Learn To Forgive Yourself

November 25th, 2011

Carol Luebering, an author who wrote a lot about death and dying, said,

Forgiveness is not something you do for someone else. It is something you do for yourself. An unforgiven injury binds you to a time and place someone else has chosen; it holds you trapped in a past moment and in old feelings.

It seems like one of life’s greatest challenges to forgive yourself, and often forgiving others falls into place when you forgive yourself because hostility towards others is often just unresolved self loathing in disguise. The incredible liberation you experience when you begin to forgive yourself is like a fog of bitterness that lifts. You see yourself, others and life more clearly and with greater compassion.

Forgiveness is an issue we all deal with in different ways. Maybe we are reminded of situations where we didn’t listen to our intuition and take action. This brings with it a heavy load of guilt. Others may need to forgive themselves for staying in abusive relationships for too long, or making choices that diminished your humanity. Most of us are haunted by something we wish we had done, or knew we should have done, and healing begins with forgiving yourself.

When I was in kindergarten I left the classroom one day to go to the bathroom. When I got there, I found my best friend, David, sitting on a stranger’s lap in the cubicle. I ran in terror back to the classroom and didn’t tell anyone what I’d seen. I was frozen in fear. Eventually word filtered around the room that David was missing, and I finally told the teacher what I had seen. Nothing else was ever said about it, and I never knew what happened to my friend. But my inability to immediately tell the teacher plagued me for years.

What was wrong with me? Why didn’t I speak up? It was my fault if David was hurt. I had made myself the perpetrator and bound myself for years to that time and old feeling. My self loathing wasn’t helping anyone, least of all myself. But I couldn’t move beyond it for years.

I noticed 5 steps that eventually helped to liberate me so I could move on.

Step One: Accept What Was
I couldn’t control the actions of the man, nor my friend. Whatever happened, happened, however devastating. I certainly can’t change what happened, and I can’t change what I did and didn’t do. Wishing it were otherwise now is a futile battle with reality and memory. The starting point is ACCEPTANCE.

Step Two: Reframe the Memory

I am left with a frame in my mind, a snapshot of something that happened a long time ago. My frame on the experience was laced with guilt for many years. Once I accepted the reality of whatever happened, I started to reframe it. My new frame was full of compassion (for myself). I was 5 years old, confused and terrified. I was also an innocent victim of the situation. My new frame is compassion; for myself, I did all I could do at that time, for my friend, he has lived with what happened to him, and even for the perpetrator. You can’t abuse kids without being very damaged yourself. It doesn’t excuse bad behavior or lack of self control, but it is a frame that enables me to move on.

Step Three: Visualize Forgiveness

This is a brief summary of a visualization I have spent many hours working on. In meditation, I focus on myself as a five year old. I surround myself with protective energy. I create safe space to heal within. I imagine myself embracing myself as a shocked five year old. I give the same love and care to the boy that I give to my own children when they are scared. Forgiveness grows when you visualize compassion.
Step Four: Let go of guilt.
With my new frame on the experience, and my visualization of compassion, I learnt to let go of guilt. I don’t have to live my friend’s karma, and I don’t have to suffer the abuser’s karma. I release myself from responsibility for what happened to either of them. I also release myself from responsibility for choices I made as a very young child in shock. I don’t need to punish myself any longer.

Step Five: Choose to Respond Differently

Freed from guilt, I can choose to respond differently now. I have had several opportunities to speak up for victims of abuse in my adult life. I have taken each one of them with determination. I chose to learn from the experience, and pledged to be a voice for those who lost their voices as victims of abuse. It’s now a major part of my life to support people in healing and transformation, through writing, speaking and coaching.

The steps to self forgiveness are not always neat and tidy. We move back and forth between guilt and forgiveness, hopefully adding a little more gentleness to our frame each time we do the hard work of self forgiveness.

In the end, it all comes down to what sort of world you choose to dwell in. I imagine a world where children are fiercely protected and people are mindful of the effect of their actions.

I love the ritual among the Masai tribes of African. Even though they were considered the most fearsome of all warriors, they use a greeting that is amazingly gentle. They greet each other with the words, “Kasserian ingera?’ which means “How are the children?” Even warriors with no children of their own would give the answer, ‘All the children are well.”

If the children are well, it is well with all. If the least visible and least powerful are well cared for, society as a whole is in a healthy state. Start by caring for the vulnerable child within who needs to be empowered with courage to heal from past choices and move on making powerful choices. Ask yourself often, “How is the child within?” May your answer be, “The child within is well.”

Forgiveness can’t change the past, but it changes the present in a mighty way. Forgiveness is the way of the peaceful warrior. It fills your present with peace, and enlarges the future for you and others.

