Forgiving oneself

When I was young and I heard about the scars that life leaves in you, I thought they were the result of events that had happened to you. But no. It’s your own sins that scar you the deepest.

Over and again, last call for sin
While everyone’s lost, the battle is won
With all these things that I’ve done
All these things that I’ve done
(Time, truth, hearts)
If you can hold on
If you can hold on

The Killer, All the things that I’ve done

The other day I saw a tweet that asked ‘Have you forgiven yourself?’. Before I could stop my inner voice, it jumped and said “no”. Right, why sweeten it…

Then I thought… all right, I haven’t. However, if ‘all those things I have done’ had been done by someone else, a friend of mine for instance, would I have forgiven him? “Yes”, the voice answered. It doesn’t take me too long to forgive, so this was probably true. I was reasonably pleased with my answer, as it meant that no matter how bad those things were from a moral point of view, they weren’t so terrible that they could not be forgiven. Meaning they could be forgiven if someone else had made those mistakes, me of course I have to burn in hell.

I pushed this forward to see where it would take me. Had I not done ‘those things’, would I be able to forgive myself? “No”. Again, no doubt, straight answer. This is interesting… so it is not what I’ve done, then? I asked: before I had done ‘those things’ was I able to forgive myself? “No”. At least it was consistent… but puzzling.

So my ability to forgive myself, which I know is the task of a lifetime (or half, at least), is not based on my responsibility for ‘all of the things that I’ve done’, dreadful as they might be. Is it then about my mere existence? “Yes”, answered the voice. And how is that my fault? How can I feel guilty about an act I was not responsible for?

Guilt is a most fascinating emotion. I guess it evolved as part of our necessity to live with others and/or with our perception of free choice, but I’m not entirely sure. The fact that I cannot forgive myself (love myself would be a much more appropriate expression, but I’d rather use a euphemism) because of my mere existence is contradictory, since I do not have any responsibility in this act.

This reminded me of the original sin. The way I see it, the original sin symbolises the appearance of ego consciousness and its separation from the unconscious. It is associated with our acquisition of logic and knowledge, symbolised in the myth of the apple from the Tree of Knowledge. Separation from our unconscious is not a voluntary act, we do not ‘decide’ whether we want to leave it behind (as if we could…) and, quite on the contrary, we spend a big part of our lives trying to reconnect with it. I wonder if we feel guilty as a species. There is a collective unconscious (Jung), so why would there not be collective guilt? Especially if it is the result of the dawning of ego conscience. The appearance of conscience was a traumatic event from the point of view of the unconscious, a rupture, a betrayal even.

So why is it that I cannot forgive myself for leaving my unconscious behind? And, maybe more importantly, who is ‘I’ in this question? Where does this guilt arise from? I can see I have intellectualised it and associated it with things I have done in my life, things I feel ashamed about. But maybe this is one of those many occasions in which the ego conscience is trying to pin something it knows on something it does not understand in an attempt to make sense of it. So now I have a rational excuse not to forgive myself. It’s bad, but as long as it’s rational, my ego is calmed. It seems that I’d rather endure guilt and feel the ground beneath my feet than accept that life is beyond my control, that everything flows, that change is the only constant. Rationalising reduces anxiety even if it means that I have to accept guilt for a crime I did not commit.

This is a gift it comes with a price
Who is the lamb and who is the knife
Midas is king and he holds me so tight
And turns me to gold in the sunlight

Florence and the machine, Rabbit Heart (Raise it Up)

Yes, the appearance of ego consciousness has a bit of a crime taste. Who is the lamb and who is the knife… The comparison with the gift of king Midas is so appropriate. The price of logical ‘enlightenment’ that turns everything into gold, while it kills its soul.

Maybe guilt is not supposed to make sense. Maybe there is a purpose, rather than a cause, for the unconscious to push this nonsense guilt that precludes me from forgiving myself. Like putting a small stone in my shoe, making my life uncomfortable until I take care of it. Calling. Shouting. Rebelling. Until I find It. Him. Her.