not different from the dog looking up at you, the birds singing in the morning, and the trees standing outside in their majesty.

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6 Responses

  1. Dec 22, 2013

    This is beautiful. Thank you!

  2. Dec 22, 2013

    Thank you

  3. Dec 23, 2013

    I've been considering intentions. I'm not sure what to make of them. Have you seen this article: I'd be curious what comes up for you after reading it.

    Thanks (again) for your contributions to my learning and growth.

  4. Dec 23, 2013

    It's nice to connect with your wisdom to help bring me back to a peaceful place. Thank you.

  5. Dec 23, 2013

    Great GEM!
    Thanks, LaShelle

  6. Dec 28, 2013

    Hi David,

    I looked over the article you sent. It seems that author is talking about how people attempt to hide or avoid responsibility by claiming good intention. He is lobbying for responsibility which of course, is a core part of NVC consciousness.

    I am using the word intention in this article as another way of saying "be mindful of how you are using your life energy and where you want to direct it", a practice. And of course underlying that is the premise that living beings, ourselves included, are innately good (trying to meet life giving needs), though we get tragically deluded and take action that has tragic impact. No amount of innate goodness or delusion, however, erases responsibility for the impact of behavior, intentional or unintentional.

    does this make sense?

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