Forgiving ourselves is one of the most difficult yet rewarding things we can do for our inner wellness. Sometimes its scary to let go of the all the guilt, shame and disappointment we bury ourselves in because those feelings have become familiar and ‘safe’. We dare not think what might replace that heavy burden and how we could feel differently about ourselves. In a weird way we get comfortable with feeling down and bad about ourselves. It can even be a form of penance to wallow in our own self-pity.
In my own personal experience, I recognized that those feelings were no longer serving me (they never were) but I wasn’t ready to let go of them. They had been a huge part of me for many years and I was scared of what would happen if I actually released the guilt and forgave myself. To my delight what has replaced the disappointment is feeling really good about myself, something I’m growing more and more accustomed to.
It has taken a TON of work; daily habits, nurturing exercises and heightened awareness. I had good days and bad days and I still occasionally have bad days.
What is most rewarding about the self-work is that I can look back at those old emotions and see how distant I am from them. They no longer hold power over my mental state or my perspective.
How I forgave myself and released guilt:
SAY IT OUT LOUD
Admit out loud to a trusted friend(s) what you have been unable to forgive yourself for. “I am guilty for not having done better in tennis.” “I am guilty for getting an eating disorder and for the pain it caused those around me.” In my case, I had to say this out loud numerous times and fill pages and pages of my diary to finally admit I felt guilty about it.
Recognize the unrealistic expectations you have placed on yourself and your actions. This one has been exceptionally hard for me to recognize; what is reality based and what is fictional. The way I picked this apart was by a fact vs. fiction exercise. You write down 6 statements you believe to be facts and then label them as fact or fiction.
Here is a sample of what mine looked like.
1. Not being unhappy will make me complacent. Fiction.
2. It is raining outside. Fact
3. You must always set your goals too big in order to achieve your actual goals. Fiction.
4. Starting out small is no good you have to have a big plan. Fiction.
5. I played tennis at an elite level Fact.
6. Not being perfect makes me less worthy. Fiction.
CHANGE YOUR PHYSICAL STATE
Whenever I thought about the issue - guilty thoughts and hurt feelings would lead to the sharp pain in my chest or an anxiety lump in my throat. I became more aware that it was the thoughts and physical manifestations that were making me feel bad not the actual past issue. This allowed me to focus on changing my physical state when those thoughts crept in.
Often I would be riding the subway to work and suddenly get a sharp pain in my chest. It would make me shrivel up and want to hide in my bed all day. It was a real struggle to commit to breathing through the anxiety instead of giving in to it and getting down. It took me 3 months to get rid of that physical reaction.
I feel that personal forgiveness is one of the road blocks we face when moving towards self-love and life success.