Forgiveness or sublimation as a new years resolution

Typically for the new year, I try to present an article dealing with empowerment. Here I want to talk about forgiveness and sublimation as tools of personal empowerment. I do not want to claim that everything can and should be forgiven. However, once we forgive we tend to become stronger, more in control. More reading here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

The premise

This article has a very simple main idea. We experience pandemics, wars, all kinds of bullying, irrational hatred, and betrayal. As a New Year resolution, we can use it to take more control of our lives and let go of some resentment and anger. Because this will make our lives better.

Why forgiveness is important?

When we do not control something we may experience stress. Stress is bad. Moreover, anger or resentment sucks our energy like a trap. Ideally, we need all of our energy to create. I claim that forgiveness is good for the party who can control the process. It does not really matter how the forgiven party feels. For our own sake, we should forgive. We do not have to share this with anyone.

The paradox of forgiveness: the more we need to forgive the harder it becomes. There are radical forgiveness protocols for individuals and nations who suffered traumatic abuse.

The success stories of forgiveness and “never forget never forgive”

Some success stories of forgiveness come from civil war-torn countries. Soldiers, especially misguided, indoctrinates, intoxicated, and underage soldiers, may perform shocking acts of cruelty during wartime. After the war is over and the intoxicating effect disappears, remorse often follows. These soldiers may routinely ask for forgiveness for the horrors they cause. And they are often forgiven, mainly because they were not in control of their actions.

I am a part of a nation that does not forgive. There is still a prayer to remember the horrors done by the Amalek people to Israelites more than two millennia ago. Stories are told about the war crimes of every ancient superpower except Persia, as well as approximately half of medieval Europe. And as new dark times arrive, people vow to remember everyone and everything. This is a remarkable success story of determination not to forgive no matter what happens.

I would say that both stories are success stories. In the first case, people let go and focus on building the future. In the second case, people are strongly motivated to succeed in spite of what happened. One might call it sublimation of pain.

Survival and empowerment

The basic survival narrative sounds like this: “We were good. The bad guys wanted to kill us. We survived. We will not show weakness and thrive, in spite of their efforts”. Forgiveness, revenge, and success are very different heroic actions. In many ways, forgiveness is superior, as it generates openness and compassion. Revenge may be the ultimate closure, but it may also be a starting point for another escalation.

Drive for success is a form of escapism: one may never know when the past catches up. A person who survived often feels invincible, sometimes taking higher risks and higher rewards path. There is also a degree of fearlessness and desensitization of pain that contributes to the “trying harder” mentality.

The less heroic path may involve suppressed anger, shame for not standing up, survivor guilt, fear, chronic pain, inability to feel, and a large range of other unpleasant feelings. Typically there are five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) before a normal person can act proactively and heroicly.

Notice that I am not talking about small misdemeanors, but huge shocking events. Misdemeanors can be gamified or ignored, forgiven if tactically handy. Shocking events are harder to work with. A catastrophe cannot be forgiven or forgotten because a small financial reparation was made – at least not in the first generation.

Forgiveness protocol

Assume that the circumstances involve some offender that we do not really know, or someone who is remorseful, or a close family member and we choose to forgive as our personal heroic strategy. What is the process, and how successful it may be?

Typically the process will involve several kinds of therapy:

  1. EMDR or hypnosis for desensitization of pain. Self-help using EMDR or guided visualization of religious figures might also work.
  2. Art or group therapy for exploring not just the main feeling, but other perceptual changes that may have happened due to traumatic events.
  3. Mindfulness or focus on “here and now” to suppress painful memories and accept the small pleasures of life.
  4. Some CBT processes that deal with triggers and responses, trying to regain the focus or suggest a more constructive response. Here probably a mentor or a therapist is required.

If this feels too much of processing, there are simplified protocols like the one I listed in the abstract.

Once a person can deal with the pain and actual forgiveness becomes optional, it also becomes easier to forgive. Forgiveness means different things to different people. But in general, it involves an intentional decision to let go of resentment and anger. The phrasing of forgiveness is along the lines of “I forgive the suffering. I will never forget, but anger or resentment will not find a place in my life. I choose to love and create and move on.”

How successful is forgiveness?

I personally experienced shock, pain, and betrayal more than once. I tried the forgiveness protocol several times. The success was a Paretto: in about 90% of the cases, 90% of the anger and resentment disappeared. I still find some degree of pleasure when people who used to hurt me suffer, so I do not claim full success.

I read several scientific papers on forgiveness protocols. They universally claim a very high success rate, but never 100%. The effective methods claim above 90% agency, e.g. the ability of a person involved to move on, love, and create normally. Not choosing the path of taking control over the events had a relatively low agency score. Sublimation had about the same rate of agency as forgiveness but with lower emotional well-being. For example, there are reports of lower compassion or bursts of uncontrollable anger. Revenge is not a good subject for scientific research, however there are stories of people like nazi hunters for whom revenge became both the personal calling and the main job.

Sublimation protocol

If something that was done cannot be forgiven, sublimation is the next best thing. It is a simpler protocol to implement. Typically it starts with defiance “They wanted to break my will, hurt me (or kill me), but they will lose and I will win”.  Now instead of forgetting or forgiving, the focus is reframing and empowerment. The processes are usually more gamified, and often can be formulated as strategical questions:

  1. What will make me a winner, and how can I get one step closer to victory?
  2. How did they try to affect me, and in what ways can their manipulation be negated?
  3. Who are my natural allies and how can we work for the same cause?
  4. How the experience made me stronger? What did I learn and what hidden advantage do I have?
  5. How do I maximize control over my own life?
  6. Which constructive activities can I do not to think about the pain?

Probably the most critical question to ask in this case is a preventive one. Ideally, we want to be heroes, not become villains. So the question is:

What makes me different from the offender, and how do I preserve my humanity?

Does accelerated learning help forgiveness and sublimation?

Having access to the best resources is a good idea, especially if we have a mentor who can point us in the right direction. Some of the processes, like the processes I teach in my self-help courses, are fairly complex and yet safe and effective ( and ask me for a deep discount coupon).

At the same time, we are also more sensitive. Our need to visualize as we process information may generate overflow or trigger an emotional response. Our openness means that occasionally we will see offensive materials faster than we will be able to shut them down. So if you are serious about accelerated learning, it is a good idea to learn some level of self-help and critical thinking.

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