Self-Forgiveness: Escaping the Bondage of Guilt and Shame
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
When it comes to offenses, it’s not uncommon to hear people speak of “forgiveness of others.” But how often do we hear about forgiveness of self? I wonder if I am alone when I say that I can certainly attest to having had moments where I’d “wished” I had “done things differently.” And I wonder if anyone else has lost count of their “if I knew then what I know now” moments. And I most certainly can’t forget the “how did I get here… AGAIN??” chapters in my life.
For those of you who can relate, I’m sure we can similarly attest to knowing all too well the deep level of regret, self-disappointment, shame, and lingering “blues” that accompany those persistently nagging phrases. For some, the guilt that follows the regretful event may merely be upsetting at times; but for others, the pain of remorse and shame can seem unbearable. In either case, the question still remains, what do we do about it? How do we move beyond self-reproach to a place of healing and freedom?
First, you should always remember that there is hope. Nothing is so bad that you should ever consider giving up. There is always light at the end of every dark tunnel; all that's required is that we keep driving through until we come out on the other side. :-)
Until then, here are 7 practical steps to help you along the way:
1. DETERMINE IF SELF-FORGIVENESS IS ACTUALLY REQUIRED. Sometimes, if we take a deeper look at the source of our guilt, we may find that the burden of shame wasn’t developed because we did wrong; but because someone placed wrong ON us (guilt trip). So how do we know if we should be canceling that “guilt trip” and requesting a “refund” of our peace… or if we actually should be submitting ourselves to the process of forgiving the man (or woman) in the mirror? Let’s begin with an examination of whether or not self-forgiveness is required:
a. Self-forgiveness is required:
i. When injury to another is caused by mistakes, misconduct, or limitations;
ii. When harm to another results in a person challenging his or her core set of assumptions;
iii. When an apology does not seem to correct a hurtful situation;
iv. When a person fears that at the core of being, he or she is evil or cruel (i.e. “I must be a horrible person to have done that to someone I love); and
v. When guilt, shame, regret, or grief are the feelings being experienced.
2. GET TO THE ROOT. If you find that self-forgiveness is required, begin to explore the reasons why you may feel the need for forgiveness. Those who have trouble forgiving themselves, typically:
a. Blame themselves for not succeeding at one of life’s important tasks.
b. Blame themselves for not taking necessary actions to help themselves or someone else.
c. Blame themselves for hurting another person.
d. Blame themselves for self-destructive behaviors such as addiction.
3. EMOTIONAL EXPRESSION. Emotional expression is about removing the filters and truly expressing how you truly feel about the incident and how it has affected your life. It’s about letting go of the guilt and shame, and grabbing hold of the desire for emotional freedom.
4. WHAT WILL IT TAKE. This step is about gaining a deeper understanding into what it will take for you to be able to forgive yourself and to re-establish faith in who you are.
a. Journal / write a letter from yourself (as the offender) to yourself (the part of you that hurts) asking for forgiveness. In this, you may discover what the hurt side of you needs to hear or feel.
5. FINDING COMPASSION IN UNDERSTANDING. This step helps you begin to understand the offender (yourself) in a whole new way. Understanding what happened (or what is presently happening) to you that caused you to behave in the offensive manner, will help to build compassion and re-shape the negative feelings you’ve had toward yourself.
6. CHOOSE THIS DAY. The “Decision” step is about making the decision to choose or reject forgiveness as an option for one’s self. Letting go and forgiving yourself is about:
a. making a promise to yourself that you'll stop dwelling on and replaying the unfairness and injustice in your mind; and
b. decreasing the frequency of “unforgiving” statements (I should have known better) and increasing the frequency of positive statements (everyone makes mistakes). Developing positive self-talk is a way of rebuilding your confidence in self and rediscovering a positive self-image.
Later when you are ready, write a letter from yourself (the hurt part of you) to yourself (the offender) expressing forgiveness by way of grace, mercy, and understanding of your imperfections. (this serves as the reply to 4a.)
7. BE YE TRANSFORMED. “ReCreating” yourself and “ReAuthoring” your story requires an outlook repair and the ability to see the glass “half-full.” Begin by exploring the meaning and “purpose” behind your experience. What were the positive lessons learned and how can I use my experiences and lessons to help others?
My sincerest hope and prayer is that these practical steps become as useful a guide to you as they have been for me on my personal journey toward self-forgiveness.
I look forward to hearing about it from each of you as we continue together on this journey toward victorious living.