While doing this work, which I am privileged to do, I have many questions from my clients. Many have universal themes, so it would be helpful to address some of them here!
How Do You Forgive Yourself and Take Accountability for Your Actions?
This is an excellent question because it involves taking responsibility, which is sometimes challenging. The answer is taking responsibility for our thoughts and feelings–and that’s big, especially when we’ve been victimized.
When we accept responsibility, we empower ourselves and can then forgive whatever we may be holding against ourselves. Ask:
- What am I not forgiving myself for?
- Where am I holding the shame, guilt, and judgment?
Journaling these questions is a way to work toward self-forgiveness and self-acceptance. Thinking deeply about these questions will lead you to realize that self-forgiveness relates to guilt, and self-acceptance is about shame. Figuring out where we are holding guilt and shame allows us to determine whether the guilt is healthy.
There is such a thing as healthy guilt; it’s when we’ve done something wrong and want to make amends and take accountability. Making amends means changing something, which happens when you change your behavior for yourself (first) and others for the better.
Unhealthy guilt is what most of us carry. Many of us feel guilty just for being alive and taking up space. We feel guilty because we haven’t been encouraged or allowed to express ourselves authentically. We feel guilty because we’ve had to people-please to feel loved and have not lived our most authentic lives.
Determining why you feel that shame and guilt will help you determine why you’re comparing yourself to others and bring awareness to those feelings. Once you’re aware, you can take responsibility and accountability for YOUR feelings and move past being the victim into being the empowered victor.
What do I feel guilty for?
Is it healthy or unhealthy?
Where do I feel shame?
Is it healthy or unhealthy?
When you see it in black and white, you see it almost as a statement vs. feeling. Did you know that most shame isn’t even really ours? It is put on us by society, religion, family, etc. The truth is that none of us were born thinking we were worthless.
Read that again–we were NOT born feeling worthless! Remembering that and returning to feeling worthy is how you can take accountability and forgive yourself.
Do We REALLY Have to Forgive Heinous Acts That Changed Who We Are At Our Core?
That’s a heavy question. I will ask that back–how heavy is it within you? How much burden are you carrying and holding on to from someone else’s
actions? This goes back to people thinking that forgiveness is about the other person. The truth is, it’s about you.
It can feel like it’s about the other person when we have been victimized, but when you look at what and who you can control, is it you or the other person?
It’s you. Do you want to continue to give someone ELSE your precious energy? When you do this, you may have nothing left for yourself. When you’re mad or ruminating over something, you are not present in much of anything, and you miss out.
I am not advocating for you to condone or excuse their behavior. I am saying that forgiveness is a release for YOU. It’s letting go of that energy holding you and freeing yourself from all the heavy feelings accompanying it.
I’m not saying it’s easy.
Sobriety isn’t easy, but is it worth it?
Forgiveness is worth it.
We have to say the same about the heinous acts of others. What is holding onto it costing you? How heavy is it for you? Is it easy to forgive? No.
Is it worth it?
Try this when you need to find forgiveness. Consider what holding judgment against yourself or someone else is costing. Rate on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being low cost and 5 being high:
Time? Money? Energy? Emotionally? Physically? Mentally? Relationships?
Then, ask yourself how forgiveness will benefit you in those same areas. Could it help you take more time for yourself instead of seeking revenge or blaming the other person?
Would you have more energy to go out with friends? Date? Start that business? Would you be more creative because you weren’t locked in survival mode?
Do you have to forgive? You don’t, but look at what you’re missing when you hold on to your hurt or anger. It’s a choice, your choice.
Do We Have To Forgive Ourselves Before We Can Forgive Others?
The truth is that people find forgiving themselves the hardest because in our brains, we hold the judge, the jury, the prosecutor, the defense attorney, the victim, and the perpetrator all together, and we are ALL of them.
They all have voices- our voice–just in conceived perception. I believe we find forgiveness within by starting outside through relationships.
Relationships can be mirrors for us–helping us heal ourselves by seeing things we’ve repressed, denied, or rejected about ourselves.
Here’s an exercise that I give people:
Think of someone that really bothers you and then write down five to 10 things that irritate you about them– whether they’re selfish, a bully, treat people crappy, dismissive, whatever it may be.
