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Getting To Grips With Forgiveness

When you have self-esteem issues, you can be sure that there are also forgiveness issues and most of them centre around forgiving you. When you have a pretty rocky relationship with yourself and find it difficult to move past hurt, 'mistakes', blame, shame, guilt and rumination, you are persecuting you and not allowing yourself to move on and forgive. Conversely though, while some people who have problems forgiving themselves struggle to forgive others, what I tend to see with people who have low self-esteem is that they pile the blame on themselves while forgiving other people of all sorts of shady behaviour.

We've talked a lot about blame on this course, because it runs deep. When you're ready to start treating you like a worthwhile, valuable person who is human, loves, wants to be loved and, yes, at times, has erred, but also, at times, has been wronged and you're also willing to take personal responsibility for you and allow you to move on from your experiences, you will experience self-forgiveness. If you feel that you've forgiven others but you haven't been able to engage in self-forgiveness, then you haven't really been forgiving; you just take what you're absolving them for and then pile it onto your load.

Forgiveness is a decision. When we move on from something, it's because we choose and keep choosing to move on from something.

I don't know about you, but if I stare at the same thing for ages and ages trying to figure it out and see it in a new way, I get pissed off and frustrated. I may even start seeing things that aren't actually there, or even judging myself for my perspective not shifting. Whether it's forgiving you or forgiving another person, ruminating on it day after day is not going to bring you to that point.

Let me say it again: Forgiveness is a decision. When we move on from something, it's because we choose and keep choosing to move on from something both in actions and in our minds. 

Forgiveness, certainly of others, can be a rather complicated process. We like to look for signs of remorse, we want an apology, we want it to make sense and, sometimes, it just doesn't,  yet somehow we have to find a way to move on. Sometimes, the people that we're struggling to forgive are no longer around, or not in any fit state to meet our needs, either because they're just not that way inclined, or because they're incapacitated by their lifestyle (for examples, by addiction).

One particular area of forgiveness is actually forgiving yourself for what you didn't know at the time, and, more importantly, forgiving you as a child.

As an adult, sometimes the way of forgiving you is saying 'Sorry' to you. Not in some pitiful way, just a heartfelt apology. A genuine expression of remorse and an acknowledgement that for whatever reason, you didn't back you. No excuses - just sorry.

When I apologised to myself for not taking care of my health for over two years, because I'd been distracted by my relationship escapades, namely being the Other Woman and trying to 'win', I wept. Hard. I felt so flipping mortified that it took the best part of two years and near 18 months after diagnosis before I took the time to acknowledge the disease I had and fight for me. I couldn't believe I'd let it happen. I initially felt so ashamed.

But there isn't much you can do with shame, other than be humble enough to learn why you went in that direction, then step up for you. I've been forgiving me (not in any conscious way), for over seven years now. If you haven't done so already, also try doing the Letters To Self class in this module.

Not forgiving is something that really only affects you. It's in your head and body and clinging onto it not only affects your mind but will, over time, take its toll on your body and your spirit. Anger, resentment, frustration, hurt and disappointment that are being carried around cause anxiety, depression and stress-related symptoms such as immune system disorders, headaches, tinnitus, vertigo and jaw problems. I've talked to enough Baggage Reclaim readers to see a startling commonality between the types of health issues that people are struggling with.

Not forgiving is something that really only affects you.

Yeah, there might be people who miss out on you because of you not being in a position to move beyond the experience (although not engaging with them may be the right thing for the circumstance), but all of the energy, the emotions, the drama of it all is felt and handled by you. The only other people who may be affected are dependants, like children, or even your partner, but, in terms of impact, most of it lands on you.

You might be struggling to forgive you for something from your childhood that you shouldn't have been blaming you for in the first place. When you address the root of the blame, challenge your beliefs and start putting the responsibility of these issues where they belong - on others - you can forgive you for mistakenly believing that you as a child had created Other People's Behaviour, or their treatment of you. When you're sharing in the blame for abuse, you are then struggling to forgive you for making that 'false move' or not having the 'right' qualities and characteristics not to 'draw in' that behaviour. You're repeatedly shaming you for other people's inadequacies and that's quite crippling on a psyche over time.

