Guilt, Punishment, and Forgiveness

Updated: May 31, 2018

Note: This was originally written in December of 2013.

Tuesday is going to be my last day of work at my current job. I've completely run out of steam there. I did what I could to hand off all the stuff I had been working on and my current knowledge base, but by Friday, with three work days to go, I was tapped out. I didn't work very hard in the morning and took a long lunch. In the afternoon, my boss sprung some last minute stuff on me. Something I had no desire to do. Our IT department could do it as well, and I figured they had a faster way to do it.

So, I emailed an IT guy named Eric, at 4:45 his time, and asked him to do it. The guilt hit me about an hour or so later when I realized I had asked him to do work on a Friday afternoon about 5pm his time.

During this period, I was in the middle of doing a 30-day Intention workshop called Create Yourself, Create Your Life, by Arn "Zingdad" Allingham, the purpose of which is to learn how to consciously and purposefully create your life (plug!). That Friday's intention was to Give Oneness: To see myself in another person, which means treating others the way I'd want to be treated. And I realized I certainly wouldn't want a potentially big task being dumped in my lap on a Friday afternoon, right before 5pm hit!

Besides, I thought, if I had taken a shorter lunch, I would have had more time. Maybe not more will, but maybe I would have been more inclined to at least try it. Maybe not, but perhaps I shouldn't have slacked off.

So, I emailed him and apologized. He said no worries and got the work done that night anyway, but said he’d have to work over the weekend for some other related work. That only alleviated the guilt a bit, so, after going into my heart about this, what felt right to do was to offer him my personal email address to use over the weekend if he had questions about something that I could answer.

The next day the guilt about springing that work on Eric wouldn't go away. It got worse. I decided to be with this guilt and discover the root cause. What I got behind this guilt was actually an extreme fear of punishment. A voice was telling me that I was going to be punished for making that ‘mistake’ and there was no getting around it. It was a powerful, strong voice, which made me fear it even more because those powerful voices seem to get their way in my life and cause me to suffer. I had run across voices like that before, and each time I examined them, they stemmed from some hurt.

In this case, I got the sense of myself as a child (the soldier boy) being severely punished whenever he made a mistake. It didn’t matter what lead up to it (if the actions of others caused the behavior), it was ME that committed the act. To relate it to this example of work, it didn’t matter that my boss was throwing a bunch of stuff at me that he wanted to be done, or the fact that I had no will to do it. I had slacked off that day and passed on the responsibility to Eric instead of handling it myself or even telling my boss that it would have to wait until Monday (which he would have accepted). So, since I asked Eric to do it, and he did, that was my responsibility.

What followed were the guilt and the fear of punishment that would inevitably come and the hatred of myself for making that mistake. Instead of the punishment coming from someone outside of me, like it did from my fellow troop mates as a soldier, the punishment would be created from within myself, and some event would follow that I’d suffer for. It said I’d have to work over the weekend or work like a dog on Monday and Tuesday to make up for it. If not, then sometime in the future I’d have some type of work, job, or task that I didn’t want to do be burdened upon me at a very inconvenient time.

The voice repeated that I would be punished, that I have to, and that it has the power to create that suffering for me. I then got the rumination of, “I hate you” “I hate you” “I hate you” over and over and over. It was a hatred, stemming from the experience of that soldier child, first of those that had punished him, and then of himself for making that ‘mistake’. There was no mercy or grace or acceptance that ‘mistakes happen’. They weren’t tolerated.

So I decided to be with that voice…that boy…as a loving observer. The voice continued to scream, “I hate you!” over and over and over, and I reached out my arms and held it, sending it love. I knew fighting it would only strengthen it, as well as ignoring it or fearing it. What I realized is that the key to healing this wound was to show it how to forgive. If I can’t let go of other people’s mistakes that affect me, how would I let my own go? But if I can show that punishment doesn’t have to follow a ‘mistake’, that what we see as mistakes are often actions that simply stem from fear, then I can look at my own actions as the same and give myself grace and mercy.

That doesn’t mean I don’t take responsibility for my actions. Just the opposite. I take responsibility and do what feels right to do if I can make restitution. But I don’t have to punish myself, and that restitution will feel right and good, instead a punishment. It’s the same with other people’s behavior. If someone ‘wrongs’ me, then I can stand up for myself and do or say what I feel, in my heart, is right to do or say, and then it let go.

But sometimes I'm not sure if I'm punishing or if it's standing up for myself. For example, I hired some movers to move my stuff into my new apartment earlier this year. They broke my computer desk, but after several attempts to make a claim and after several broken promises by the company that it would be taken care of, I decided that I needed to take further action. I first filed a claim against the BBB (Better Business Bureau) then put a negative review on Yelp, and now I'm going to send a certified letter to them demanding the appropriate money from them.

I think following up with a letter demanding what I'm owed isn't punishment, but what about filing a claim with the BBB and the negative review on Yelp? Am I being spiteful? I don't think I am. I stated exactly what happened, as I experienced it, without embellishing and without emotion. I didn't attack the people there. I just felt like I was being given the run-around, and I wanted others to know about it.

So, forgiving others (and myself) while maintaining responsibility and self-respect is a work in progress for me, but I am happy that I have been able to come as far as I have.

2014 Update: In early 2014, I ended up putting in that negative review, which got the owner to apologize to me and offer me my compensation for the broken desk.

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