 

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  1. It is through forgiveness, that the world will heal.  We can only forgive others, when we learn to forgive ourselves first.  It is a difficult place to be, yet critical for any kind of healing to take place.  Thank you for sharing this with us.

  2. Absolutely wonderful article!  I know of no one who has not suffered from guilt and an inability to forgive themselves.   Thank you for publishing this article.  We all need to hear and be reminded of it.  Keep up the great work you are doing.
     

  3. I have seen the benefit of being forgiven and having forgiven someone who had hurt me.  I may have been justified in my anger, but carrying that anger around was too much work and caused too much stress on me physically and emotionally.  It was easier to let it go.
    As a physician, I have seen the patient who “should” be getting better, but does not because they have anger holding them back from making the progress we would expect.  Check out this article.
    Dr. Charles L. Foster
    Rutland, VT
    http://www.fosteringwellness.net/doctor/chiropractor/362S/chiropractic-Brandon/health-power-forgivenenss.htm

  4. Julie Braun says:

    I am so glad I found this page! Once again God has provided exactly what I needed just when I needed it most. I spent almost 21 years locked in guilt unwilling to forgive myself for a mistake I made at 17 that cost me dearly. In those 21 years I made a lot of bad choices until one day a therapist finally made me see that the mistake I made was one almost any 17 year old would make. Mind just had a warped ending. In the last 3 years I’ve been to hell and back with illnesses including Depression, one suicide attempt, Fibromyalgia, and a Knee Replacement. I’ve been trying to give back to the world by sharing my insight,  starting a Chronic Pain support group, writing and distributing articles on suicide prevention, and writing a book. But I was locked into my illnesses and diagnosis and didn’t see a future for myself. I was trying SO hard to help others that I neglected myself until my tank was empty. Only then, did I see that I had lost my understanding and ability to manifest my desires because I was submerged in negative energy 24/7. I’ve now learned to better balance helping others WITH helping myself. You have helped me do that. I now have hope that one day soon I will be able to make my own way in the world without financial assistance from my family and f Social Security Disability.

  5. ian says:

    hi Julie- wow, thats a lot of life experience. It also sounds like you are incredibly strong and resilient. Stay strong Julie. You are making progress every day.

  6. Julie Braun says:

    Thank You Ian. It’s not often you get a response from the Author of a page such as this one.  I do believe I am making major progress every day. Learning I was accepted into your class has renewed my faith and determination that I CAN manifest my desires and future. Last night I found out that my best friend’s cancer has returned but I have complete faith in God and the universe that it will turn out fine. Today I am in a major Fibromyalgia flare and hurt everywhere except my face and stomach.  In the past this kind of pain would bring me WAY down but today I know that it’s temporary. It will pass. Hopefully by tomorrow but, if not, soon.

  7. Seeking says:

    Short an d sweet…. thank you God for choosing me!

  8. j says:

    Wow! I ‘m not religious but I feel that it was my destiny to see this article at this time. I have been unable to let go of an unhealthy abusive “relationship”. I think it is partly because I am now afraid to be alone. I never was before but now I feel so insignificant and alone regardless of having people around me. I cannot forgive myself for not calling the police when the abuse was at its worst and having to explain to my coworkers (the few that asked) how “a baseball hit me in the face busting my lip, nose and eyes.” I still think of that time and cry. I had to give the clothes I wore that day away bc I could not face it without falling apart. I gave him up for a while and isolated myself even further (I had no friends bc I became so much about him, 1st by choice bc he was PERFECT at the start, then by force bc of his jealous/possessive ways). People always say on tv etc “just go, I’d never let anyone do that to me” and try to blame the victim(since it doesn’t always happen to girls). This escalated around the time of the Rihanna/Chris Brown incident and I remember my boyfriend would blast his music and i hated it! I misdirected my anger onto Chris Brown, and became even more of a fan of Rihanna bc I felt we connected. When people online or in media made fun of her or took his side I felt like maybe they were an example of how my friends would react and I felt ashamed & pathetic that I could love someone like that..that the best I could get was someone who didn’t love me back. Something must be wrong with me to love someone like that. I think I cant let go bc I feel like a failure and just unlovable and not good enough. Eventhough other guy friends contact me asking me out (I delete any contact like that before my “significant other” might see it) I still feel worthless bc I try to hard and still am not good enough! I don’t know how to get past this, I know what is right but I can’t take that step bc I feel alone, pathetic and like nothing. I keep thinking I’ll just do everything for him everything he says and then he will love me more and treat me like he did in the beginning. I am in denial I suppose to protect myself. because admitting things and dealing with things would mean feeling less than and just worthless and undeserving of love because I am pathetic. He is no longer regularly physically abusive but he is still verbally abusive. (last week we got into an argument and he socked me in the mouth.) I know it is irrational and people can judge (as i would if not in the situation)but its a sick addiction. You know whats wrong/right but you don’t know how to take the step. Like people with drugs, once you’re so deep into it you can’t get out like a pool and you dot know how to swim. I ranted so much, I apologize I don’t want to come off sounding bad as I feel by talking about it I’m a representative of other people in this situation and don’t want anyone ESPECIALLY women to think any “deserves” to be hit or abused in any way. Its like if a stranger comes up to you and mugs you or assaults you your immediate reaction is scream call 911…if that person is someone who built a relationship of love & trust with you..the answer is not so clean cut. Its very hard to talk about and so I must do so somewhat anonymously. Only other time I admitted it was last semester in a Philosophy class, my professor made a joke about women who were abused and I commented that I was in an abusive relationship & tried to shed light on his ignorant perspective. People stared and I just felt so alone so pathetic I cried silently at my desk and didn’t lift my head until class finished, I dropped his class but Still had to pay for the course (great).
    I apologize for going off on such a rant but I just wanted to say thank you for writing blogs such as these. You have helped me immensely so that I could never repay you. Thanks to you I just took that step right now and called him telling him to return any of my belongings to my mailbox as he will no longer be hearing from me again. I know it will be hard (as hard as that is to believe for anyone even myself) but I will just look at your blog and read it until I believe it and live it and finally forgive myself and lift this burden from my heart and soul.

