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Damage control for the soul

I embraced the whole forgiveness thing back in the 1990s, when I was a freelance writer for women’s magazines and watched a lot of Oprah. The theory goes that forgiveness enables us to work through our anger to a point of near-compassion for the person we are forgiving, which is the only way to begin to heal.

Depending on what needs to be forgiven, it can take some time. For me, there’s a lot of prayer involved, and a certain degree of faking it till I feel it. Then one day, I notice that I do feel it. If the forgiven person is someone I love or have loved, I’m able to focus on the good. If it’s someone I no longer want in my life, I try not to let them occupy precious brain space. In describing it, the process sounds tidier than it is, but you get the idea.

It’s always a relief to finally be free of the resentment, to look back and say, “He did the best he could” or “She was a frightened kid” or “He didn’t ask to be a sociopath.” It feels like I can just file that resentment away in a folder marked “Forgiven.”

But recently I realized forgiveness is not enough. A series of unrelated good things happened to me, all in the course of about a week. It kind of tuckered me out, so one early evening I decided to take a little cat nap. I’m usually a great napper. I can lie down and fall asleep for a half hour or so and wake up completely refreshed. But as I was trying to fall asleep, intermingled with the good-stuff giddiness was a voice I hadn’t heard for a long while. It was a committee member in my head, pointing out that I really didn’t deserve to be happy. She insinuated I am a fraud who really ought to just call it quits. It was really hard to sleep, what with her catty remarks and all.

My friend Cindie once suggested that when these critical voices pop up in my head, I take roll call of the committee in my head. I tried it once years ago and it was almost funny. The two voices included an old conservative guy I knew from a church I used to attend, and someone I worked with long, long ago. I fired them both on the spot. They had no business being there, and I don’t think they were accurately depicting the persons they intended to represent. They were the frauds, after all.

This time, I couldn’t identify the naysayer. I’m lucky to be in a place in my life where I harbor few grudges, and most of them are relatively benign. Who was this person? I mulled it over. I prayed for clarification. What was my problem? And then one morning I woke up and recognized the committee member. It was my old injured self. While I’d put lots of energy into forgiving the people I felt had wronged me, I neglected the girl who had been wronged. I slayed—and then forgave—the wolf, but left Little Red Riding Hood to find her way back home. No wonder she was mad at me. I’d failed to acknowledge the impact that earlier hurts have had on how I regard myself. That's when I realized that it’s not enough to forgive; I also have to do the damage control to the soul, and explain to the injured self that those bastards got it all wrong when they acted like I didn’t deserve happiness. Because I do. You do. Scooby dooby doo.

Wow. Oprah would be proud.
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