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Forgiving Ourselves

April 11, 2010

 

man in shadow

Getting free of our superego's constant criticism can enable us to relate more authentically with ourselves and others.

I always look forward to the Easter season. When I was working in the public schools, I got a week’s vacation, and that was worth something in itself. But now that I’m a massage therapist and not teaching, I still look forward to Easter. Maybe more so this year because the winter was so cold.

Easter heralds spring and new life. Not a little of its charm, I think, is its coming after the season of Lent when we are charged to look into our own hearts and to acknowledge the ways we have fallen short in our lives. Somehow, as it is meant to do, Easter morning redeems that forty days of introspection, and everything feels crisp, clean, and possible.

One of the challenges of Lent and Easter is to forgive the people who have taken advantage of us, who have broken faith, who have ignored our wishes and needs. That is easier for me to do when I remember to live in the present moment and don’t constantly replay the tapes of my past. Indeed, living in the present cures more than just my victim mentality.

Still, when it comes right down to it, the hardest person for me to forgive is the one who looks back from the mirror each morning. I guess part of our hardwiring as human beings includes a superego voice whose sole purpose it to judge and criticize our every thought and move–to make us feel bad about ourselves.

Of course, occasionally the superego pats us on the back and tells us how much better we are than some other poor slob, but that kind of narcissism is just as deadly to our self-forgiveness as the constant critical voice.

Indeed, if we are honest, we often don’t forgive others because they have in fact hit the very sore spot that our superego has been attacking our whole lives. 

The only way we can be free to forgive ourselves (and others) is to tell the superego to shut up! When I first started trying to do this, I was met with even more guilt and shame because it felt to me like I was telling my mother to shut up, which was not a good idea in my childhood home. A wise friend helped me see that the difference was that my mother’s criticism came from a place of love, but my superego has no emotions. Its purpose it to make me feel rotten about myself or rotten about everyone else.

Originally, my superego may have started as the voice of my mother trying to protect me, and its function may have been to protect me. But I have outgrown its scare tactics and its self-righteous analysis of events. I am not a child anymore. I have experience of my own to draw upon. I don’t need protecting and certainly not by a disembodied, cold, cruel imitation of someone who actually had my best interests at heart. I can tell it to shut up!

Once my superego is silenced, I begin to see that whether my mistakes of the past were made from ignorance, fear, anger, or even hatred, they came from a place that now deserves compassion. (Surprisingly, I also see the same is true for others.) I can begin to atone for my mistakes, either directly if it is possible, or indirectly if direct recompense would make matters worse. I can begin to acknowledge my weaknesses and also begin to see my strengths. I can get in touch with something inside myself that is good and true. I can begin to really like that person in the mirror. 

The critical voice of the superego is not honest conscience. My Enneagram teacher, Don Riso, told me that you will know the difference between the two by their fruits. My conscience tells me what is good, decent and right. My superego attacks no matter what decision I make. It is just as relentless when I am gentle and kind as it is when I am forceful and cruel.

When I silence my superego, I can begin to allow a deeper place to open inside. That is the place of my true self. It is a place that knows what is good and true and beautiful because that is its own nature. It is connected to Source. It can be found in the silence that comes when I tell my superego, “Shut Up!”

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