Why is it most of us have lesser resistance at the idea of forgiving someone else but when it comes to ourselves, we tend to treat our psyche and spirit the way a jail keeper would?
I think it has to do with the conditioning we grew up with, where time and time again, it is instilled in us the need to be forgiving and kind with others yet no one takes the time to tell us kindness, forgiveness and care start with self; otherwise all we are doing is simply giving our “water” away but allowing ourselves to go thirsty. In other words, we are setting ourselves up for a mental, spiritual and maybe even physical breakdown. After all when we don’t make the time to take care of ourselves we are really just draining out whatever little resources we have left; some are even running on empty yet they keep trying to be there for everyone else. When we treat ourselves that way, we are treating ourselves like an bank account on overdraft.
The lower the self esteem the harder it is for us to forgive ourselves; constantly blaming ourselves and even mentally whipping ourselves as if that will make us a “better” person. Forgiving ourselves is imperative if we wish to start building a strong self esteem in order to move ahead in life. Blaming ourselves constantly for what we did wrong or what could have been done differently, not only keeps us stuck in the past but also makes us vulnerable to the manipulation of others. Forgiving yourself and being open about your life takes the power away from others and puts you back in the driver seat; after all your life is your vehicle, no one else should be on the driver’s seat but you.
In order to start forgiving yourself, there are a few things you will need to implement:
Take Responsibility.- Accept all your actions, this will take you away from denial giving you a better perspective as to how to respond in the future. Accepting your part for hurting others will minimize trapping emotions such as excessive remorse and guilt.
Remorse.- Remorse is not the same thing as guilt. Guilt keeps you trapped, while remorse helps you look at the events in order to examine what could have been done differently and use that new insight if a similar situation were to arise in the future; as such remorse takes the experience and makes it into a lesson. Guilt comes from the Latin “Culpa” which was to refer to the carrying of weight, while Remorse in its Latin origin means to come into consciousness. What good will carrying a burden due to you? Don’t you think raising your awareness, coming into consciousness would be a better skill to have? It is definitely more productive and can make you more empathetic towards others.
Make up for your mistakes.- Whenever possible, try to make amends for your mistakes. It is imperative you come to a conclusion as to what you feel would help make up for whatever happened. I usually recommend to do this with the help of a therapist, as it avoids any power struggles or manipulation from others. Unfortunately, when people feel hurt, angry or vengeful, they often seek punishment over healing; that is where a therapist can help by providing an impartial perspective and guide you onto the most appropriate path for you and for them.
Renewal.- Once again introspection is needed. You can look at the events by yourself or with the help of a therapist to help you understand what lessons can be learned and what skills can be developed from the whole experience. Also he or she can help guide you towards healthier habits, and help you discover new interests to support you on your journey of transformation towards the person you want to become…the person you always knew you could be.
Stop Rationalizing or Justifying what happened.- Stop ruminating on the events; that doesn’t do you any good and it is the first step towards learning to forgive yourself. Stop justifying, that stops you from assuming whatever responsibility you may have, keeping you stuck in the victim seat.
Learn to understand your motivations.- Before you can forgive yourself, you will need to understand why you behaved as you did, and why you feel guilty about those actions. For example, is it possible you did something that violated your moral convictions? Are your values yours or where they an expectation of others? Do they reflect who you really are? Understanding who you really are and why you did what you did, can help you decide why forgiving yourself is so important. This step can also teach you how to properly handle such behaviors in the future.
Learn the difference between remorse and shame.- Feeling bad when you do something that contradicts who you are is very natural and if properly analyzed it can help you. Shame on the other hand, often involves feelings of worthlessness. Having made mistakes for which you feel sad about does not make you a bad person or undermine your intrinsic worth. Experiencing sadness is natural and allows you to accept responsibility and move forward. On the other hand, shame and self-condemnation will keep you stuck in the past. Don’t forget, there is not a single person in this planet who has gone through life without making mistakes or hurting someone else, so there really is no reason to think you are the only one; you are not the first and you will not be the last.
For those who were victims of abuse: It can be very hard for someone who was the victim of abuse to learn to forgive his or herself. Often the feeling of shame can be more difficult to deal with than guilt. In most cases they often are mixed; this is due to false beliefs often imposed on by the abusers or those close to the victim, who used guilt to keep the whole thing quiet. As such a victim of abuse experiences shame for what was done to his or her person and guilt because they often think they could have done something different for the abuse not to take place. They are angry with the abusers and at a superficial level they may blame them; however most of their anger is directed at themselves; for that is what they were taught to do.
It is important for victims of abuse; when in the process of learning to forgive themselves; to be provided a safe space to let their emotions out. It is imperative to remind them that forgiving themselves does not mean they have to forgive their abusers.
Forgiveness is a process not just a word and it should not be taken lightly. In reality none of us can forgive others when we have not been real with ourselves; walking through the process and learning to forgive ourselves first. To say we are forgiving without having walked through the process of self responsibility and self forgiveness is usually denial, conditioning or the wearing of a mask, where a person says they have forgiven someone but in reality they are just tolerating, and tolerance isn’t forgiveness. One can forgive and still set clear boundaries, doing this doesn’t make us “bad”, it means we are taking responsibility for our mental and physical health.
Victims of abuse need to be reminded the process of self forgiveness is exclusively for them, it is okay to be a little selfish; specially when one grew up always giving everything to others or being forced to be quiet for the sake of others. Besides being selfish is this situation is really “self care”, learning to breathe first, learning to walk, so one day they too can enjoy life.
Why is it important to also help victims of abuse acknowledge their own mistakes in life? Aside from helping victims of abuse to “self care” and to “self forgive”, it is extremely important to help them look at other areas in their lives where they may have made mistakes; either based on the trauma or just the regular process of life. The reason behind this step, is to make sure to promote balance. The false ego has many tricks to keep us bound; just like there are people who fall pray to their tittles, their religious affiliations, their status, etc. Some victims of abuse can fall pray to the trauma. They can acknowledge what happened to them but ran away from acknowledging any behavior in which they may have made a mistake towards others. Such attitude is not one which will promote healing but denial. It is imperative to teach victims of abuse to differentiate and to accept the fact that making a mistake does not make them equal to the person who committed abuse. Helping victims learn the difference and acknowledge their own mistakes in life is key towards building a healthy foundation.
Summary.- Forgiving those who have hurt us can be challenging, yet forgiving ourselves tends to be just as difficult, if not more. It is important to remember that learning to forgive yourself is not a one-size-fits-all process; it’s never simple nor easy. Working on this form of self-compassion can convey a number of potential health benefits: In addition to reducing stress, depression, and anxiety, self-forgiveness can also have positive effects on your physical, mental and relationship health. Forgiveness is not an act of compassion reserved for others, it is an act of compassion and love for yourself. By working through the process of forgiveness, you are not just using the word and superficially claiming to have forgiven; the process helps you acknowledge, release, integrate and transmute all those emotions which are keeping you bound. By walking through the process of self forgiveness, you free yourself from unnecessary emotional stress and suffering. Self forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself.
“As a soul, you have the freedom – and earned responsibility – to transpose your personal process of evolution, to manifest your greatest talents and vision, into the work that matters to you most as a means to personal transformation and rebirth.”
― Darrell Calkins