Letting go of our suffering is the hardest work we will ever do. It is also the most fruitful. To heal means to meet ourselves in a new way — in the newness of each moment where all is possible and nothing is limited to the old.”
— Stephen Levine
Forgiving yourself is the very heart of healing.
Although it is comfortable and easy to blame others for your suffering, somewhere deep inside you know that you are the author of your own destiny– that it is your beliefs, thoughts, habits and desires that create your reality and perpetuate your pain. Acknowledging that responsibility is frightening and difficult–it is scary to look in the mirror and say to your reflection, “This pain I am feeling is entirely my fault.” But taking ownership of your life and accepting yourself in all your imperfect glory is the only path that will allow you to move beyond the pain.
The following is an exercise in self-love and self forgiveness–two qualities that most of us are missing in our lives. As you complete it, try to enter fully the harsh, self-judging thoughts you have about yourself and look closely for the true source of your pain. You were not born despising yourself; somewhere in your life you learned to reject the person that you are. Find that place and enter it with all the gentleness and compassion you can muster–that is where your healing will begin.
This is a three-part exercise. Try to complete it in one journaling session, but if that is not possible, do parts one and two together and save part three for a later time. Do not leave more than one or at most two days between the two sessions or you will lose the continuity you need to get the most from the exercise.
As always, begin your journaling session with a short period of deep breathing and reflection. Ask your subconscious to allow you to reach your deepest wisdom with empathy, courage and compassion. Then, when you are ready, begin writing quickly and intuitively. No editing!!
Make a list in your journal of all the things in your life that cause you to feel guilty, ashamed, unworthy or sad. Include everything that comes up for you, whether it is a major life issue like the fact that you never finished college, bought a home or had children or something as seemingly minor as forgetting to tell your spouse you loved her today when you left for work. There is no need to go into detail at this point–a simple list will suffice.
Write down your feelings about the issues you listed in part one. For example, do you feel inferior to others in your peer group because you never finished college? Are you sad that you do not have children or ashamed that you do not make enough money to afford to buy a home? Stay focused on your feelings as you write, and include any insights that come up connecting them to people or experiences from the past.
Consolidate the first two parts of the exercise by writing a letter of forgiveness to yourself about the things that you wrote about in parts one and two. Be sincere and include as much detail as you can. In particular, try to—
- Acknowledge your shortcomings and what you could have done better.
- Acknowledge your mistakes and the hurt that they caused you and others.
- Express whatever emotion comes up for you — guilt, sadness, fear, shame.
- Avoid self-judgement and recrimination. (Say “This makes me feel sad”rather than “I am an idiot for letting this happen.” )
- Acknowledge that you are only human–a flawed and imperfect person who will never have all the answers and will continue to make mistakes–big and small–for as long as you are walking this earth and capable of exerting your free will.
End your letter with a promise to do better–to learn from your mistakes and to do your best not to repeat the same ones again. This is all you can ask of yourself–and all you would ask of anyone else.
It is a good idea to repeat this exercise regularly, either in its entirety or just by listing your shortcomings and writing a brief letter forgiving yourself. Doing so will help you to stay focused on the things you can do to improve your life instead of blaming yourself for things that you have already done and cannot change.