Fear is temporary; regret is forever.
In my last blog I discussed my disruptive exposure to self-awareness. This experience that I refer to as “My ‘F’ in Life” story taught me that Vulnerability and Responsibility are essential for personal growth and development. The third element of this cycle, and the final component necessary to experience personal transformation, is Forgiveness. I would like to briefly outline each of these three elements, and then I will devote an entire blog to each component of the Transformational Cycle over the following few weeks.
Transformational change represents a revolutionary and expansive shift within an individual. When this happens the person sees himself/herself and the world in a completely different way. Individuals who have experienced a personal transformation feel more settled, more at peace and more empathetic and understanding of others. Just as importantly, they feel much less of a need to judge, critique or find fault with others. However, we have also noted that this process is often painful and upsetting, disrupting our current worldview and challenging our underlying assumptions about ourselves and others. So it’s fair to ask, “Why go through this process?” In my view the answer is simple. We do this kind of internal, personal development work in order to create a better external reality. This reality may include accepting yourself completely or creating better relationships at home or the office. I have never encountered anyone who has had a transformational experience and regretted it. Typically, their only regret is not having the opportunity, courage, or insight to do this kind of work sooner.
In order to experience this kind of growth you must start by being vulnerable.
What is vulnerability? On a personal level it is defined as “… being susceptible to being wounded or hurt.” On a national level, we read of ‘Strategic Vulnerability and Threat Assessments’ carried by our government to prevent terrorist attacks and to better ensure cyber security. So it’s pretty easy to see why there’s such a negative connotation associated with being vulnerable. However, Brene Brown reminds us that when we build up and maintain a defensive wall against the possible shame or rejection that can come from vulnerability, we also thwart joy, happiness, and love. In fact her research suggests that those who have the courage to be vulnerable live a “wholehearted” life, just as nature intended.
If we are willing to be open and vulnerable, we must then exhibit personal responsibility for our current state. Taking responsibility does not mean that you believe you caused something bad to happen to you. Rather, it means that you take total responsibility for how you respond to the situation. Total responsibility equals freedom, but it can also create a sense of isolation and loneliness. In “Escape from Freedom,” Erich Fromm suggests that it’s easier for many of us to depend on, and blame, others. In fact, he concluded that given the choice between Freedom/Responsibility and Dependency/Victim, most of us would tragically choose the latter.
Personal responsibility does not, repeat, does not mean that you are responsible for what someone has done to you. Personal responsibility does mean that you have decided to reclaim your one guaranteed freedom identified by Viktor Frankl – the ability to choose your attitude and response to any situation. As a variation on the saying goes, bad, tragic, and unfair things will happen to you in your life. That’s guaranteed. Growth, however, is optional.
The third element in this cycle, related to the first two, is forgiveness. Depending on one’s personal belief system, forgiveness may occur on multiple levels. As a Christian, I believe in repenting and asking for forgiveness from God. People of other faiths may repent and pray to another Source. An agnostic or atheist may not feel compelled to pray to anyone or anything. Depending on your personal belief system this level of forgiveness may or may not apply to you.
Second, irrespective of your personal belief system you must forgive at the interpersonal level, meaning you must forgive the person or persons who wronged you. This aspect can be especially challenging because it’s difficult to separate out condoning from forgiving. To make matters even more complicated, you often have to forgive someone who has yet to, and may never, apologize. In fact, they may not even feel remorse for what they’ve done to you.
Forgive them anyway.
Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself because in the act of forgiving others, you free yourself. Choosing to not forgive someone, even someone who has yet to apologize, is like drinking poison and expecting them to suffer. Of all the definitions of forgiveness that I’ve read or heard, I like Oprah Winfrey’s the best: “Forgiveness is letting go of the idea that your past could have been any different.” It’s not personal, it just happened.
Finally, you have to forgive yourself. It has been my personal experience that this can be the most difficult. You have to make peace with your past, and then believe you are better than your past. Understanding the different aspects of yourself and your “shadow” (which we will explore in the coming weeks) will allow you to experience this kind of peace and live with greater intention and awareness, “actualizing” your highest self and realizing your fullest potential.
Next week we will take a deeper dive into the concept of vulnerability and explore what it is, how it facilitates transformational growth, and why we spend so much of our time and energy trying to avoid it at all costs. Being vulnerable requires courage but take heart; the fear associated with vulnerability is temporary. The regret of not living a “wholehearted” life, however, is forever.