Present Perfect Series Part 4: Cultivating Forgiveness

Hello and welcome to the fourth and final part of my series on Present Perfect by Dr. Pavel Somov. Today’s post is all about cultivating forgiveness (something that perfectionists are notoriously bad at) and I thought it best to dedicate a full post to this because of how transformative his chapter on forgiveness was. Before I get to that, however, I wanted to share two quotes that I serendipitously stumbled upon on Tumblr this week that relate very well to Part 2 (on making mistakes) and Part 3 (on attempting to make “perfect” choices).

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(source: purplebuddhaproject)

I know that Dr. Somov challenges the whole principle of “mistakes” as negative and instead views them as either mismatches of expectations or accidents. However, it is quite difficult to fully let go of the culturally ingrained idea that mistakes are errors that we make in our lives. In lieu of that truth, I found this quote to be another (possibly more practical) method of dealing with the mistakes that are unavoidable in life, regardless of your opinion on the best definition for the term. It is a beautiful thing (and great coping mechanism) to view mistakes in our lives as foundations upon which to build into our future instead of as perilous gaps in a bridge that will eventually lead to our demise. There is always something to learn from a mistake, and as Oprah always says, “nothing is wasted unless you let it be.”

The second quote comes from Deepak Chopra (shocker, I know).  I had read it once before and it reminded me a lot of the RookieMag article that I linked back in Part 3 of the series. This quote has been extremely soothing and calming to me in the moments where I have questioned whether or not I was walking through the “right door” when making an important decision.

If you obsess over whether you are making the right decision, you are basically assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another. The universe has no fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision. There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities that shift with each thought, feeling, and action that you experience.

We all want to make the wisest decisions possible, but that concept becomes extremely daunting when everything is viewed as right or wrong, black or white, life or death. Life is so much more complicated and nuanced than that, and it is foolish to believe that these dichotomies are at play in our lives.

Now, on to forgiveness. I am not going to lie here, I am not writing this as a person who finds forgiveness as easy as breathing. I have a laser sharp memory and can still recall, in great detail, exactly what people have said and done to me (as far back as elementary school) that forever tainted my view of them and led to long-standing grudges. Since I am not particularly proud of this character trait of mine, reading Dr. Somov’s chapter on forgiveness was especially important for me. I also thought that it was worth sharing because most people can use a little bit of help in this department – and the way that Dr. Somov explains the concept of forgiveness has the potential to dramatically reframe the way that we see others, and ourselves.

He starts by saying, “to forgive, you have to identify with another’s imperfection” and that, “…you have to recognize that the person who infringed on your well-being did the best he or she could at that given point in time, given his or her abilities and limitations.” What really struck me, perhaps more than the two above quotes was the next part, which stated, “Indeed, to forgive others for their imperfections, we first have to learn to forgive our own imperfections by realizing that at any given point we are doing our best.” This, to me, is the essence of self-compassion and compassion for others. It seems so simple and is yet so hard to internalize the fact that it is only by extending that gentle nature toward ourselves and our own shortcomings that we can peacefully coexist with others and learn to forgive them for not doing what we think they should have done in the past.

When it comes to having this sense of compassion for others, we must try to really put ourselves in their shoes (as cliché as that sounds) and understand why, for them, their actions were a “perfectly normal course of action.” This is extremely difficult when their, “perfectly normal course of action” feels, to us, like complete betrayal and a lack of caring on their part. However, there is one overriding motivating force in all of our lives that can help tremendously here, and that is the pursuit of well-being.

If I were to simply walk down the street in New York City and take a look around, I would see a variety of different people, doing life in very different ways. But what do they all have in common? They are each pursuing well-being by their own standards and definitions. He explains, “some people seek their well being by going to work; others may steal your lawn mower to buy drugs.” While this is a bit of a strange example, Dr. Somov explains that the motivation behind each choice is, in fact, the same. The one short sentence of this motivating force that this all boils down to is, “I wanted to feel good.” People are making choices that may vary widely from our own, but the motivation behind all of our factors is this one simple idea – that what we are doing makes us feel good.

This next part was probably my favorite paragraph in the entire chapter. Somov states,

Now, there’s your core motive: not wanting to feel sick or wanting to feel good is the pursuit of well-being. So, the difference isn’t in the ‘why’ but in the ‘how’ we go about meeting our needs and desires. No one’s motivationally evil. Motivationally, everyone’s innocent. It’s just that some of us are less sophisticated (more limited) than others in their modus operandi. Why? That’s the history that has to be understood in each case. To forgive, you have to see beyond the behavior. You have to be willing to hear the whole story and to unravel the determinism of the other person’s actions to see the inevitability of what happened. Only then will you be able to see the event from their point of view, identifying with them, and thus, enabling yourself to forgive.

I have read this so many times because its message is so profound. If we really take the time to try to understand someone’s story and realize that they are doing their best considering their “level of psychological sophistication, insight, problem-solving skills, and coping,” then compassion and forgiveness can come much easier to us. This quote at the start of the chapter is the essence of this concept.

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Thank you for reading, and I hope that this post helped to reframe the concept of forgiveness for you in the same ways that reading Dr. Somov’s chapter on it did for me. One last point that I wanted to make is that forgiveness does not equal reconciliation. It is not our job to let people back into our lives once they have infringed too much onto our well-being, but it is essential to forgive them so that we can move forward in our own lives with a sense of peace. I truly believe that these concepts are a gateway to that peace and afford us the ability to better heal wounds of the past.

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