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STEP NINE: FORGIVING OURSELVES 179
1. Why I Need to Forgive Myself
Describe the specific actions related to your regrets for which you need to forgive yourself. As was the case with forgiving others, self-forgiveness is granted for specified behavior. A blanket statement of forgiveness is not as effective as forgiveness for specific actions, because it is not as believable. The phrase “I forgive myself for everything” does not convey the power of “I forgive myself for abandoning my children and for all the pain I caused them, including their impoverished childhood.” But even that statement may be too general. Approach the activity in this way: Pretend that you are coming to yourself as if you were a third party to ask forgiveness for your actions. What forgiveness would you specifically seek? You will intuitively know how much detail to include in your journal to be sure that your forgiveness feels complete.
Take Janet, for example, who became pregnant in high school and gave up her baby for adoption when the father refused to marry her. In her late twenties, she did marry, only to find that she could no longer have children. The longing for a child by the husband she loved intensified her regret at having given away the only child she would ever bear. In a hell of self-hatred and remorse, she returns to that decision over and over. “If only . . .” Trapped in the past, she won’t forgive herself for the choice she made as an adolescent and so can’t find her way to the present where happiness awaits her. Yet the forgiveness she seeks, but says she cannot have, is hers to give.
Diego regretted the cruel way he treated his parents for decades as he struggled to find maturity and balance in his life. Now that he is mature, they are dead, and he deeply regrets the opportunities he missed with them and the pain he caused them. He continues to punish himself with memories of what might have been.
2. Reasons to Forgive Myself
In this journaling activity, develop a list of reasons to forgive yourself for your role in the regrets you harbor. Review the benefits of self-forgiveness
that were described earlier in this chapter and apply them to your own regrets. Think deeply on the difference it would make in the quality of your life if you were to forgive yourself and find release from the pain and suffering of the regrets that bind you to the past. Be comprehensive and thorough, because this list provides the primary motivation for letting go of your regrets.
In the final analysis, the best reason for forgiving ourselves may be that we were meant to forgive ourselves. Life drives us toward self-forgiveness. When we do not forgive ourselves, we will be tormented by the past and its regrets. The unwarranted and unnecessary pain of those regrets thwarts our spiritual growth and psychological development and serves no beneficial purpose. We do not have to endure it. We are not asked to endure it. In fact, life calls us to do the opposite: to let it go, to forgive.
3. Reasons for Not Forgiving Myself
If you are ready to forgive yourself, this journaling activity will not be necessary. If, on the other hand, you still feel resistance, you will find it helpful. In this exercise, you will seek the reasons that block your selfforgiveness. Begin by asking yourself, “What is holding me back? Why am I unwilling to forgive myself?” Some of these reasons may be based on the myths of self-forgiveness described earlier in the chapter. Toxic thought patterns that prevent self-forgiveness may also be culprits. Explore all these possibilities to discover potential reasons.
If you are still hesitant to forgive yourself, try this exercise to uncover more reasons. Start with a clean page in your journal. On the left-hand
side of the page, write the phrase “I forgive myself for_____________________,”
inserting the name of the regret for which you are unwilling to forgive yourself. As you write the sentence, you may feel resistance to forgiving yourself. If so, an objection will come to mind. This objection is an unresolved reason you have for not wanting to forgive yourself. Write it down.
Repeat this process as long as a new reason comes to mind. When the
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objections start to repeat themselves, or when you no longer feel resistant to forgiving yourself, you have completed the activity for this regret.
4. Overcoming Resistance to Forgiving Myself
If you are now ready to forgive yourself for each of your regrets, this action item can be omitted. If you are not yet ready, use the spiritual and psychological tools to help you find the willingness you need. For example, pray for that willingness and for the courage to forgive yourself. Ask your higher power to help you understand why forgiving yourself is warranted, why it is important for you to do so, and why you are resisting it. Pray for the power to let go of the self-blaming, anger, and hatred that keep you from self-forgiveness. Ask your higher power to lead you to selfforgiveness in whatever ways would be best for you.