Recently, a friend and I were talking about something they’d done about which they carried a great deal of shame.
“I’m not sure [the other person] will forgive me,” they said.
“Do you want them to?” I asked.
“Oh yes. I really want to rebuild the relationship.”
“Have you forgiven yourself?” I asked.
I kind of knew the answer. My friend is human. We, humans, struggle with the realization that forgiveness starts with self-forgiveness. Without it, we are asking others for something we don’t believe we deserve.
My friend replied, “I don’t know that I can. I feel so guilty.”
Now, I was raised Catholic. Guilt is part of my DNA. It has taken me my lifetime to unwind its sinister strands, and still I find it lurking in darkened corners of my psyche when I try to battle stormy seas through ego not love. In those times, self-forgivness, compassion, love are essential.
Self-forgiveness takes practice. It requires self-compassion and a belief in our human condition and the understanding that, no matter our good intentions or love for another, we will at some point in our lives hurt others, especially the ones we love.
One of the first things I had to do after assessing the enormous pain I’d caused the ones I love most after being released from a relationship that was killing me, was to lean deep into self-forgiveness. If I wanted my daughters and others to forgive me, saying I’d never forgive myself kept me living in shame.
Living in shame can be convenient. You never have to get vulnerable or honest or real with where you’re at, who you are and your accountability in it all.
Living in shame is a recipe for living life with your heart protected, your guard up.
To live with an open heart and armour down, we must be willing to be vulnerable with ourselves and those around us.
My friend asked me how to practice self-forgiveness.
The steps are easy I told them.
You begin by stopping repeating the litany of your sins. Instead, whenever you catch your mind trolling the depths of your shame and regret, you catch yourself mid-thought and state, softly, kindly, lovingly, “I forgive myself”.
And you repeat it. Again and again.
“I forgive myself.”
At the same time, you stop defending against what you did or what happened and breathe deep into accountability.
My daughters were deeply hurt by what I did in that relationship. Sure, the man was a psychopath and I was abused. I was still 100% accountable for the things I did that hurt them.
Defending against their pain by saying, “But he….” meant I wasn’t fully present in our relationship. They needed to hear me say I was sorry for the pain I’d caused them as their pain was real and I had broken a sacred trust of our mother/daughter relatiopnship. I had abandoned them.
It’s easy to hide behind ‘It wasn’t my fault.” The challenge is, ‘it wasn’t my fault’ doesn’t create connection. It acts as a barrier instead.
An apology, at least a heartfelt one, is a symbol of your strength, your commitment to being your best self, your desire to be in close relationship with those you love.
For my friend, the thing that stands in the way of healing is the belief what they did was ‘wrong’.
It was not wrong. It was the best they could do in a time of extreme turmoil, trauma and confusion.
What I did in that relationship wasn’t wrong. But it was hurtful and that’s what I needed to be accountable for.
It also doesn’t mean what he did was wrong or ok. It never was. However, to heal and be free, breaking free of judging him was essential to breaking free of judging myself.
I never deserved what he did.
My daughters didn’t deserve what I did either.
Which is why forgiveness is so important.
When our heartfelt desire is to be in intimate relationship with those we love, forgiveness is the portal to connection, no matter your age.
Forgiveness of any sort is difficult for some once upon a time even I struggle with self forgiveness but with age I have improved
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It is a lovely truth your share about improving with age JoAnne. Thank you! ❤
I needed quiet time, sitting by the window looking out at gentle sun showers as they nourished the grasses, flowers (yes, the dipladenia plants are flourishing!). The raindrops actually glistened in the sun’s rays – soothing combo.
I needed this time to digest your thoughts on forgiveness, self-forgiveness actually. I put this concept into the same category as the need to respect oneself, to accept one,’s self-worth and dignity. To forgive others, in most instances, is usually handled with a sincere “I am sorry”, maybe accompanied by flowers, hugs. To shed the burden of carrying the shame of an action or words in one’s past is one of those difficult concepts. It is not that easy to shed that shame, that moment of having done or said something hurtful, nasty, etc. The act of unburdening is an act of self-forgiveness. Difficult to do, difficult to comprehend, difficult to erase. Time is one’s friend on this particular journey. Been there, done that, accept whom I am – a human who does make mistakes. Tomorrow is another day!
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Your reflections on self-forgiveness sparkle like raindrops clinging to a leaf after a rain. So beautiful. I am sitting at my desk, looking out at a fiery orange world, the trees outside my window still laden in mid-October. The sun drenches them in light. The sky is turning blue. And another day has begun.
Like self-forgiveness, the leaves hang on until gravity and time pull them to the earth to become nurturing compost for next spring’s bounty.
Thank you Iwona for your beautiful words and imagery.