Vengeance, Conflict, and Fatigue
Most people have heard sayings like vengeance punishes the vengeful, but it is not until we have the very personal experience of being harmed and wanting retribution that we know how exhausting it is to hold animosity towards someone. I am not a vengeful person, but I am not a person that gives people an automatic pass when they visit harm on me. I set a boundary, and establish that there will be no relationship until the safety and well-being of all people in the relationship becomes a priority.
This is a prosocial step towards maintaining healthy relationships, but in my practice of meditation I have learned that taking this stand also invites protective resources that can be fatiguing at times. The state of protecting oneself or others involves tension. Tension is stress. Stress is tiresome. In my self-compassion meditation practice, I work to dissolve this tension by coming to a deeper, more enlightened perspective on the conflict, and wishing greater wisdom and compassion for those who have harmed me and for myself. When I run into the people for whom I have done self-compassion meditation, I am made aware of how effective this practice has been, and how far I still need to go to get true resolution.
Developing Excuse Therapy
On one such day, I was supposed to see one of these people, but instead I ran into one of our mutual acquaintances. I am not the kind of person that sullies people’s positive relationships, so when this person came up in conversation, I simply listened. It turned out that this person had really been suffering in ways that explained their behavior, and I immediately felt my tension towards them soften, and ease slowly took the place of conflict.
Fortunately, I had a meeting with a mentor soon after, and was able to frame my experience in the guise of self-compassion, and so I began the practice that I refer to as Excuse Therapy. I do not make excuses for those who have harmed me, and you should not either. I do not forget the harm either, and I am sure to advocate for my needs. I do use any excuse possible (some backstory about their difficulties) to develop compassion for them and bring ease to both of our experiences. When I notice my mind begin to turn towards this person in an antagonistic or judgmental way, I simply acknowledge my lack of objectivity, and wish them insight into their actions and freedom from suffering, which I make sure I wish for myself as well. You never know how the other person has experienced you. Maybe you did something to upset them.
Why Excuse Therapy?
I like the term Excuse Therapy because it is easy to remember, and lightens the challenging load of forgiveness (or at least understanding) by carrying a name that most people expect reflects something that is not very therapeutic at all, namely making excuses.
Excuse Therapy is not about avoiding the problem. It is about dealing with the problem of suffering from being harmed by somebody else, and unfairly having to carry that burden. If someone else harms you, surely there is someone or something else that can carry that harm, no? But, there we are, harmed and burdened. As self-compassionate people, we know that we cannot undo the harm, but we can work to undo the burden, or at least lighten it.
Trying Excuse Therapy On Your Own
The next time you think about or are around someone with whom you have great conflict, notice how your body feels. Notice how your energy fluctuates. Then, see if you have new information about that person that would make sense out of their behavior. See if you might bring some compassion to that person and their situation, and notice how that effects your physiological experience. In other words, how you feel it in your body. Do you feel lighter? Less tense?
This practice works best when you get this new information from someone you really like and trust, and when you remember that you are doing so to diminish your suffering. It is not a free pass for this person to harm you again or to feel good about the harm they have committed. It is simply the understanding that you give yourself to take good care of your mind and body.
When I can, I work this new information into self-compassion phrases, so I am sure to be providing compassion to the aggressor and myself. May this person have better insight into their actions. May I have better insight into my actions. Given their current state of suffering, may they be free from suffering. Given my current state of suffering, may I be free from suffering. May they live with greater ease and healthy ways of engaging in relationships. May I live with greater ease and healthy ways of engaging in relationships.
What Excuse Therapy Is and What it Is Not
What It Is
Excuse therapy is a practice for softening around people and experiences that bring you continued harm and suffering. It is a way to gather new information that helps you understand the harm that has been committed and how to organize it. It is a way of extending formal self-compassion practice.
It is also a relationally sound way of using positive connections to others to bring more well being into your life, and includes the understanding that once harmed by someone our experience of them becomes mostly subjective. It may help you feel better. If it does not, get rid of it! Fit is always paramount.
What It Is Not
Excuse Therapy does not give people permission to harm you, and we do not use it to make harm that has been done to you ok. It is not ok. You deserve to be in safe relationships, and no one has the right to harm you. It is also not a good tool for people who have recently been severely harmed. This might be a helpful step after a great deal of therapy, and other external supports.
It is also not a therapy that encourages forgetting. Do not forget. Forgetting is akin to burning your hand on the stove, and continually burning your hand on the stove. Stop burning your hand on the stove. Be weary of conditions that will lead to harm. However, soften around your experience of harm, so that you can process the experience and be less burdened by it.
Summing It Up
Life can be complicated. We have goals. We want to work towards those goals, and we need the support of healthy relationships to get there. Shoot, sometimes having healthy relationships are our goals! Because relationships are such an important part of our lives, when they are harmful they do us a great disservice.
Excuse Therapy exists to give you a self-compassionate way to help you let go of experiences or relationships that bring you harm. If you simply let someone off the hook, you may have a nagging feeling that you have given them the permission to have harmed or continue to harm you. If you hold a grudge forever, you will often be burdened by a relationship that makes it harder to achieve your goals. So, it is nice to have a tool that offers you safety and well-being.
When in doubt, let the self-compassion out. Excuse Therapy has been helpful to me, and many of my clients. I hope it works for you, but if it does not, get rid of it! Your only commitment should be to live in a way that consistently fosters well-being and meaning for you and those whom you love.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 75. In the Books.