Issue #175 / November 2021
The Truth is that I betrayed the very essence of my soul and No knowledge can heal that wound. Is like constantly moving in the fog with nowhere to go or be. I just can’t forgive myself.
THOMAS, LONDON, UK
As far as I can see your options are rather limited — you either remain suspended in a state of misery and self-loathing or you move toward some sort of self-forgiveness. In your estimation you feel you have committed an unforgivable act, which may or may not be true. There are indeed some acts that are reprehensible, that are simply beyond the pale, and we need to be alert to this, to be repelled by these acts, in order that we do not repeat them, or draw these offences back into our lives. It runs contrary to our own sense of human dignity and justice to think otherwise. However, even though the act may appear unforgivable, forgive we must.
To forgive is perhaps the supreme human capacity, it can feel counter-intuitive yet it is wholly crucial to our survival, not just of our own selves, but also of our species in general. It is what Derrida calls, ‘a madness of the impossible’. In short, we must strive to forgive the unforgivable.
This act of radical forgiveness is exceedingly difficult because our instinct for justice and vengeance feels far more natural and human than to find it in ourselves to forgive, however, as is clear from your letter, this instinct turned inward can be absolutely disastrous.
There is a way forward though, and it is this — we must attempt to separate the act itself from the person who has carried it out. We condemn the act but we are merciful to the one who committed it. This can feel like an impossibility, especially when the person who needs clemency is oneself. However, the fact that you feel so abject about whatever you did indicates that you are indeed heading toward some form of absolution.
We all have regrets and, as bad as they may feel, they are signals of our growth as human beings. A person with no regrets is simply leading an unexamined life. Personally I try to look at our trespasses not as sins but as sufferings — that we have at our core an essential goodness, but that over time this goodness is loaded up with layers of suffering that lead ultimately to all manner of fucked-up behaviour.
It is worth bearing in mind that we are mostly good people who do bad things — all of us — and forgiveness, as contrary to our instincts as it so often feels, is the crucial component that can usher us out of the darkness and back to the world.