4 Steps To Self-Forgiveness

Self-Awareness 101 Episode 35: Self-Forgiveness

In this episode Willard shares who a new definition of "forgiveness" allowed him to not only find peace with others, but how it allowed him to experience self-forgiveness and a peace with himself he had not known before. At the end, he offers a four step process that you can use to forgive yourself and begin living a life free of guilt or shame.

< EP 34: How To Forgive Others               EP 36: Deepening Self-Awareness > 

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Today we're going to discuss self-forgiveness.

In last week's episode, I talked about how to forgive others. And I thought a good follow up would be to have an episode about self-forgiveness. I believe that is a big hurdle that many people struggle to overcome, I know that it was for me. One of the reasons I had such a challenge with self-forgiveness was that when people would first talk to me about forgiveness, I automatically associated it to the idea that I had been given growing up from religious perspective. Meaning that I believed forgiveness was something you had to ask for, earn and then be granted by someone or something outside of yourself. The concept of self- forgiveness especially because of my having a religious definition did not make any sense to me. If I messed up and there was something I was carrying guilt or shame for, only God was going to be able to forgive me for that. I believed that I still needed to earn that external acknowledgment that it was ok.

Early in sobriety I was asked to make a list of people who I had harmed, and then become willing to make amends to them. I had to become willing to make reparations to them for what I had done. And many times, part of that process was where I needed to ask them for forgiveness. Because of my old definition of what forgiveness required, that was often a very scary process for me. Sometimes I would approach these people and apologize for what I had done and they would grant me that forgiveness and other times they wouldn't. Sometimes they would be angry. And when that would happen, I would not be able to experience self-forgiveness, instead I would continue to carry the shame and the guilt.

I don't where or when I learned this, but at some point I learned that by learning to change my definition of forgiveness, and learning to practice self-forgiveness first, it made approaching others a lot easier. This new definition, or this new approach to forgiveness allowed me to have peace in my own life, and a better understanding of their response.

The first step of changing the definition of forgiveness came down to recognizing that forgiveness is related to a perception of an event that happened. Let me explain. If I am carrying guilt or shame for something, I am aware of only one perception of the experience that happened. And that perception is the thing that I am having this negative association to. Most of the time the event that happened was simply the result of a bad choice, the result of a bad decision. And for me, often those bad choices and bad decisions were fueled by the fact that I was wasted. Other times, they were just bad decisions. All of us make bad choices and bad decisions at some point in our lives. The shift begins when we acknowledge that we have done it.

When I acknowledged that I made a bad choice, I then can accept responsibility for it and be accountable for it. I can say to myself, "Okay, you know what, in this instance, I hurt somebody. I wronged somebody." Then I need to go to them and say, "When I did "X", I was wrong and I am sorry." Then I need to let go of it from there, because at that point whether they accept the apology from me and forgive me or not, I don't have any control over. If I have been genuine in my acknowledgment and my apology, then I have done what I can do to that point. I acknowledge that it was a bad decision, and I've accepted responsibility and become accountable for it, if there are reparations I can make, I do. Then after I let go of it, I am able to move forward. Letting go of it means I am not carrying around the guilt and the shame anymore. It also means letting go to what the response from the other person is to my apology. Because sometimes they are going to embrace it and sometimes they're not.

An example I have is that during the high point of my drinking there was an experience with three of the people that I used to hang out with the most. When we were all drunk one night, they did something to me that I was humiliated about, or at least I perceived that they did something to me and in reality, I was the one being drunk and stupid. But I was at a point in my life where reality was so distorted and I believed that the world was against me. When this experience happened I was so angry with them all I could focus on was that I needed to get them back. So I went to their house one night. They were all living together at that time and I sneaked to the house and slashed the tires on all three of their cars. Then I took off. Meaning that I left the state of Pennsylvania and didn't return for a couple of years.

It wasn't until I was about six years into my sobriety that I finally got up the courage to tell them, to make amends. And as I approached each of them I had three very different experiences. The very first person that I went to, when I told him what I had done he kind of laughed it off. He told me he already knew that I had done it. He said that he had figured that part out a long time ago. As reparations, I offered him money for his tires which he accepted and we parted on good terms.

The second guy that I went to was actually much more compassionate, much more forgiving. I actually thought that out of the three, he would be the one that would really be the least forgiving. He told me that he was happy that I had finally gotten to that point in my life, to recognize that I had a problem and make the changes I needed to make. He was also happy that I was man enough to come to him and to tell him what I had done. When I offered, he didn't want to accept the money to pay for the tires. But I told him that it was a very important part of what I needed to do, that this is what I had to do for myself to move forward and with that understanding he did accept the money.

The third one, who I thought actually would be the easiest to approach because it was my cousin and because we did a lot of crazy stuff together when we were both drunk; I thought he would understand. He didn't. He freaked out on me. I was verbally attacked and at one point felt I was going to be physically attacked. I don't want to go into what he specifically said, but let me just be very clear that he was not interested in any way in accepting my apology or my money.

The reason I think it is important to share this experience is that if I still would have had that old belief system about what forgiveness was, that I needed him to acknowledge that he accepted my apology for me to be forgiven, I would still be carrying the guilt and the shame for that stupid act today. And depending on your belief system about self-forgiveness, you may believe that I should be carrying it. And... that is your belief.

