11 years ago I began to learn how to better cope with and manage my feelings by attending day therapy for 3 weeks. Investing in myself for those three weeks is still one of the best gifts I have ever given myself. Our schedule was every day Monday to Friday from 9am til 3pm and if you can imagine how important but exhausting talking about and exploring your story and feelings is. One of the most powerful moments came around forgiveness.
It was during a group therapy session where we were processing what was coming up for each of us, and we’d recently covered forgiveness as a topic. A few of my fellow day therapy campers were expressing their struggles on some issues and I deduced that they could really use some self-forgiveness to move on in their lives. And then it hit me: I needed to forgive myself for some behaviors in my past. And then the floodgates of tears opened up and I was able to share about my own needs of grace towards myself. Self-forgiveness had reached me.
Guilt can teach us that we have done something that has violated our own values and that can motivate us to change our behavior or make amends. But if our standards for ourselves are not reasonable, we may struggle to find self-forgiveness. By forgiving we are no longer allowing this to have power over our lives.
One of the greatest gifts of the practice of forgiving myself has been my increased capacity to forgive others. Don’t get me wrong, this is not often easy, but it does get easier the more I practice it.
Here are a few lessons from what they taught us about forgiveness:
Forgiveness is not:
forgetting what happened
condoning what was done to you
letting them off the hook
a form of self-sacrifice
a well-defined, clear cut, one time decision
no longer wanting to punish those who hurt us, leading to inner peace when we decide to stop
letting to of intense emotions, so that we no longer feel damaged
a byproduct of the ongoing healing process – the gift of what we receive when we no longer expect our tormentor to make it up to us in some way (or pay for it.)
a sign of positive self-esteem, proof that we are more than the sum total of our past negative experiences
when we recognize that we no longer need our grudges and resentments because they no longer are the parameters of our identity
an internal process that leads to feelings of wellness, freedom, and acceptance
accepting that everything we do to punish them is really hurting us instead
no longer hurting others as we hurt
rediscovering our strengths
moving on – recognizing that we have better things to do with our life
The 6 stages of forgiveness (which will not be in succession and may go back and forth between them) are: 1) denial, 2) self-blame, 3) victim, 4) indignation, 5) survivor, and 6) integration.
That last stage/word, integration, keeps coming to me as I learn and study. Brené Brown often shares in her work that the Latin root of integration is “integrare” which means to make whole. Forgiveness and self-forgiveness is about helping ourselves be more whole.
Pause for a moment and imagine this…What would the world look like if you and I and a few of the people that read this showed up as more compassionate and whole? Could we start to help the world around us heal of its deep wounds?
May you join me in finding more grace and humility for ourselves and others.
With love and light
Bill Heitman – Fairy Godfather of Self-Renewal