This is why you must do the work of writing Unsent Letters (guide available from the course page). Write a hundred of them if you need to. Keep writing and get everything out of your system - get your feelings on paper and get perspective.

Allow you to live, because what I see with people who are not experiencing much forgiveness is that they don't allow themselves to live, to love, to enjoy, to do very much. It's as if, 'I effed up. I'm not good enough. I shouldn't have made that mistake. I don't deserve to be happy. I don't deserve more chances.'

That's not how life works.

Admitting and moving on from mistakes shows that you're learning and that you're making decisions.

Recognising the difference between blame and responsibility and letting people own their own so that you can own yours, is also about letting up on you and making decisions.

You are human, you love, you want to love and be loved and through the process of life, sometimes you take a wrong turn through action or lack of knowledge at the time. You know different now from what you knew at that time. It would be great if you could undo what's been done, but you can't and so steeping in regret and repeatedly punishing you with all of these thoughts is going to block the way to being and loving you. Nobody can build their self-esteem if, every time they put two steps forward, they're reminding themselves of where they erred and refusing to move on.

Forgiveness is something that creeps up on you. I find that if you devote your time and energy to 'forgiving', whether it is you or someone else, that it ends up being exhausting and a rather contrived process.

When we treat ourselves with love, care, trust and respect, forgiveness of ourselves is what happens as a by-product.

You know, a little while back, I wrestled with this idea of whether I'd 'let myself down' over how I handled my father and his family about our wedding. I did it over the course of a morning and then I pulled back to reality - I did the best that I could under extremely (and I seriously mean extremely) difficult circumstances.

At any given time, we are doing the best that we can with the knowledge and experience that we have at that time. It's not always ideal or the 'best', but when we recognise that we have something to learn from these experiences, we have fewer regrets because the lessons are applied into future experiences. It's like a muscle - the more you learn, the stronger you get at bouncing back.

When it comes to other people, the reality is that sometimes, 'forgiving' per se is not really needed, because by the time you've done it, they've only gone and dropped another misdeed in the shady basket for you to process and work on.

I think where we can forgive certain others organically, as in a natural, rather than someone pressuring us or even pressurising ourselves, kind of way, then we can crack on, but don't force it. But also don't ruminate on it, because that is where the internal trouble starts for you. The thoughts become a preoccupation and a purpose and letting go of it becomes a symbol of not having the security blanket of this issue. But it's toxic, especially if the source of your lack of forgiveness is where you're giving you a hard time about childhood experiences.

My acupuncturist gave me a great tip without using the word 'forgiveness'. He told me that when thoughts pop up about, for example, my father, and I intervene on my thoughts, I should say something like, 'This is not mine. This behaviour is his,' then remind myself of who and what he is in as positive a manner as possible, which is basically empathising. So, for example, 'He is who he is and that's a product of his environment and the things that he's done to himself over the years. It is sad that he cannot be the father I would like, or even empathise with my position, but, under the circumstances, that's understandable but that's not about me.' Funnily enough, I've been doing this with my mother for a few years. When I stopped making her behaviour about me and recognised literally where she is coming from, it's not surprising to me that we've had certain issues.

Sometimes forgiveness is acceptance and that may be as simple as accepting the reality of who someone is. If you judged them incorrectly, you've got to chalk it up to experience - now you know. Judging you for not knowing who and what they were is like judging you for being like the bulk of the 7 billion people on the planet. We've all misjudged people. It happens less and less through experience and self-knowledge, but you know what? Even Judge Judy gets it wrong sometimes. I'm sure of it. I know plenty of judges in our legal systems get it wrong and they're paid to do their roles.

The truth is, whatever awful things you've considered yourself to be, you're more than those. Yeah, you're someone with flaws - who isn't? You're also more than your experiences and when you only focus on those experiences where you get to draw on blame, shame etc, you end up forgetting who you are. You are a mix of many things and when you start to look forward and take action, you will start to feel the weight lift off your chest.

Food for thought

What can you do to help you move on?

What are you going to do when thoughts pop up? Instead of chasing after them, how can you positively support you with some gentle rationale? Maybe keep a list of some key reminders.

Think about what forgiving you means to you - it can help you to identify barriers to moving forward and once you've identified specific fears, doubts and beliefs, you can use the various 'buster' guides from your course page.

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