How to Forgive Yourself: Understanding
What Forgiveness Is
It all started on a warm summer evening when he took her to the top of the hotel roof and made her sit on the trapdoor. “Do this,” he said. “Do that,” he said.
“This is going to hurt,” and hurt it did! He knew what he was doing! After the thrusting, he left her alone and told her not to tell anyone.
And so…she had his secret to keep and the pain that went with it. How was she going to be able to forgive herself?
Understanding boundaries is essential to forgive yourself. We all have boundaries. They include physical, emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual, sexual and other types of boundaries.
When a boundary is broken, spoken or unspoken there may be trauma. It may be a small trauma, a big trauma, and/or chronic trauma. How you react to trauma depends on you, as each person reacts differently.
It is hard to forgive yourself when you are in emotional turmoil from what you have done. Dealing with emotions comes first. That may take a long time. There are many ways to deal with the emotions may include deep breathing from the diaphragm. It might be using physical exercise or journaling. Talking to a trusted friend or counselor may help. Also doing something you love may help decrease/release the emotions. Without broken boundaries, there is no need for forgiveness.
False guilt, guilt, and shame in forgiving yourself
False guilt is where the other person is trying to make you feel guilty or bad about something that you did not do. The woman in the story above was not responsible for the man raping her. She was the victim and the victim is never guilty. Yet, she felt it was her fault.
Guilt says, “I did something wrong.” It is about my behavior and not who I am. Guilt is easy to deal with in most cases. It means taking responsibility for your actions. Changing your behavior, and saying “I am sorry,” if you need to.
Shame, on the other hand, says, “I am bad.” It goes to the core of who I am. It can be interpreted as “I am worthless,” “I am helpless,” “I am unlovable,” or some version of this. Shame is about who I am and this is very hard to find forgiveness for. It takes a long time to start believing in yourself and to begin the forgiveness process.
Understand that forgiving yourself and forgiveness, in general, is for you. It frees you from the emotional turmoil and thoughts that keep going around in your mind and are so hard to turn off. Forgiveness is letting go—releasing the emotional turmoil in your life.
Forgiving yourself is about finding peace and serenity. This comes after you have released the emotions. It allows you to move forward in life.
Forgiving yourself does not mean forgetting about what happened. It does not mean there will be restitution. And it does not mean reconciliation will occur.
Forgetting about what happened leaves you open to being a victim again and again. Boundaries need to be placed around the person or situation so that the harm will not happen again. Setting boundaries means being intentional about what you will or will not tolerate.
Restitution is something that may or may not happen. You cannot expect it. Yet, you can try your best to hold the other person accountable for his or her actions. This may be really difficult. Especially in a society that continues to NOT believe the victim. Sometimes to the point of blaming the victim, especially in cases of sexual assault.
Reconciliation may or may not happen depending on the broken boundary. In difficult situations of personal and sexual safety, you need intentional boundaries. Again, putting these boundaries in place helps ensure that it does not happen again. In some instances, this may make reconciliation impossible.
1. Decide if there is a reason for forgiveness—a boundary violation.
2. If it is false guilt, let it go—you did nothing wrong.
3. If your behavior is a problem, take responsibility for it and change it.
4. If your issue is shame, be gentle with yourself and take your time to heal.
5. Know that forgiveness is for healing yourself and releasing your emotional turmoil.
6. Do not forget what happened—you need to keep yourself safe.
7. Do not expect restitution or reconciliation—it depends partly on the other person.
Sometimes, at the end of the process, you may be glad for what has changed in your life. And you may start to see how it has made you stronger in some areas of life. You may find a new purpose and reason for living. This may or may not be your truth. Either way is okay.
Forgiving yourself may or may not be easy. It starts with understanding boundaries. Broken boundaries are what causes the need for forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not needed in cases of false guilt.
With guilt, take responsibility for your actions.
It is harder with shame that goes to your core. Take your time with forgiveness!
Forgiveness means letting go of the emotional turmoil in your life.
Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. There may or may not be restitution or reconciliation.
You may experience gratitude in the end.
It took the woman in the story years before she could forgive herself. Then she could find peace, serenity, and gratitude; and share her story.
You can learn more about the author Audrey Tait.
You can learn more about trauma in Reflective Meditations Trilogy: Understanding My Trauma, Healing My Trauma, and Letting Go—Forgiveness.