Forgiving oneself

On Forgiving Oneself

Self-rejection, guilt or shame can store themselves as painful places in your body. While you may be able to forgive someone else, looking at yourself with compassion is often a lot more difficult. Compassion is the first step. It comforts your soul and makes you strong.

I am sitting on the treatment table at the acupuncturist. He examines me before he puts needles in my stuck lower back. With soft fingers he suddenly touches a painful spot on my shoulder blade. Right at the back of my heart. “And what’s here?” he asks. As if he pressed a button, the tears welled up. I would prefer to jump off the table and hide behind it. But there is nothing to hide and tears are now streaming down my cheeks. I feel shame, a lot of shame. For everything I did wrong, for everything I couldn’t do, wasn’t, never will be. He lets me recover for a moment and then looks at me fatherly. “Have you ever thought about forgiving yourself?”

Embracing sadness
After my husband had an affair a few years earlier, I learned what forgiveness is. How difficult it is. And ultimately how liberating it is. For yourself first and foremost. Because in order to move forward together, I learned to forgive my husband for his betrayal. To be able to feel love again in addition to the anger. To embrace that we are human and are allowed to make mistakes, no matter how painful. And later, when I felt consumed by resentment, I learned to forgive his mistress. It was not easy.

To forgive – not forget or justify – it is necessary to recognize the humanity of the other. To no longer want to be someone who harbors hatred and anger. To choose love for yourself above all else, and therefore for others. Desmond Tutu put it this way: ‘Forgiveness is so difficult because it is about sadness and death. Given the dark fears we feel when we experience loss, nothing is more generous and loving than the willingness to embrace grief and forgive. To be forgiven is to be loved.”

Pain in my body
And when I had forgiven everyone and everything seemed to be going back to normal, my body started to ache. Pain in my legs, in my neck, in my back, in my connective tissue and abdomen. I lay in the bath for hours to thaw myself and I went from practitioner to practitioner. Until the acupuncturist pressed the button. I had learned that forgiveness is about the other person who has done something wrong and wants to be forgiven for it. Or vice versa, if you have done something for which you ask forgiveness. But what was left behind was the forgiveness of myself. There was the feeling that I too was to blame – for the things that had happened in my life that were so painful. And that guilt was accompanied by a deep sense of shame.

Guilt and shame
How often do we blame ourselves for what happens in life? Of what goes wrong, of things that go wrong or turn out wrong? From an early age you are taught that you are responsible for your own life, that life is manageable and that it is therefore your fault if things do not turn out the way you want. And although there is a whole movement that embraces failure as a valuable lesson, those beliefs are often deeply ingrained, resulting in a lot of shame.

Guilt and shame go hand in hand here. They may feel the same – in both cases you feel bad about yourself. But you feel guilty about something you did or didn’t do and when you feel ashamed, you feel bad about who you are. You can see guilt as the disappointment in yourself when you have violated your own boundaries or morals. It can be healthy to feel guilty; it can be the beginning of more harmonious relationships and healthier behavior. It can teach you to do things differently next time.

Embrace yourself
You can also experience shame as a disappointment in yourself, but without having done anything wrong. You are ashamed of who or what you (aren’t) are. This is often triggered by a feeling of standing out or being different, not least by all the ideal images you are surrounded by. By consciously experiencing and exploring shame, you can also learn to fully embrace yourself as you are and thus restore your self-esteem.

And my self-esteem was exactly what was so affected. Apparently I wasn’t good at all the way I was, otherwise my husband wouldn’t have fallen in love with someone else. The shame ran deep. It was not just about me, but also about the stigma of the cheated woman: pathetic, devastated, alone, helpless. It was also a cultural shame that I carried. Apparently there was a lot wrong with me. And even though I tried to reason with myself again and again, the belief that I was apparently not worth that much had taken hold. And I had stored all that self-rejection in those painful places in my body and there, at the back of my heart. Because I hadn’t forgiven myself yet. And now, with this simple, gentle touch, it was as if he had opened Pandora’s box. All the feelings and thoughts that had been so self-defeating came to the surface one by one.

First step in self-forgiveness
Compassion is the antidote to guilt and shame and the first step in self-forgiveness. Compassion for who you were then, who you are now, allowing the idea that things happen, that they are allowed to happen and not always directly say something about how good or bad you are. Sometimes your feelings want to show you who you are in your strength, but you have already fallen into self-blame before you can learn that lesson.

Shame and guilt often take the place of sadness. The grief over my husband’s infidelity expressed itself towards him in raging anger, and towards myself in shame. With all the ghosts of the past surfacing, I noticed that what really wanted to be felt was not shame, but deep sadness. The shame of the experience had left it unhealed. And after I realized that, all kinds of other experiences surfaced that I was extremely ashamed of, also from my youth or in the field of work, while the emotion underneath was unresolved pain.

Contributed by Francis van Schaik

From Happinez


Francis van Schaik

Francis van Schaik is a coach of young people and also a student of human relationships with nature, the world and Truth. She regularly contributes to our online magazine. Francis is the regular contributor of articles in this page.