Be selfish: forgive

How could I? I’m so mad at myself! I shouldn’t feel this way.

In last week’s column, I shared insights on forgiveness, what it really means, and who it’s for.  As I wrote, the benefits of forgiveness are for the one who forgives; it’s a process and often takes time.

This week, I’m going to address two often tricky aspects of forgiveness.

The first is self-forgiveness.

Boy, self-forgiveness is tough for so many people.

As I teach forgiveness practices, students often reflect, the most difficult person to forgive is themselves. Everyone makes mistakes, yet the tendency to hold ourselves hostage is rampant and causes great suffering for many.

We’d never be as unkind to another person as we are to ourselves, and learning how to forgive ourselves is beneficial. This allows us to move forward. Self-forgiveness is beneficial to our physical health, mental health, and our relationships.

Self-forgiveness isn’t about letting ourselves off the hook. It’s about taking responsibility for what we’ve done, accepting it’s in the past, and doing what’s required for restoration and renewal.

Admitting we’ve caused harm, without blame, justification, or excuse, is often the hardest step, but it’s a powerful one.

Feelings of guilt or remorse that arise are normal and healthy, and can move us toward positive change, as long as we don’t abide there.  

A feeling of relief washes over me when I can simply admit to myself, or to others, that I’ve screwed up. The cards are on the table and I can begin to repair.

Having empathy for who we’ve hurt, we may need to apologize and take steps to repair damage we’ve caused. We can then allow ourselves, with self-compassion, to move forward in life.

In taking the lessons we’ve learned, incorporating them in our lives to make better choices moving forward, we can grow from the experience.

Shame is different from guilt or remorse. Instead of acknowledging we’ve made a mistake, we feel we are a mistake, and we’re a bad person. Shame isn’t a good catalyst for positive change, and can lead us down the road of depression, addiction, and aggression.

Recognizing we’re all equally capable of hurting others and making mistakes, acknowledging what’s happened, and holding ourselves in compassion as we make amends, creates healthier and more positive change.

Sometimes, the “villain” of a painful situation is apparent. We can focus forgiveness practices with great success, but other times, we may still feel stuck. What to do?

It’s not uncommon for people to carry the guilt or hurt of another’s hurtful actions toward them, and this is expensive.

What I’ve learned is, when the pain of past hurts lingers for a long time, despite having done forgiveness work, there’s often a missing aspect of the injury not yet considered.

When we’ve forgiven the most obvious perpetrator(s), but still feel pained about a situation, it’s helpful to get curious. Instead of becoming annoyed with ourselves and the inability to let go, gently question who, or what else, needs to be forgiven.

In practising forgiveness, it’s important to get clear about who we need to forgive. It’s not always apparent where the biggest hurt comes from.

The second challenging aspect of forgiveness is forgiving seemingly innocent others.

We may not recognize our greatest pain can come from a beloved other who wasn’t the direct perpetrator of misdeeds, but who didn’t, or couldn’t, step in when we needed them most.

There may be an unlikely hurt. We may find we need to forgive ourselves, or that the biggest hurt or betrayal came from someone we love, an innocent other, who didn’t step-in at our time of need.

An example of this is a person who is bullied by another, and friends didn’t stand up to defend them.

Forgiving the bully may be easier than forgiving a friend who didn’t speak up or offer support when they were really needed. We may feel more hurt, abandoned, or betrayed by a loved one’s inaction than by the bully.

There may be anger or resentment toward the “good parent” when they didn’t handle a difficult situation, even if they too were a victim.

Forgiveness isn’t for the other, it’s for us. It liberates us from challenging things that have happened.  It doesn’t excuse what’s happened, or mean we have to reconcile with one who’s hurt us.

With forgiveness, we stop paying the price for what’s happened in the past.

Even setting the intention to forgive, or intending to intend to forgive, starts the process. It’s OK to decide not to forgive if we find it’s too much.

For bigger, more complex hurts, a counsellor is invaluable, but even the simplest practices can help reduce our suffering.

Remembering to be gentle, patient and kind with ourselves as we undertake this important work is vital.


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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

Corinne, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in Health Science, is a staff minister with the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, and a hospice volunteer. She is an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan, and is currently teaching smartUBC, a unique Mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. She is an invited speaker and presenter.

From diverse experience and knowledge, personally and professionally, Corinne has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people to gain a new perspective, awaken, and to recognize that we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts or to life; we are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 41 years, and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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