"Why don't you tell Paul how you feel?" I asked my student, Angela, after she'd told me how angry she was at her classmate.
"I don't know....I don't think I should."
"But, Angela, you're furious at Paul because he always comes in late and distracts you will all the noise he makes. You said you're not enjoying the class. And my guess is that you're not learning much, either. If you don't tell Paul that you're angry, then who's really ruining
the class for you?"
"Why don't you say something to him? You're the teacher."
"And you're the one who's angry. You're the one who'll benefit from leveling with him. Remember how we worked on I-messages? Hey, Paul, when you come to class late and make a lot of noise, I lose my concentration and I get angry. Would you be willing to be more quiet?
Maybe Paul doesn't even realize that he's bothering you."
"I don't know....Couldn't you just say something to Paul without mentioning me?"
I wasn't surprised at Angela's reluctance to express her anger. She was a quiet, meek person whose whole manner cried out, Go ahead, step on me. I won't do anything about it.
She had an opportunity here to do something different, to revise her self-defeating emotional pattern. By expressing her anger, she could not only solve this particular problem, she could also learn how to express her anger in other situations where she felt violated. Instead, she chose to say nothing to Paul, to simmer in her anger, to leave the issue incomplete.
But, something within the human mind hates an incompletion. The mind wants to create a gestalt
-an experience of wholeness, of completion. Think of each of your incompletions as a burden that your mind carries as you move through life. Carrying one or two small burdens is relatively easy. But add a few more incompletions, especially some big ones, and great amounts of energy are necessary to lug them through your daily activities. If the incompletions are big enough or numerous enough, they may take so much energy that you have none left over to live a positive life.
Angela's pent up anger toward Paul needed completion or it would continue to drain her of positive energy. Every time she came to class, the heavy burden of her unexpressed anger weighed down on her. Your incompletions will do the same to you. Consequently, an effective way to bring more positive energy to your life is to identify and resolve your incompletions.
You may be draining your positive emotions by leaving something undone in your outer world. Stop procrastinating and turn your positive energy loose. Do something to resolve your incompletions!
Here are some examples of incompletions that can exist in different areas of life. Check areas where you have incompletions. You'll have an opportunity to address them further in your journal entry.
College: You have important assignments that you haven't completed, you're avoiding a required course, you keep postponing applying for the financial aid that you need, you haven't studied for an upcoming test, you're confused in a class and you haven't asked the teacher for help, you're behind in your reading.
Relationships: You're hanging onto a bad relationship, you owe someone an apology, you're keeping a painful secret, you're withholding telling someone how you feel.
Work: An important project remains undone, you're still waiting to receive a raise that was promised you months ago, you haven't asked a colleague to help you and you know you need the help, your desk or work area is disorganized, you're hiding a mistake you made.
Health: You keep ignoring a pain in your body, you continue with an addiction you've been promising yourself to quit, you keep putting off losing the weight that bothers you, you postpone starting an exercise program, you keep using eyeglasses that don't help your vision any more.
Finances: You keep stacking unpaid bills on your desk, your financial records remain horribly disorganized, you keep postponing the creation of a budget, you hope the IRS won't notice your unpaid back taxes, you find out that you overpaid a bill and do nothing to recover your money, you put off resolving a bad credit rating you got years ago, your checkbook remains unbalanced.
Possessions: For months now your car has been hard to start in the morning, every time you enter your bedroom you notice that it needs painting, a faucet has been dripping for more than a year, you have a closet full of clothes that you never wear.
Dreams: You've stopped taking actions on one of your most important dreams.
Nagging incompletions such as these will spoil your inner experience of life. The solution: move into Quadrant II. Take an action that is important and yet not urgent. I recall three incompletions in particular that caused me long-term distress. In each case, I had sunk into a dark mood, yet I resisted making a positive choice for months or even years. When I finally acted, my experience of life improved dramatically. One time I ended a relationship that had been empty and unfulfilling for more than two years; another time I quit a job that paid well but which I hated; a third time I stopped postponing my dream and sat down to write this book. As soon as I took these positive actions, I got back on course to what I truly wanted, and my mood immediately lightened.
Some incompletions can't be resolved with an external action. You may have exhausted every outer-world action you can think of to resolve these nagging situations, with no success. You have still another choice. You can decide to complete these experiences inside of you.
Perhaps you resent a teacher for failing you, or a parent for abusing you, or a friend for betraying you, or a brother for stealing from you, or an employer for firing you, or a spouse for cheating on you. In each circumstance, you have a choice. You can listen to the blaming and criticizing of your Inner Defender while you righteously hold onto your resentments toward others, or you can listen to your Inner Guide and courageously let go of your judgments.
If you decide to relinquish your judgments, the key is forgiveness. You hold the power to forgive others for the crimes you perceive them to have committed against you, to close the case in your mind, and to move on.
