Guilt sucks. I was raised in a devoted Catholic family, and while there were some things I really appreciated about it, it also came with a healthy dose of guilt. I was constantly wondering if I was a bad person because of having to go to confession on a regular basis. I remember making stuff up during confession because we had to go so often, and I didn’t always think there was anything I did “wrong.” Over time, I learned to feel really guilty – not just about the big things, but about every little way I might have messed up.
Even if you weren’t raised that way in your family, in Western culture we are in a context of the human being seen as being born imperfect and with a concept of “original sin,” something inherently wrong.
For so many people that I’ve worked with, at the root of whatever is going on in terms of suffering, there is also this sense of not being forgivable or unlovable. That something is just intrinsically not OK with them.
Yet the ability to forgive – others and ourselves – that’s where the freedom to really begin to love and live fully begins.
Today I want to talk about what makes it so hard to forgive ourselves, and how to DO that (I spoke about how to forgive others in Episode 34, so be sure to check that out too).
The process of forgiveness is really one of releasing the stories of guilt, shame and blame, and opening to and contacting vulnerability. It’s a challenging process. Not for the faint of heart
Why do we get stuck in guilt and shame?
In Western culture, people were told for thousands of years that we were born imperfect. It gets amplified if we grow up in a family where there’s a lot of judgment or criticism, or if in some deep way, our needs aren’t met. To try to survive or meet our needs, we behave in ways that can cause harm.
Because of this, many people believe that they are unforgivable. When we’re caught in this our reality is narrowed and fixated. We only focus on the hurt we caused and the self-blame.
We’re forgetting what might have caused us to cause suffering. We forget that deep down, our deepest longing is for connection, love, and feeling peace.
What makes it so hard to let go? Why is it that we resist forgiving ourselves?
- A lot of us have this fear that if we don’t live in guilt and shame, our shadow side will take over and that we will just run amok and mess other people upmake mistakes with all our free time.
- We think that self-criticism is the motivating factor to drive us to grow (but it really keeps us small and holds us back).
- We think that we deserve punishment.
These beliefs can be deeply entrenched. It’s not until we can bring them into awareness that we can begin to move towards self-forgiveness.
When we let go of the narrative of badness and blame, there’s something raw and vulnerable in there. Maybe it’s anger, emptiness, fear, horror, grief, or even being unlovable. But what’s under that, after forgiveness, is the possibility of joy.
We can sometimes get addicted to the blame. It’s way easier or safer to keep on not forgiving ourselves than to open to what’s underneath it.
When we engage in the process of self-forgiveness, we’re really engaging in recognizing the storyline of blame, contacting the deeper feelings that are under there, and to do so with kindness.
We also have to remember that in offering ourselves forgiveness and compassion, we do not take away our responsibility. What I have found is it’s actually the beginning of being able to be responsive, because the self-blame is actually very self-focused and doensn’t allow us to wholeheartedly address our responsbility.
If we’re to make peace with ourselves and really let love in and love without holding back, we need the courage to let go of the story of self-blame.
THE FOUR FORCES: REGRET, RELIANCE, REMEDY, AND RESOLUTION
Regret is a loaded word, and I am all about no regrets. BUT it starts with an “R” and fits with the other steps. Really, what it means here that we acknowledge what we did and the consequences of our actions. The intention of this step is to remove any defense or justification of the action in our mind – not to feel shame or self-blame.
Reliance means that we renew our connection with our integrity and values, and perhaps our spiritual practice if you have one – whether it be through compassion, awareness, or presence or devotion. Most of what we do that is negative happens when we fall out of attention and mindfulness. Reliance means that we deliberately reestablish our practice so that we are no longer hooked by the conditions that keeps us from presence and mindfulness.
Remedy means that we act in a way that disrupts the default pattern behind the action. If we can, we correct the negative action—apologize, make amends, provide restitution. We can make a donation to charity, do community service, help a friend. It doesn’t “fix” the problem in and of itself – rather, it disrupts a pattern and that can help keep us from falling into that unintentional pattern again.
Resolution means to form the intention not do it again, because when we have the slightest sense that we might repeat it, the patterns associated with that action have a place to take hold. Remember: thoughts create emotions which drive actions. I always tell my clients they need to already believe they are the person they want to be to cultivate those qualities. Like the power of visualization – the power of belief.
Forgiving ourselves is one of those life lessons we ALL have to learn. It’s time to start practicing.
So today, I’d love for you to think of something you’ve been giving yourself a really hard time for. Know that whatever it is, you don’t need to walk around with self-blame about that forever.
Life is too short for that.
Use it to learn something, to grow, to moving towards your wisest self, which is already within you, just waiting to be uncovered.
Topics in this episode:
// Why it is so hard to forgive
// The 4 steps of a proper apology
// Why regret sucks and how to move past that
// The deep beliefs that block us from letting go
// Things you can do today to start forgiving yourself
// Check out Episode 51 on self-compassion
// Listen to this about the other side of the coin: How to Forgive Others
// Ever want to work with me privately? I’ve opened up some rare spots for consult calls. Head over here to snag one and let’s chat!
// If you’re new to the squad, grab the starter kit I created at RebelBuddhist.com. It has all you need to start creating a life of more freedom, adventure, and purpose. You’ll get access to the private Facebook group where you can ask me questions! Once you join, there’s also a weekly FB live called Wake the F*ck Up Wednesday, where you can ask questions that come up as you do this work – in all parts of your life.
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