Acquitting the Brain

How do I forgive myself for what I fear most? I feel my brain roll, as if to the cooler side of the pillow, ejaculating darkness to the top of its world. Like an uprooted tree, the pitch uncoils it’s furls from the sodium growths. It progresses to the deepest grottoes of my mind. The infection slicks by as circles dance at my feet.  Each offense, each victim, each face, each breath, each abuser, to each member – I let them all in like a sapling reaching for the sun. Waiting for someone to lift me from the shadows and I expected a fair trade. But didn’t I ask for each fleeting moment to feel what I could not for myself? Didn’t I make the decisions, one after another, that placed me in this corner of the world? When do I stop hiding from myself? How do I begin to forgive myself?

forgiveness  To forgive is the act of letting go of resentment, hostility or bitterness of someone who has offended another in some way. True forgiveness is understanding responsibility and releasing one’s self from guilt and rebuttal. Forgiveness is a psychological defense allowing one to be criticized without significantly affecting one’s self-regard, self-efficacy, and overall health. Additionally, it will enable individuals to act and react within society’s boundaries. However, there are two other versions of forgiveness corresponding to two separate personality differences.

“a willingness to abandon self-resentment in the face of one’s acknowledged objective wrong, while fostering compassion, generosity and love toward oneself”

Two other forms of forgiveness fall under the umbrella term pseudo forgiveness, in which the offender does not undergo the forgiveness process in a “healthy” way. These two types are self-condemning and self- exonerating. Self-condemning individuals experience low overall self-forgiveness, high self-condemnation, and high responsibility. In such a case, the individual will consistently blame him/herself for the offense; and, instead of learning and moving on, he/she will fixate on the issues – replaying it. In this way, the individual freezes future development. This type of personality tends to have vulnerable narcissism. Vulnerable narcissism is characterized by the person seeking approval from others to establish/boost his/her own low self-esteem. Although he/she strives for other’s approval, he/she is extremely sensitive to criticism. Additionally, these individuals may show vindictive and domineering behaviors in contrast to his/her need for support.

the self-forgiving and self-exonerating states didn’t differ on traits like self-compassion and neuroticism

In contrast, self-exonerating individuals do not give the victim the closure, nor the understanding he/she deserves. For instance, imagine someone hurting you, then when you confront them, he/she completely ignores what you say? It feels invalidating as if your opinions don’t matter. Individuals who portray this kind of trait tend to rate higher in grandiose narcissism. Grandiose narcissism can be characterized by that guy who always had an excuse for his behavior. Basically, it’s a 3-year-old’s reasoning of, “Well, he made me mad and wouldn’t stop talking so that’s why I hit him.” In forgiveness, this individual rates high in end-state forgiveness, low in responsibility, and low in self-condemnation. Additionally, these individuals feel a lack of empathy towards whomever they hurt, whether accidental or premeditated (in a sense), are hypersensitive to criticism and may portray him/herself as the victim, although he/she is the perpetrator.

Although both of these personality types are considered unhealthy alternatives, self-exonerating personalities may be apart of a healthy range of functioning. Both self-exonerating and self-condemning could be two ranges in interpersonal defense.

What parts of the brain does forgiveness involve?

Forgiveness involves multiple facets of the brain including the inferior frontal gyrus, anterior cingulate cortex, and the posterior cingulate cortex, and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. In a study observing the role of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in forgiveness, theta-burst-stimulation was used in this area during a game in which the subject was to determine whether to forgive an unfair opponent or seek revenge. The study found subjects who were faced with high conflict situations, usually when the individual had to decide whether to overlook his/her unfair opponent, look longer to make a decision with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was inhibited. However, the response pattern towards fair opponents remained unchanged, suggesting the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is only involved in high-conflict situations. In other words, it steps in when we have the urge to respond poorly to an offense in a sense – the sense of satisfaction you feel when you see someone who has wronged you get hurt is inhibited.  So in this case, forgiveness is somewhat of a logical choice to maintain socially acceptable responses.

But, in such a case in which you are the victim, judge and the society of which sees the offense yet are unwilling to forgive? Or better explained as unable to understand where to begin, what stage do you start? Which areas of your brain condemn you?

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