We are all the hero of our own story. Sometimes this will make our perception of events slant in our favor. In fact, it will do that most times. We have to keep this in mind when we are looking back at situations and events that shaped us and that challenged us. We can’t always be in the right. Sometimes we mess up, make greivous mistakes, hurt other people…because we are human. We are not flawless. If we cannot admit that to ourselves, then we walk the highwire of narcissism. Yes, it is important that we stick up for ourselves when we need to. And often it is more important to tell someone to f#@k off than it is to apologize for something that is not our fault. But we also have to look at things, people and relationships from a position of compassion.
By that I mean to not immediately judge someone’s words or actions, but to do our best to see things from their perspective. Let’s face it, this is becoming a lost art with our “cancel culture” that is so full of harsh judgement for the slightest things. This is what makes it even more important to practice compassion while also being the hero of our own story. That way we can approach life in a more mature manner, instead of a reactionary manner.
I am the type of person who tends to make friends easily. This is always surprising to me because inside myself I am an introvert. But outside myself I am a social butterfly. I believe the term for this phenomenon is “ambivert,” where you are a balance between introvert and extrovert. I love people. I also love alone time. So I do my best to balance the two. With this balance comes a LOT of introspection. I process information deeply. But I have also become skilled at deeply processing information rapidly, because life rarely has a pause button. This is why when I mess up I do tend to become aware of it rather quickly. I then take steps to repair what has been messed up. If repair is not possible, I have to move on, having learned from my mistake.
Where I find most people stumble in this process is:
- Thinking that they did not mess up at all.
- Thinking that there was valid reason for them messing up, if they admit that they did, indeed, mess up.
- Confusing issues around “forgiveness” with issues around virtue.
- Not knowing how to approach someone when they have messed something up.
- Holding onto bitterness and resentment towards others who have messed up instead of affording them opportunity to make things right.
- Allowing the rebuilding of trust to take place after we or someone else has messed up.
So let’s break each one of these down a bit.
- Often we are not aware that we have messed up. Sometimes social ques are vague and we miss them altogether. Someone’s feelings get hurt and we are oblivious to the fact. And, let’s face it, there is no way to know what is going on inside a person or what their history is regarding why they are feeling the way that they are. If we are approachable, then hopefully the person will feel alright with bringing this subject up to us. When they do, it is more important for us to listen and try to comprehend their point of view than it is for us to immediately jump to self-defence. If we are open to the possibility that we may have unintentionally caused harm, then we can become aware of how to repair said harm. This requires that we step away from our ego perspectives and go into our intuitive compassionate perspective. And, let’s face it, for someone to even come to us and admit that they were vulnerable to our uncaring actions is extremely brave on their part. Do we really want to damage them even further by not wanting to be open to their perspective? And once they do express their concerns to us, there is absolutely nothing wrong with an, “I’m sorry, I had no idea.” Taking a moment to also explore why whatever was done affected them so much can be incredibly healing for them. By the time we are done with this type of interaction, we can actually move from being a villain in their story to being a secondary hero.
- Thinking that there is a valid reason, whatever that reason may be, for harming another human being is narcissistic at best. Yes, sometimes someone deserves a smack upside the head for crappy behavior. But when they have done nothing wrong and we simply target them verbally or physically out of our own need for control is an act of weakness. Addressing this within ourselves is incredibly challenging. None of us like to admit that we have toxic behaviors, but the fact of the matter is that we all do at one time or another. It is what we do with that information that counts. Do we try to hide it? Or do we bring it to light and do everything we can to heal that part of ourselves? If we do the healing, we will find old wounds that have not yet been attended to, and which desperately need our attention. Once that healing takes place, we become much better people to be around.
- There are a lot of dogmatic beliefs around forgiveness. The predominant one is that it makes us better people to automatically forgive transgressions than if we were to hold someone accountable for their abusive behaviors. Forgiveness is being touted as a virtue instead of what it actually is…a system through which the offending party can learn, heal and grow. As such, forgiveness MUST BE EARNED. It cannot be doled out like candy because that does nothing for the person who needs to earn it, thus it does NOTHING for society in general. To earn it the person has to acknowledge what they did, apologize for what they did, and make amends for what they did that are meaningful to the person they harmed (not necessarily meaningful to themselves). If for any reaon the offending party cannot fulfill this obligation in order to earn forgiveness, then forgiveness is not for them. AND the act of forgiveness is not for us. It is an irrelevant conversation at that point. BUT we can definitely move on. By “move on” I am not talking about pretending that the event never happened. I am talking about eliminating all interaction with that person until such time as they are willing and able to fulfill all three of the criteria for forgiveness. Even if that person is a family member. Even if that person is someone in a position of authority. You have the right to eliminate ANYONE from your life who is abusive. DO IT and you will find that you experience deep peace within your life. But also be ready for the blowback, because narcissists will try to gaslight you to everyone else in the world in order to keep their abusive behaviors secret from the rest of the world. Stand in your truth and move on.
