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Soul-Talk: Can Forgiveness Be Its Own Form of Poison?

But how do you move from resentment, upset and blame into acceptance, understanding and true forgiveness? The answer lies in forgiving yourself. Not forgiving yourself for an action, thought, word or deed aimed at another, but forgiving yourself for having judged yourself in the first place.
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Last week we likened resentment to drinking poison hoping the other person would die. If you have been stewing in your own resentment, there is an antidote you can self-administer. It's called forgiveness. Not the poisonous everyday run-of-the-mill-I-don't-really-mean-it forgiveness, but true forgiveness, what I call Self-Forgiveness.

While forgiving someone else for their offense is nice, and certainly better than continuing to drink more of your own resentment poison, that kind of forgiveness usually stems from another form of poisonous Self-Talk, that of blame and complain. Now I know it must be difficult to equate forgiving someone with taking more poison, so bear with me for a moment.

Forgiveness aimed at another operates from the notion that the other person is to blame for your upset in the first place, that you are upset because of something the other person did. Of course that seems to make sense. After all, the other person probably did do something that you found upsetting. However, blaming the other person for being upset ignores the simple fact that you're the one choosing to be upset.

If you are new to this approach to creating the life you want rather than the one you settle for, then consider this thought: Don't you know someone who could call you stupid and you would find it hurtful or offensive, while someone else could say the same thing and you would treat it as the proverbial "water off a duck's back?" C'mon, now. Sure you have.

Can Forgiveness Make Things Even Worse?

Focusing blame on the other person through "I'm upset because... " thinking is just another form of drinking more of your own poison. If you persist in blaming the other person for your choice to be upset, then forgiving the other person can become another way of fostering the charade that they're still to blame, and you're just a bigger person because you have forgiven them.

In an odd and counterintuitive way, this kind of forgiveness opens up an entire pantry of poison that you continue to take. Haven't you ever "forgiven" someone and still held on to the offending words or deeds in your mind? Haven't you forgiven someone and still rerun the events in your mind over and over again? If so, that's another form of drinking your own poison. Even if this kind of poison seems less toxic than the original resentment, it is still upset nonetheless, and you're the one drinking from the cup you continue to fill.

Rather than deal with the fact that you're the one who chose to be upset, forgiving the other person allows you to continue blaming the other person. While you may in all good consciousness truly want to forgive, your focus remains on the "offense" and the offending party. However, the truly offending action had a lot less to do with what the other person did or said and much more to do with how you chose to respond.

Haven't you ever stewed in your anger and resentment toward another and at the same time felt just a little guilty about remaining that upset? Of course you have. And if you have, then guess who needs to be forgiven! That's right, Bucko, it's that person staring right back at you in the mirror.

"Wait just one New York minute! What do I have to forgive? They're the one who committed the offense." Well, sure they did. But who did the judging? Who committed the offense of staying upset?

Why Self-Judgment Is the Real Offense

The real offense that most of us suffer from is one of self-judgment. Have you ever found yourself to be even just a little bit self-critical? I know I have and have written about the fact many times, most recently when I wrote about criticism as a disguised form of caring. The more critical I am of myself, the more easily I can become critical of someone else. Have you noticed anything similar yourself?

Years ago, I found myself stuck in an endless loop of blame-complain-forgive-upset-all-over-again. In this case, it was with some former partners of mine who kept making what to me were the same silly mistakes over and over again. Whenever I found myself getting upset, I would self-righteously comment that "if they only knew better, they would do better" and then "forgive" them for being so "blind." One day I found myself reading a book called Forgiveness when I suddenly realized that I was the one keeping myself stuck by judging-forgiving-judging them when the real object of my forgiveness needed to be toward myself for having judged in the first place. Once I entered Self-Forgiveness, I found that I had a lot more compassion for both myself and for them. With increased compassion came increased understanding. Compassion and understanding allowed me to drop the criticism and instead offer more real help in the form of compassionate caring. That caring, in turn, made my messages somewhat more accessible. I say somewhat because they never did move fully on the ideas, but I was more at ease with the situation and their responses. And that, in turn, lead to a deepening of our relationship, even though no one really changed.

How Can You Move Into True Forgiveness?

Criticism and judgment stem from your Self-Talk -- all those learned behaviors and limiting beliefs you have taken on throughout your life. Judging and criticizing yourself are the real offenses here. Why? Because the more you judge and criticize your own self, the more you are actually placing judgment against your very essence as a person, as a soul. That quieter voice of your Soul-Talk would have you move more gently, with more understanding, with more true forgiveness in your thoughts, words and deeds.

But how do you move from resentment, upset and blame into acceptance, understanding and true forgiveness? The answer lies in forgiving yourself. Not forgiving yourself for an action, thought, word or deed aimed at another, but forgiving yourself for having judged yourself in the first place.

This one will take a bit of real work to fully understand and experience. And by work, I mean the same kind of work it takes to bake a cake. Reading the recipe may help you understand cake but it won't produce the experience of cake. Mixing the ingredients together correctly, placing them in the correct pan, in an oven at the correct heat, and leaving it alone while it bakes for the correct amount of time -- these are the actions that lead to cake.

Reading about self-forgiveness won't produce the experience of fully baked forgiveness. Delving into those areas of self-judgment and forgiving yourself for having judged yourself is what produces the experience of true forgiveness. The more you can forgive yourself for having judged yourself, the less likely you are to judge anyone else. The less you judge others, the less likely you are to become upset because of something they did or said. The less upset you are, the less you will have to forgive in the first place -- either them or you!

There's another key to moving from upset to your seemingly-impossible good, which we want to explore next week: The Apology Trap

In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you. What has been our experience with turning from upset and resentment back into self-forgiveness? How have you moved into greater compassion and understanding? Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at)


If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my new book, "Workarounds That Work." You'll be glad you did.

Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at You can contact me by email at Russell (at)

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