Wait just a minute,
you may object, I can't forgive what they did to me. I was deeply wronged. I really was victimized. They don't deserve to be forgiven for the horrible things they did to me!
This argument misses the point of forgiveness. The question is not whether they deserve forgiveness, the question is whether you deserve the benefits of forgiveness. The reason for forgiveness is primarily to improve your life, not theirs. You are the one who is poisoned daily with your own resentment. In many cases, the other people don't even know about your resentment-and even if they do, they may not even care. No, we don't end our prosecution to free others. We close the case to free ourselves of the heavy burden of judgments.
you may counter, I can't forget what was done to me. I could get myself right back in that same situation. Then I'd have to go through all that pain again!
Again, not the point. Forgiveness is not forgetting. You learn from your experience, and you take every precaution to prevent its recurrence. Then, you forgive and move on.
Well, that might be fine for others,
comes a rebuttal, but I've been so terribly wronged that in my case forgiveness is impossible!
Then consider Zalinda Dorcheus. In his book One Person Can Make a Difference,
Gerald Jampolsky tells the story of Ms. Dorcheus, whose son was shot to death by a man named Michael. After years of bitterness, Zalinda Dorcheus forgave Michael. She even assisted him to earn parole, escorting him out of prison when he was released.
"I was destroying myself through my hate and bitterness," Dorcheus explained. "My body was falling apart, and it seemed to me that all the hate inside me was attacking my own body....My forgiveness was as much for me as it was for Michael. It was the only way I could survive." Through the inner completion provided by her forgiveness, Zalinda Dorcheus was able to rescue her life from negativity.
To be candid, I don't know that I could forgive a person who killed someone I love, but Zalinda Dorcheus' extraordinary example certainly makes it seem more possible to forgive lesser offenses.
Most people hold judgments not only against others but against themselves as well. Their Inner Critic eloquently condemns them for their mistakes, failures, and personal defects. If we listen to the nonstop criticism of our Inner Critic, we will be racked with guilt, shame, and inferiority, hardly the ingredients of a positive experience of life.
Unrelenting self-judgment only burdens us with negative emotions that linger long after our lesson could have been learned. Self-forgiveness is the antidote to self-judgments. I can forgive myself for my actions, thoughts, or emotions that led to mistakes or failures: I forgive myself for losing my temper with my boss and getting fired.
I can also forgive myself for the judgments I held against myself that brought me pain: I forgive myself for judging myself as a horrible person for getting fired.
Self-forgiveness is not an excuse to repeat a mistake or an undesirable behavior. Rather, self-forgiveness releases me from the pain I am creating in the present and frees me to move into the future with greater understanding and compassion for myself.
Forgiveness is a sign of positive mental health. Victims look backwards with judgment to a painful past they cannot change. Creators forgive so they can move forward to a positive future unburdened by resentment and negative judgments. What is stopping you from moving into forgiveness? What would your life be like if you stopped judging yourself or others? What if you learned the lesson of your grievance but let go of the grievance itself? What if you were no longer bound to the past by negative judgments of yourself and others?
For that matter, what if you were no longer bound to the past by any incomplete business in your life? How much would you improve your positive experience of life if you resolved all of your incompletions, both in the world and in your heart?
In this activity, you'll have an opportunity to explore areas of your life where incompletions exist. You can then decide which, if any, you want to resolve. Each time you resolve an incompletion, you lay down a burden that you have been carrying. You feel lighter and your energy is freed to create a more positive experience of life.
Write a list of incompletions that exist in your outer world. These are things you need to do but have been postponing. To jog your thoughts, refer back to the text for examples of common outer-world incompletions.
- Choose one of your most energy-draining incompletions (from Step 1). Write a paragraph (or more) that presents your plan to resolve this incompletion.
To resolve this incompletion, don't forget the possibility of using some of the strategies you have learned in earlier journals. For example, you may wish to schedule an action in your written self-management plan. Or you may wish to make a thirty-two-day commitment to begin nibbling away at a large incompletion.
- Write the following pair of sentence stems ten or more times.
I RESENT ________ FOR....
I FORGIVE ________ FOR....
Each time you write the pair of sentences, fill in both blanks with the name of the same person (someone in your life, including yourself). For example...
I RESENT my father FOR running out on our family.
I FORGIVE my father FOR running out on our family.
I RESENT myself FOR dropping out of college.
I FORGIVE myself FOR dropping out of college.
You may use the same person for as many pairs of sentences as you wish.
- Write a letter of forgiveness to one of the people you mentioned in Step 3.
Tell the person fully what he or she did that you resent and how you felt about it. Offer the person your forgiveness. Don't overlook the possibility of writing a letter of forgiveness to yourself. You can choose to lay down the burden of your judgments forever.
Relax, think, and write.