On the Misplaced Arts of Forgiveness and Empathy
I misplace and forget things. In fact, the security guard who works in the supermarket across the street from our house has gotten so used to leaving my phone or bank card at the self-service checkout that I now carry a bag that acts as a “backup”. Brain. I am far less embarrassed about my satchel than my previous transgressions, which weighed heavily on me when the tables were recently turned.
In preparation for a family camping trip, we had ordered various camping equipment and I had offered to pick it up. But when I got home some things were missing and I had to make a way back to the store. At first I thought it was my fault. However, when I got to the store, the cashier seemed visibly humiliated and started making desperate excuses while fumbling in drawers to find the items. Moments later he found the missing items and nervously handed them over with a glance at me. I found something funny about this situation; I couldn’t help but laugh. Now when I think about it I see that this was not helpful, but in all honesty I was out of my element – for once in my life I had the power to judge or forgive a mistake.
In addition, I had power over our interaction and the feelings or behaviors that would manifest from it. I know I had this power because I had received it many times; I knew that I could use the cashier for my own satisfaction and shame her. I had the right to be angry, and I could have the right to blow up or call the manager. But to be justified doesn’t mean to be just or even to be right.
[Click to Read: “In Relationships, Is it Harder for ADHD Adults to Forgive and Forget?”]
The drama triangle is a social model of human interaction proposed by Stephen B. Karpman. The triangle depicts a kind of destructive interaction that can occur between people in conflict. It models the relationship between personal responsibility and power in conflict and the changing roles of people. We all participate in games – express emotional states and try to satisfy needs, but in a manipulative way. We do this in our families, in a way that is influenced and recycled by our parents. We do this in relationships when we feel inequality or injustice. And that’s what we definitely do in our transaction-based society.
A look at the news or social media is enough to realize that empathy is in short supply these days, probably because its intrinsic value is not always clear. Empathy is not learned instinctively; it is taught by the people around us. It is communicated in spoken and unspoken ways – in language, body language and relationship patterns. It cannot be bought or sold, but it can and should be freely given.
Empathy helps us communicate our thoughts in a way that makes sense to others. It enables us to understand others better when they communicate. It’s the bar of fulfilling social interaction. When taught to us in the build-up years, it can be beneficial for interactions like the one I found myself in at the camping shop.
As an art psychotherapist in training and a regular visitor to therapy, I was aware of my strength at that moment. At the same time, I was able to connect as a free thinking adult who wasn’t ready to play a social game. I previously worked in consumer retail; I know the demands and pressures associated with the job – the stress and uncertainty in dealing with the public and the company’s message that “everything is on you”. So I immediately apologized for the laugh and explained how I perceived the situation and how often I find myself in his position. I picked it up and eased his anxiety by saying I had no complaints. “These things happen,” I said, wishing him a good shift. I decided not to take part in the game.
[Read This Next: Forgiving My ADHD Impulsivity]
The diagnosis of ADHD in adults was previously described as the “medicalization of poor performance”, reflecting the competitiveness and performance-oriented culture of modern society. Too often, I’ve internalized the feelings associated with how my ADHD affects others. I gave too much power to other people, played the victim, and then played games myself to meet my needs. But everyone is fighting. We are all basically human. We all have to make money, pay the bills and walk the dog. There are pandemics, overdraft extensions, and other beasts that I have to contend with. We all make mistakes along the way. Not just me, not just you. And forgiveness is the most precious thing we can give away for free in this transactional society.
Forgiveness and ADHD: The Next Steps
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Updated July 6, 2021