With this new definition, this new approach to forgiveness and self-forgiveness, I was actually able to let my guilt and shame go and realize he had every right to be angry. Whether he forgave me or not was his choice and the burden that he would choose to carry or release. But whether he released his anger did not affect my choice of letting go and moving forward. There is no positive benefit for either him or I for me to continue to carry that guilt and shame.

So what I would like to ask you to do is to take a look at your life for a place that you need to apply self-forgiveness. Maybe the thing that you need to forgive yourself for has nothing to do with another person. Maybe it is truly an exercise in self-forgiveness in the sense of a commitment that you've broken to yourself, a goal that you set for yourself that not only did you not achieve it, but you did something totally counter to achieving it. As an example, maybe you committed to going on a diet, and not only did you go off the diet, but you gained more weight. Or maybe you were going to quit smoking and you started smoking again. I know that I tried to quit smoking many, many times, and when I would start smoking again I would beat myself up and tell myself that I was weak and not capable of quitting.

Self-forgiveness, you need to forgive yourself for those things because the choices that you made in the past are not going to determine who you become in the future, unless you allow them to.

So again, the exercise for this week is to think of something that you feel shame or guilt for and that you need to apply self-forgiveness. The first step is to simply acknowledge that it was a bad decision. Whatever the stimulus was, it was just a bad choice. The second step is to accept accountability for it. If there is something that you need to do to make amends for it, whether it is to someone else or even for yourself, accept that responsibility and make the amends. The third step, is let it go. Just let it go. You have the choice of whether you are going to carry that guilt and that shame forward from here. Or you can say, "You know what, enough. It was a bad choice. I am standing up. I am being accountable. It is time to go forward. And that is the fourth step. The fourth step is to move forward. Learn from the experience and carry the lesson forward.

Become who you desire to be, who you deserve to be. The only way you can do that is through self -forgiveness.

So, I look forward to hearing the results that you get when you practice self-forgiveness. I look forward to hearing the way you apply this. Maybe you can share some other approaches to self-forgiveness that I can use or I can share with others. I look forward to your feedback. I look forward to connecting soon.

Take Care. 

< EP 34: How To Forgive Others               EP 36: Deepening Self-Awareness > 

Choose the next Episode you would like to watch from the list below:

Self-Awareness 101 Series with Transcription Plus

Introduction To Self-Awareness 101:  To Inspire, Educate and Empower
SA 101 Episode 1:  The Importance of Developing Self-Awareness 
SA 101 Episode 2:  How to Truly Learn from Mistakes
SA 101 Episode 3:  To Soar, I Needed To Let Go Of The Past
SA 101 Episode 4:  The Meaning That We Give Things
SA 101 Episode 5:  Kind Words And Good Deeds Are Eternal
SA 101 Episode 6:  Life Begins At The End Of Your Comfort Zone
SA 101 Episode 7:  Two Most Powerful Words You'll Ever Say
SA 101 Episode 8:  Making Time For What's Truly Important
SA 101 Episode 9:  Expectations and Desires About How It Ought To Be
SA 101 Episode 10:  Tap Into The Sources Of The Universe
SA 101 Episode 11:  The Four Agreements
SA 101 Episode 12:  Courage-Being Scared But Saddling Up Anyways
SA 101 Episode 13:  The Power Of Belief Systems
SA 101 Episode 14:  Change Is Inevitable, Growth Is Optional
SA 101 Episode 15:  You Always Have Choices, It's OK To Say No
SA 101 Episode 16:  Encountering External Resistance To Change
SA 101 Episode 17:  Creating A Supportive Environment
SA 101 Episode 18:  Our Decisions Determine Who We Become
SA 101 Episode 19:  Questions To Ask When You Overcome An Obstacle
SA 101 Episode 20:  A List Of Excuses Vs. Results
SA 101 Episode 21:  The Meaning Of Honesty
SA 101 Episode 22:  Living In Gratitude
SA 101 Episode 23:  Repetitive Patterns
SA 101 Episode 24:  Non-Verbal Cues
SA 101 Episode 25:  Be Brave Enough To Accept The Help Of Others
SA 101 Episode 26:  Positive Thoughts And Positive Intentions
SA 101 Episode 27:  Active Listening Skills
SA 101 Episode 28:  How Self-Awareness Relates To Spirituality
SA 101 Episode 29:  Positive Affirmations
SA 101 Episode 30:  Basic Meditation Exercises
SA 101 Episode 31:  Personal Development At Work
SA 101 Episode 32:  Toxic Shame
SA 101 Episode 33:  Eliminating Clutter
SA 101 Episode 34:  How To Forgive Others
SA 101 Episode 35:  Self-Forgiveness
SA 101 Episode 36:  Deepening Self-Awareness
SA 101 Episode 37:  What Is Fear?
SA 101 Episode 38:  How To Overcome Fear
SA 101 Episode 39:  Dealing With Your Anger
SA 101 Episode 40:  How To Find Your Passion
SA 101 Episode 41:  Increasing Your Self-Awareness
SA 101 Episode 42:  How To Feel Deserving
SA 101 Episode 43:  How To Be A Humble Observer
SA 101 Episode 44:  Progress Not Perfection
SA 101 Episode 45:  Expectations And Perfectionism
SA 101 Episode 46:  Dealing With Anger
SA 101 Episode 47:  Taking Responsibility For Yourself
SA 101 Episode 48:  Achieving Higher Consciousness
SA 101 Episode 49:  Trust Life
SA 101 Episode 50:  Being Skeptical
SA 101 Episode 51:  Benefits Of Closure
SA 101 Episode 52:  The Final Episode 

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