Musings on Contemporary Waffle

Forgiveness and the ‘feng shui’ lady

The feng shui lady told me that I am carrying too much anger, and that people who rub me the wrong way are actually showing me something I don’t like about myself. I need to forgive everyone who has done me wrong because of the negative energy in me. She said those people that anger me are teaching me a lesson I need to learn and only when I learn from it will I no longer be angry.    –M.

Dear M.,

There is nothing inherently wrong with anger. There are people in the world who also suffer from the opposite condition of not being able to express anger or other strong emotions at all. People for whom the forgive-and-forget attitude may be second nature — as might be the case with the feng shui lady — might simply be at the other extreme of personality, where a lack of demonstrated emotion becomes a repression that creates a misapprehension of o.k.-ness that may be just as destructive if either type of person continues to be taken advantage of.

As for all those people who are teaching you about your misconceptions by inciting your anger, those who make us angry are likely also projecting their misconceptions onto us, which is often what makes us angry in the first place! Projection happens all the time, to everyone, every day. People misunderstand other people’s meanings constantly because of projection. So it works both ways.  It’s unfair of the feng shui lady to assume that you are unjustifiably angry just because you are angry!

But too much anger is like too much of anything else. The real point is to be on the lookout for when we ourselves project our weaknesses, complexes, insecurities, self-consciousnesses, etc., onto others. It’s all we can do. As I said, projection is a part of life and not a disease or mental disorder, and has been dealt with as a psychological function from the mid-1800s and on through Freud and Jung and continuing onto the modern re-packaging of the concept that you sent me the link to. Everyone does it without knowing it (by definition).

It’s a painful, humbling experience to overcome our innumerable misconceptions. We may still conclude that the other person was wrong, but anger that is controlled — meaning that you have identified your own position correctly — allows you to articulate your meaning more effectively to the person who might be accusing you falsely.

That’s not to say that people are always angry at us for no reason. Sometimes we mess up and deserve it. But, when we have enough self-knowledge, we can respond with grace.

The thing I take the most issue with that the feng shui lady said to you, is that you should forgive everyone outright. Forgiveness is not a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card to be bestowed upon the tactless. It is not something that we can produce out of our free will and have it mean anything just because we want a problem to go away.

Forgiveness needs a show of remorse from the other person for it to have psychological validity; it needs an admission that a wrong was made. We can’t have a relationship with someone who constantly hurts us. And so forgiveness can be given only when it is clear that a relationship can exist where one could not exist before. Without that admission of wrong-doing, there can’t be a catharsis (except maybe on some spiritual level where we desire forgiveness for all mankind as a hedge against annihilation).

It’s not always possible to forgive someone, and so we may have to settle for acceptance instead, to finally dispel the anger we feel. I think this is when people use the phrase “I can forgive but I can’t forget“. It is usually spoken before that catharsis brought upon by true forgiveness has taken place. Once true forgiveness happens, people can allow themselves to finally forget.

But how angry you allow yourself — or don’t allow yourself, if you are the feng shui lady — to be at a person makes no difference to how the process of true forgiveness has to work. And so, you won’t be doing yourself any favours by magnanimously “forgiving” people who you might be justifiably angry at but who have made no effort to atone for the way they’ve treated you. As the saying goes, so true for psychological insight, too: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Love ya,

PS: Here’s a lovely little song about seeking forgiveness. It starts tongue-in-cheek but goes on to become a credible cathartic moment. You might even be able to dance to it! -t

(Hothouse Flowers, “I’m Sorry” — Copyright: London Records)


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