  9. j says:

    I apologize for the many spelling/grammatical errors I now see (it is 3:36am PST here). And of course now I would like to clarify things…so many things because of constantly feeling judged. Oh well! Thank you again for this blog!

  10. Jomo says:

    Yes, good so far.
    But – I’m dealing with the guilt of the abused!
    My nearest and dearest, greatest love, emotionally crippled from tine to time by pain and guilt.
    The child sexualised by abuse from the age of two.
    Having learnt to desire her father. Having learnt to manipulate through sex.
    The pain and guilt following her and destroying relationships that she forms
    I would like to send her your article, but her guilt is other, and runs too deep.

  11. Cindi says:

    My ex was sexually abused by his own mother for years.  His mind blocked the experience, and when he started his recall, my husband was lost to me forever. He chose to leave a loving relationship and follow now who he thinks and feels he is. Today he punishes himself and looks in all the wrong places. I pray daily that he forgives himself and his mother for the torture he went through.

  12. shabs , angelic2407 says:

    fogiveness and releasing is the most important foundation of self healing . blessings for sharing this blog . everyone needs this guidance to evolve … thank you thank you thank you  …

  13. Jennifer says:

    I definitely agree that forgiveness and releasing guilt is vital.  Actually, in my experience, I’ve felt that releasing guilt needed to come before full forgiveness (but, of course, that can probably vary).

    Thanks for posting! :-) 

  14. Pippa says:

    It is both inspiring and reassuring to read these blogs – to know one is not alone with one’s pain. I am struggling big time with my siblings as we deal with my late father’s “estate” . It has been a very damaging time which at times I wonder whether I will survive intact. Family relationships, which one is led to believe “should” be the strong, supportive ones, turn out to be the ones that have done me most harm. At times it feels like a minute by minute struggle to keep my head above water, to remember to breathe and focus on the present moment, let alone deal with the guilt that comes from knowing that my problems pale into significance compared with those of others now and throughout history. It makes me aware that no one can truly convey their own pain – nor necessarily understand where it really comes from -  and yet we all seek the understanding and recognition from others that would help to validate it and makes sense of it.  Thank you to all those out there willing to share their “stories” and give hope to others – fellow travellers on this journey through life.

  15. LM says:

    Quite a shocking tale. Good to tell the story: if only for yourself. Careful with intercultural comparisons though – the Masai tribe is well-known for the practice of FGM (female genital mutilation) so the male children may be well but the female children – not so much. There is international pressure to change this cultural but horrific practice. Also, I still have trouble with the “peaceful warrior” metaphor. A warrior’s job is to kill and to destroy not to be peaceful so I find this term an oxymoron. Perhaps we can come up with another term which can convey both strength and peace at the same time. Thank you for striving to make sense of your world in words: we can all benefit from this shared journey of talking out loud to ourselves. Peace and blessings. 

  16. [...] Learn to forgive yourself. [...]

  17. Meg Bertini says:

    Very brave of you to share that story. “I give the same love and care to the boy that I give to my own children when they are scared.” That is so important: treat yourself with the same kindness that you would treat others with.