Forgiveness: A Path to Healing
In our journey to inner peace and healing, both guilt and forgiveness of self and others have a profound effect on this process. Guilt is defined as a feeling of culpability especially for imagined offences or from a sense of inadequacy; a self-reproach; and forgiveness as the act of forgiving or the ceasing of feeling resentment against an offender. Guilt and lack of forgiveness of self and others, burdens many people with the heavy weight of inappropriate shame and the destruction of deep-seated resentments. In recent years, much has been written about the destructiveness of repressed emotions and particularly anger and resentment in contributing to life-threatening illnesses.
The belief that feeling emotion means we are weak is a dreadful legacy to burden people with. Teaching people that strength means not feeling or denying our feelings is tantamount to creating illness. Beliefs such as 'big boys don't cry' and 'good girls don't get angry' has resulted in men and women who are unable to get in touch with what they actually feel. Depression is thought to be caused by anger turned inward and is only one of the symptoms of the need to protect ourselves from the scorn associated with expressing feelings. Many other illnesses and particularly the addictions are theorised to be expressions of a deep level of emotional pain.
Why won't we forgive? I believe it starts from our unwillingness to forgive ourselves. We believe that we are undeserving of love, respect, acceptance, appreciation, and the right to live a life where we walk in peace, joy, harmony, and abundance. Somewhere along the line, we started to believe that all the rules and regulations of the society in which we live defined who we were supposed to be. We stopped trusting and believing in our own inherent worth and came to believe that we were 'not good enough.' Messages such as 'you failed' or 'you should' became a litany for us to abuse ourselves with guilt. I call it abuse because it is just as painful when we do it to ourselves as when others do it to us. We became judge and jury and found ourselves guilty of our perceived offences. When the primary caregivers such as parents, teachers, and other societal influences are unable to love themselves unconditionally, this 'learned attitude' is passed on to the next generation as shame in an attempt to control behaviour.
This sense of shame differs from guilt in that guilt is about behaviour. Shame is deeper and more pervasive. It is about your being and feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, being bad and unlovable become the conviction underlying your life. Children grow up believing they are 'not good enough' and become the caregivers for the next generation. And so it goes, on and on. I am not blaming the parents and caregivers here as we parent the way we were parented. My own definition of maturity is that maturity is achieved when we are able to forgive our parents and other significant adults for being human.
What Is Self-forgiveness?
Self-forgiveness is the willingness to believe that you are worthy, that there are no mistakes rather, you are on the planet, or in Earth School (as some people call it) to learn about being human. The opportunities to learn are just that - not mistakes - just opportunities to learn.
Practical Steps to Self-forgiveness
- Examine how you perceived a certain situation and how you can chose to change your perception. Remember that the thoughts we think create the feelings, and it is our perception that creates our interpretations of the situation.
- Accept yourself and your humanness - you are not supposed to be perfect.
- Admit when you make a mistake.
- Remember that everybody is doing the best they can with what they know, and that includes you.
- Let go of past-future thinking, stay in the 'Now.'
- Confront your emotional pain - own your own 'stuff.'
- Appreciate the lessons that have contributed to your growth and made you who you are now.
- Say 'I forgive myself for ____________ (whatever).'
Gwen Nyhus Stewart, B.S.W., M.G., H.T., is an educator, freelance writer, garden consultant, and author of the book The Healing Garden: A Place Of Peace