Then, look at those traits and ask, “Am I doing that to others?” and, “Where am I doing that to myself?” Answering these questions can be life-changing. I often hear my clients say, “Holy cow, what? I’m dismissive of myself. I bully myself. I do this. Oh. Wow.”
It’s a simple but not-so-simple exercise and an excellent way to start making amends to others and ourselves. It’s what I mean by all forgiveness is self-forgiveness.
When I became willing to shift my perception around my stories and look at things differently, I saw how these experiences helped me find my purpose in life. I could move forward by seeing it from the perspective that it happened for me and not to me.
At the core, it’s about making room within yourself for your expression and purpose, not fixing anything broken. YOU’RE NOT BROKEN. YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE FIXED. Certain segments of society would have us believe that we must be fixed, which keeps us in a shame spiral.
You’re not broken. That’s a misconception, and you do NOT have to accept it. I don’t.
How Do You Forgive People That Are No Longer With Us?
This is a good question. I was not sober when my mom died, and we had a complicated relationship. A lot of hurt, abandonment, and betrayal happened from her, so when I started this forgiveness process, she was one of the first people on my forgiveness list that I wanted to work on.
Often, we find in forgiveness work that many of our patterns and beliefs go back to one or both of our parents. In the Radical Forgiveness work we do, they’re also the ones from which the most significant lessons in life come.
On a spiritual level, our parents are the ones that love us most, and this is my belief through Radical Forgiveness–they love us the most and yet are probably the meanest to us as well.
So, you ask, “How do I forgive my mother?”
We start by writing a letter to them. Dead or alive, whoever it is. Don’t write a letter apologizing and making yourself the victim. No. Lambast them. Give them EVERYTHING they ever did that hurt, and give it good. If you’re not a writer, scream it into a wall, the woods, or wherever you want. Just get it out and let all the feelings come up. Cry, rage, whatever you need! It’s all part of the process.
As you settle, bring compassion and empathy toward them. Remember the things that brought THEM hurt in THEIR lives. Hurt people hurt people, so learning about or remembering the trauma of those who traumatize us at least gives us a backstory.
Let that compassion be what makes you willing to forgive them. It doesn’t have to happen overnight, but even being willing to consider forgiving is freedom. You’ve gotten all the hurt out and said to them, whether they’re there or not, and you’ve allowed yourself to feel the appropriate feelings that should accompany that hurt.
Then you go from there, one breath at a time. Ask how to go forward from there. This can also be an excellent exercise for dealing with people who are unsafe to be around.
How can I Deal With Justified Resentment, Especially When It Still Impacts My Life, Career, and Reputation?
This is a heavy one. Hear my heart when I say this: Everything is forgivable.
I know that is hard to hear, but what we want to do is look at how the resentment and weight are affecting us. Ask yourself why you allow the hurt to penetrate and infiltrate your life. Why are you holding on to it? What are you getting from it? What’s the benefit of holding on to the pain? If it is still impacting today, who is being affected?
When you see it’s you, you’re likely emanating that out in your energy field, so more people are going to come to you with that same story, and they’re going to make the pain continue. It’s a cycle, and you can be in charge of it!
Instead, look in the mirror and ask what you will learn. Ask what you can take responsibility for. Acknowledge you were the victim of heinous lies or ill will, but do you need to stay the victim? What can you forgive and let go of? What is holding you still? Are you still around people feeding the resentment to you?
Radical, transformative forgiveness provides a pattern interrupt to release yourself from the heaviness of the act and the residual feelings. Look for the patterns, ask where you see them, and then tackle them to release yourself.
I know that we carry some HEAVY stuff. I will never say forgiveness is easy, but it’s not impossible. When we’re willing to open ourselves, it can be simple.
Forgiveness isn’t about condoning bad behavior from others or ourselves; we can be both victims and perpetrators. It’s learning to know ourselves better and accept ourselves – shadow and all.
That’s how we can be in control of the narrative. That’s how we can have that compassion, even though the impact may still be felt. That peace of mind and heart we seek is in OUR capacity, and NO ONE can take that away.