Imagine that everything you have ever done wrong is a rock. For example you have a nice, round one-pound smooth rock and you see written on it, “Told a lie.” You also have a rock that is labeled, “Didn’t report income to the government,” or “Yelled at kids.” Now take all of your imaginary rocks and put them in your pockets and hold them while you read this article.
We are often harder on ourselves than anybody else. When someone compliments us, we can’t take it in. We feel unworthy of love and sometimes punish ourselves internally. If we had an actual rock for each mistake, sin or misdeed we felt responsible for, we could build a large rock wall and fence ourselves in, shamed and hidden from the world.
Remember these simple thoughts:
We may DO wrong, but that doesn’t mean we ARE wrong.
Everyone makes mistakes. We aren’t mistakes.
Focus on changing your actions rather than hating yourself.
Mistakes instruct us. We learn from mistakes.
Accept blame for only what you can control
In some cases, we may be blaming ourselves for things we are not responsible for, for things someone else did to us. We are picking up rocks that aren’t even our own and carrying them.
Are you carrying around the weight of unnecessary shame and blame? Many times survivors of abuse have tried to explain to me why they deserved to be abused. They excused the abuser, still harbored feelings of resentment and then shifted the blame to themselves. All of these feelings of shame, self-doubt and blame make it difficult for us to heal, forgive ourselves and forgive others.
Beware of blaming yourself for things you do not control. When we blame ourselves it gives us a false sense of control, which in a strange way is comforting. For example, someone who is a victim of verbal abuse might say, “Of course he yells at me. It’s because I am lazy.” The hidden message or belief in that statement is, “If I work harder, everything will be alright.” This allows us to maintain control or a belief that we can fix things.
The truth is there is no excuse for abuse. You may have done things you are not proud of while in a toxic relationship, like use drugs, alcohol or said ugly things during arguments. You can be accountable for your actions, but that still doesn’t excuse abuse. People who abuse are in charge of their choices. You do not need to be forgiven for being a victim of abuse.
You may have done something seriously wrong. How do you begin to forgive yourself?
Most of us (me included) have made serious mistakes. We may have broken the laws of our country, the rules in our family or the commandments in our religion. Before we forgive ourselves we may want to right a wrong. In each of these cases the same basic steps of repentance can work universally.
Basic steps to righting a wrong or seeking forgiveness:
Acknowledge that you did something wrong
Facing your bad decision and looking at it clearly allows you to examine the steps that led you to your bad decision. For example, if you are yelling at your children, upon examining the issue, you may discover that you need parent education or are not sleeping enough.
Allow yourself to feel remorse
Learn from your mistakes, but avoid shaming and blaming yourself for them.
Right the wrong
For example if you stole something, replace it or try to do something comparable. If it was a long time ago, or you don’t have the resources, do what you can, or do something symbolic. If you stole food, donate food.
Forgive yourself and do your best not to repeat the mistake
If you do, then refer to step one.
For those readers who are Christian. We are taught that the Savior atoned for our sins — all of our sins. That means he compensated, or made up for your sins as well as mine. He volunteered to carry the burden or weight or your sins or imaginary rocks.
Someone once asked me a thought provoking question. I was listing my faults when they asked, “Wasn’t the Savior's atonement good enough for you?” Ask yourself that question. The Savior gave you a gift and took your sins upon him. If you believe that, then was his gift good enough to atone for your sins?
People often say, forgive and forget. You do not need to forget in order to forgive. Forgetting in this case can be defined as letting go and allowing the process of repentance to take the sting out of the memory. But keep in mind, sometimes it is important to remember the mistakes we make, so that we don’t repeat them.
When you are ready to forgive yourself you can:
Say a prayer to your higher power and ask for forgiveness.
Make amends, but if that isn’t possible do something symbolic to make amends.
If you made the mistake in your past, write your younger self a letter and tell her what she needs to know.
Rid yourself of the burdens
On small slips of paper, write the feelings that plague you like self-loathing or guilt. Put them in your wallet and carry them around with you. In a moment of peace, when you feel ready to let go, pick one slip of paper. Bury it, burn it or do anything symbolic that feels right to you.
Find rocks and label them with things you have done wrong and carry them. When you feel ready or want to forgive yourself, find a quiet lake, stream or park. Throw your rocks as hard as you can and say, “I am letting go of (fill in the blank).” Let go, release the burden of your shame and blame. Turn it over to your higher power. Trust your higher power to carry the weight for you.
Remember, we all make mistakes, but we are not mistakes. Be gentle with yourself as you heal.
Shannon Symonds worked 14 years as an Advocate for families experiencing Domestic or Sexual abuse while raising 6 children in Seaside Oregon. She loves to laugh, write, run, paint and most of all play with her family and friends.