What have we done?
We’ve all done something that we know we shouldn’t have at some point. By turning away from what was best and substituting a quick fix with a sexy someone, a line of powder, a bag of Cheetos, a “quick drink,” or another chance to “hit the big one,” we are left with the icky, acrid aftertaste of regret.
Instead of dwelling on the pain and shame, let’s explore why we haven’t forgiven ourselves, how this affects us, and what we can do to transform our unforgiveness into freedom.
Two twisted reasons we don’t forgive ourselves
Our “subconscious” is SUPER-SMART and in charge of most of the reasons we don’t forgive ourselves. Although we may not have ever thought of things in the way they’ll be presented next, we will know whether they are true for us when we take time to think about the statements and then look at our lives. Do either of these reasons for unforgiveness apply to our life?
- One reason we don’t forgive ourselves is because we have judged that we deserve punishment (and don’t deserve to be forgiven).
- Another reason we don’t forgive ourselves, is because in the back of our minds, we know that if we hold onto a “bad” memory of what we did, it will stay fresh in our feelings and thoughts. By re-experiencing these memories, we create a wall of protection to keep out that possibility of having or doing that experience again.
The problem with “protection” by remembering
The problem with building walls for protection with painful memories, is that the walls work both ways. They keep us “inside” the protective boundaries of what we have known. However, it doesn’t take too awfully long to realize that walls also “protect” us from new experiences with happier endings.
How forgiveness and unforgiveness affect us
Have you ever noticed the characteristics of people who are quick to forgive? And the characteristics of the unforgiving? There is most certainly a cornucopia of results to observe! Look at the faces of the forgiving and the faces of the unforgiving. Look at their posture. Watch the way they speak to others, and the way they treat themselves. See how their families behave towards them.
In mentoring people to become empowered, I have noticed that those who forgive are lighter! Their faces are brighter and more open. They laugh more, hope more, dream and imagine more. They trust more. They are more willing to make healthy choices and take healthy risks. They are nicer, more optimistic about the future, get sick less often, have many and varied friends, and are more successful by their own standards.
On the other hand, those who do not forgive are heavier, hurt, and often angry. They feel afraid to hope, dream, and imagine and are distrusting of life, others, and themselves. They often experience both emotional and physical pain. They are more willing to make unhealthy choices and take unhealthy risks—in the conscious or unconscious hope that they might end their own lives. They often feel depressed and/or ill, have fewer friends, and believe they have limited success.
The benefits of forgiveness are, well… obvious. So, what is forgiveness?
As discussed in last week’s article, my perspective on forgiveness is considered shocking to some. If we choose to accept others (and ourselves) for who we are and whatever we have done, no judgment and forgiveness is required. (Acceptance does not mean that the behavior is OK or tolerable.)
However, if we have judged someone (or ourselves), then forgiveness is required in order to heal and grow. Forgiveness in this sense is a deep, heartfelt apology—first to our creator for being so arrogant as to believe we know best how to judge and punish ourselves, second for having judged and punished, and third for holding onto that judgment. Next is an apology to ourselves, and then to the beings whom have been affected by our judgment.
My experience with judgment
For more than 30 years, I was not conscious of the fact that I was judging, blaming, critical, and not “forgiving” or accepting myself.
After a lifetime of experience with men who chose to not be truly honest with me (or themselves), I passed a judgment—not that they were bad or wrong, rather, that there must be something “wrong” with me. How could I keep attracting the same type? My mind jumped through all sorts of hoops: maybe I was expecting too much of a man—maybe all men “skate” and cross the line into untruth, maybe I wanted too much from a relationship—maybe relationships aren’t meant to be totally honest, maybe I don’t know how to receive truth, or maybe I am just not good at being a partner? Regardless the reason, I blamed, criticized, and punished myself.
By judging myself this way, I created a wall, which justified keeping men at arm’s length. This was a safe protection mechanism… when men actually posed a danger to me. But over time, that judgment and wall also protected me from a true and loving partner. I couldn’t let love in—it felt dangerous!
By judging myself as wrong and incapable, I took away my power—my power to change myself and my power over the situation. I was stuck until “they” changed or until “life” changed. It was a powerless feeling: defeating, hopeless, and lacking in faith. I punished myself by saying things like, “I should have known better!” “How could I be so stupid?” and “I made that mistake… again?” And my punishment looked like: not allowing myself to be fully present and involved in intimate relationships, wearing the suit of cynicism as armor to protect me, getting involved with men who had addictions (and the propensity to not be capable of caring for themselves or me)—no chance of getting close there! And quite the self-fulfilling “prophecy!”
How I overcame unforgiveness of myself
I prayed a lot. I asked for guidance, I asked for help, I asked for healing, I asked for hope. I said my apologies. I quit spending time with people who were angry and wanted to be unforgiving and complain and be stuck in the “poor me” treadmill and groups of women who “dogged” men. I allowed myself to let go of the need to protect myself. I chose to feel and experience life and myself instead. It has been a great trade-off, and my health and happiness are living proof.
Is forgiveness is best for you?
If you’re not sure, could you try it? You can always go back to being angry if you want to. (But you won’t, it feels too good!)
You might also take time to pray and ask, “Is it best for me to forgive myself?” “What do I need to know?” and “Please show me how to forgive myself for what I have thought, said, and/or done.” It’s amazing what we get when we ask in earnestness!
Tools for forgiveness
If you’re ready to try some tools that work for me and my clients, below are four tools to empower and “lighten your load!”
- Responsibility: As soon as we take responsibility for our behavior, we begin to become empowered. We acknowledge that we are no longer a victim. This reduces rage and we begin to gain control over our own behavior.
- Faith: When we choose to pray and have faith that life can be different, instead of always being the same old same, our “walls” crumble and we open the door to our heart and new possibilities.
- Humility: Let’s face it. We just don’t know it all, and that is OK.
- Willingness: wholehearted willingness is key to any big change, including forgiving and accepting ourself. We can be willing to choose to experience what we may never have experienced before—freedom from anger at being a victim, fear of a repeat scenario, and the desire to punish. And, as I did, we can willingly ask for help from the All-knowing, Almighty Mystery that’s often called Life/God.
Forgiveness and Willpower
When we chose to forgive ourselves (sometimes the most difficult of all), we grow in strength and willpower. Once forgiven, we know that we are worthy to receive all forms of goodness. We stop limiting ourselves with painful behaviors and addictions born of fear and hate, and our lives become fun, light, and free. And, Life can shower us with goodness, because we are grateful and humble receivers. Of all the things we can do to empower ourselves, forgiveness is the most powerful.
What say ye?
Please share your thoughts and feelings on forgiveness with us, that we may grow in strength and willpower together…
Always with love,