No proper series on self-care can be complete without attention to self-forgiveness. In a previous post, I mentioned that at one time in my life, I had been the poster child for “I know God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself.” I spent many years in a constant state of guilt for mistakes I had made and people I had hurt. I despised the person that had made those choices. I’m not alone. Many of us carry a sense of being unforgivable, and go to great lengths to remind ourselves of all the ways we have messed up over the years. Then we attempt to earn our way out of that heavy guilt and blame. If we just do enough, we can absolve ourselves, pay back our debt, and all will be well. So we set about “doing” with a vengeance; I have yet to meet anyone this has worked for. Because doing never leads to being. Funny thing about the nature of forgiveness…just like love, it cannot be earned. It can just be, and it can be given and received, but it can never be worked for. I have clients and friends alike that say, “But I don’t deserve it!” Know what I tell them? I say, “You’re absolutely right. You don’t deserve it. But you are designed for it. You can either receive it or reject it, but forgiveness is not a commodity that you will ever “do” enough to earn.”
Just as with love, the more you forgive yourself, the easier it becomes to forgive others. Forgiveness always comes from love.
When you have more compassion for yourself, you will see the person you were “back then” in a different light. Let me ask, did you do the best you could at the time? Consider all you had learned (positive and negative), your unresolved hurts, the life tools you had available. Most of the damage you cause in others comes from your own hurt—hurt people hurt people. Even the selfish things you do. Please hear me, you are still responsible for our behavior, and may need to walk through restoration and trust building with those you have hurt. But as far as forgiveness goes, a good step toward forgiving yourself happens when you get more compassionate and loving toward the person you were at the time you made those choices. Continuing to condemn yourself and feeling excessive guilt can actually prevent you from learning in those situations and lead you to repeat the behaviors again and again. Self-forgiveness frees you to do better next time. Just as with love, the more you forgive yourself, the easier it becomes to forgive others. Forgiveness always comes from love. When you stop judging yourself, you will stop judging others. And the less judgment you will perceive from others. It opens the door to fully receive forgiveness from others, including God.
A great sign that you have truly forgiven yourself is when you can be at peace with your experiences, even thankful for them. You may need help to get there, especially if you have a core identity that sounds like “I am unforgivable, I don’t deserve to be forgiven,” and have grown used to feeling guilty most of the time. Get help; it is worth it. There are books, articles and meditations that give instruction on self-forgiveness practices. I encourage you to look them up and give them a go. You can find many self-forgiveness exercises available for free online. I want to close this self-care series with something I heard recently at a conference. I can’t take credit for it, but it perfectly sums up everything I have said so far on self-care. So if you remember nothing else, remember this: Treat yourself at least as well as you would treat your dearest love. To Your Great Life! Becky