Forgiveness Project “Lessons from the Couch”
“Forgiveness of self requires faith; it is a decision and a process”
The reason most of us feel guilt or shame for our past actions is because those actions were not in line with our current morals and values. In this way, our previous transgressions can actually clue us in to what we hold now important. Think about what you value now and how that's different from the past. This process will help you start closer on the path to self-forgiveness.
When I work with clients on moving on from their past, it can be very overwhelming because they look back and see so many regrets. It's often helpful to categorize these and focus on patterns of behavior instead of individual regrets.
Understand why you did it. Think back on the event. Try to re-experience what you felt when you made the mistake for which you now feel guilt or shame. Do this compassionately yet responsibly. This is the time to tell the absolute truth. Don’t hunt for excuses or justifications. Instead, think about what need you were trying to meet, given the frame of reference you had at the time. When you understand your frame of reference, it will become clear that you were doing the best you knew how to do at the time. When you learn what needs you were trying to meet, you can find more constructive ways to fill the same needs now and in the future.
Own what you have done. Tell the gut wrenching, heart breaking, truth about everything! I lied, cheated, stole, manipulated, or harmed. Whatever it is own it! When you fully accept and take accountability for your actions and their consequences, you can begin the process of forgiving yourself.
If your actions cause harm to someone, then you must ask forgiveness of those you have wronged. Communicate to the person(s) you harmed with your actions that you understand the damage that you have done to them and apologize: “I am sorry for the pain I caused you.” Remember, “I’m sorry if you feel hurt” isn’t an apology. A sincere apology doesn’t depend on how hurt the other person feels, but on how wrong you know your actions were. An apology isn’t “I’m sorry you’re hurting”; it is “I am sorry for what I did.”
Grieve the loss of what your actions changed in your life. After considering the event and its repercussions, think about how you are better today than before you did what you did. What have you learned, and how have those lessons improved your life and changed you as a person?
Atone. Atoning means putting your regret into action to minimize the damage that your actions have done. If you can’t do something to directly affect the person(s) you hurt, help someone else who is in need. Find a way to make someone else’s life better. Atonement is reparations. Self-punishment doesn’t help anyone, including yourself. Atonement is reparative and productive.
This was a chapter, turn the page
At some point, you have to accept that the past has happened, and you've done everything in your power to amend previous mistakes. It's now time to turn the page and accept those events as part of your story. They've all contributed to making you who you are. Being grateful for those experiences allows you to move on and truly forgive yourself.
Wisdom is applied knowledge
Apply lessons learned. Take what you have learned from your mistake and apply it toward your future actions. This is more than just an intention to do better. Ask yourself, “What can I do to ensure I don’t make the same mistake again?” If you don’t stay alert to your thoughts, emotions, and experiences, it will be easy to fall back into the old way of doing things and to make the same mistake again.
Failure is an event not a person
Forgive yourself. Say, “I forgive myself for what I did and the wound(s) I have made, and I allow myself to move forward in living as my best possible self.” Think kind thoughts about yourself, and show yourself some compassion. If self-love and self-acceptance do not come easy to you, consider working with a trained therapist for an outside perspective. You are more than your past mistakes.
New behavior and thinking patterns require practice. They're both skills. Give yourself a break and recognize that you're going to make mistakes. It’s life! Our actions always depend on the skills we have, the frame of mind we're in, and how we perceive a situation in the moment. Maybe when we made the mistake, we didn't have as much objectivity or we acted out of fear. Whatever the issues, if you learned from it, it’s growth.
Cover the wound until it heals
Bring people around you that feed the positive in you. Give the people that love and care for you the permission to help you. Community is important because they can support you while you heal. Remember weakness is not asking for help when it is needed.