The Trap of Forgiveness
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.
Often, there are thoughts and ideas that get in the way of this. One is viewing your behavior as a reflection of your self-worth, or your innate divinity. This is evident when a pack of jackals (critical voices) tells you that you are a bad person because of what you did. This creates a cycle of violence both within you and in the relationship.
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, any little bit of negative feedback is a potential threat.
When you are grounded in a confidence that life energy is inherently good (and you are a manifestation of life energy), and name a jackal as a jackal rather than Truth, you can see your behavior and its effects clearly. 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.
The trap of viewing your behavior as a reflection of your self-worth, can give rise to two major effects in relation to the person affected by your action. One, when you are lost in a swirl of guilt and shame, it is very difficult to have empathy for the other person. This blocks healing in the relationship.
Two, you may put that 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. 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”.
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.
Today I made a mistake around an agreement with my husband. Jackals got on my case a bit and said, “You failed!” I could feel reactivity from jackals arising. It would have been easy to fall into the trap of asking for forgiveness. Because of my jackals, I couldn’t immediately go to empathy for my husband, 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?
Husband: (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.
Husband: 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.
Husband: I am okay with it. No worries.
Second Dialogue (internal, self-forgiveness)
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 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 husband 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 on?
Husband: 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. (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?
Husband: Just if you can let me know where you are holding things – as a maybe or solid commitment.
Me: I can do that.
Next time you find yourself wanting to say sorry or ask forgiveness, try expressing your feelings and needs and then guessing the feelings and needs of the other person.