We are all fallible human beings. Humans display equal capacity for good and evil. I believe that most of us have exhibited thoughtless or purposeful acts of harm to another. As a mental health and substance abuse counselor, I have met many people who live with guilt, regret, and a fixed perception of themselves as deeply flawed in some way. They cannot forgive themselves and believe that they are not redeemable. Perhaps they can stop a painful loop of self-recrimination by learning from fiction writers.
Have you heard of a “redemption arc?” It refers to the transformation or inner journey of a character over the course of a plot in a fiction story, film or book. The character begins as one type of person and gradually transforms into a different sort of person in response to changing developments in the story. Since the change is often dramatic and leads from one personality trait to it’s opposite trait, the term arc is used to describe the sweeping change. An example might be someone who changes from being a pleasure seeking hedonist to someone who finds meaning and satisfaction in helping others. Another example, from film, is Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie. His character begins as a misogynistic chauvinist who changes his view of women after playing the part of a woman. He becomes a different, more likeable character.
There are actually formulas for developing these plots. In the first act the character faces an incident which serves as a turning point or call to action. In the second act, the arc develops as the character learns new skills, new capabilities and the raising of self-awareness. In the third act, the character gains a new sense of whom they are becoming. The emphasis shifts from the learning of new skills or the discovery of dormant capabilities to the awakening of a higher level of self awareness, which then becomes a new character trait.
The villain is not easily or quickly forgiven for all the wrong they’ve done. They have to undergo notable character growth before being forgiven. Redemption isn’t a change from evil to good but is instead a change of heart followed by daily efforts to do good. It is a hard path and takes time and effort to form into a new character trait.
Alex Lickerman, MD, wrote an article on redemption in psychology.com, January 16, 2011. He states “The path to redemption is difficult but not impossible to follow. We must fully recognize that we’ve done wrong; fully accept responsibility for having done it; determine never to do it again; apologize to those we’ve done it to (if appropriate); and resolve to aim at improving ourselves in the general direction of good. To dwell unduly on the past negates the idea that we can change and improve ourselves in the future. We can’t escape the effects of our past causes, of course, but we can aim to be transformed by them in a way that strengthens the good in us.”
Your past wrongs can be redeemed.