- Approaching someone we have possibly hurt when we have messed something up is extremely uncomfortable and awkward. We really are putting our heads on the chopping block when we do so. But when we approach them first, it is surprising how well it tends to be received. Simply beginning with, “I have a heartfelt apology to make to you…” is really all it takes. Sometimes whatever it is that we have done has actually gone completely unnoticed on their part because, to them, it was totally insignificant. Sometimes they are full of rage at what we have done. Either way, it is important for us, if we are aware that we have caused harm, to approach it immediately. Don’t let it fester and don’t think it will simply go away. It won’t. Again, acknowleging what was done is the first step, apologizing for it is the second. For the amends part, ask the person, “What can I possibly do to repair this that will make a difference for you?” They will usually come up with something. And that something does not have to be humiliating for us, and it does not have to be life-threatening in any way. To make amends I have done things like mow a person’s lawn for the summer, wash a person’s kitchen floor once a week, chopped wood in -35C degree weather, and so on. Yes, I have messed up a number of times. But the thing is, once the amends are done, they are done. If the person cannot move into forgiveness by then, then that is THEIR problem, not ours. Again, forgiveness is a process. We don’t HAVE to give it and we don’t HAVE to receive it in order to be able to learn from the situation. But it is nice when, having fulfilled the acknowledgement, apology and amends, to have that as an existing factor. Trust, however, may never be able to be re-earned. That is just a part of life. But at least we will know we have done our part in the process.
- This one goes along with the last one, but I wanted to make things a bit clearer in this section. When we hold onto bitterness and resentment towards another who has wronged us, even after they have acknowledged, apologized and made amends, then this shows us as being cold-hearted. Why would we hold people up to such an unreasonable standard that they are not even allowed to make a mistake? And then if they do and are doing their best to make things right, why would we still hold that mistake against them? Why would we (as some folks do) then gaslight them? I will tell you why. Because THAT is an indication that WE have not done OUR work in healing. Perhaps this is something that is actually based upon some event far in our distant past. Perhaps we feel vindictive and want to take vengeance out on the one who wronged us. So I ask you…do you not think that this gaslighting form of character assassination is EVIL? Because it IS EVIL. So look at yourself in the mirror and do your work to become a better human being.
- Trust, once lost, is something that is very difficult to regain. Most often we need not even think that whomever we have harmed will ever trust us again. You have heard that old phrase, “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” That is what most people fall back on when it comes to an opportunity to regain or reestablish trust. But here is the thing. If we allow absolutely everyone who has ever harmed us in any way, big or small, to lose our trust forever, then we will soon find ourselves trusting nobody. When this happens, we keep everyone, past, present, and future, held hostage to whatever hurt challenged our trust in the first place. Something that we also need to understand is that the only person in the world whose trust we absolutely must never lose is OURSELVES. If we can trust ourselves, our instincts and intuitions will not be questioned. If we get a gut feeling that something is “hinky” we need to trust that. We may not know why it is feeling that way, but given time we will discover it…inevitably. We have been taught in our Western Culture to disregard our instincts and our intuitions. This has led to a LOT of disastrous consequences for many people. But if we pay attention to our inner wisdom voice, then we will not be as easily snowed. We will have a B.S. meter that is deadly accurate at 1000 paces! So when you are getting that gut feeling that someone is not authentic and anyone…ANYONE…tries to tell you that you are just being judgmental, know that that person does NOT have your best interests at heart. And in the meantime, know that trust actually can be rebuilt. Yes, it takes some time and a lot of effort. But if you are willing to do the work at rebuilding, whether you were the one harmed or the one harming, it can indeed happen. Here is the trick. Do not allow yourself to become innately suspicious of everything the person who harmed you does. Give them the opportunity to show you that they learned their lesson and that they have changed or at least are in the process of changing. Give credit where credit is due. And if you are the one who harmed the other, be gentle with yourself as you walk through the journey of self-discovery and of becoming a better human being. We all make mistakes. It is what happens after we do that determines our true character.