Grief. It’s a multi-faceted word, isn’t it? It instantly puts us on guard–expecting our hearts to be pained and our brains left trying to figure out how to make it through the grieving process. It is true; grief is a process, though not one that necessarily has a clear-cut starting and ending point. Grief is more like an ocean, ebbing and flowing with beautiful days peppered with torrential storms, or a circle where you seem to go through the steps throughout different seasons in your life. 

Grief is difficult to describe, as it’s a unique process for each individual and includes a lot of introspection and endurance as you look for ways to muddle through the hard and appreciate and enjoy the good when it comes. Perhaps one of the most challenging facets of grief may be struggling with ambiguous or anticipatory grief. This is just as it sounds–grieving what you ‘may’ lose (or are in the process of losing) even though there is uncertainty in just what that means. This grief often brings guilt and shame as you may not even believe you’re entitled to your feelings.

That’s where radical forgiveness and self-care are necessary for you and what you’re grieving.

Grief: A Universal Emotion

We’re not unfamiliar with grief. We all grieve or have grieved something–the loss of beloved friends or family members is life-changing. The same could be said for losing jobs, relationships, businesses, or even incomes. Grief often walks hand-in-hand with changes simply because humans are creatures of habit. We like what we like, and we love what we love, and most of us aren’t likely to make waves and change our comfort levels. 

When something happens–when changes occur–even if there is excitement about the change, it’s wise to consider there may be grief in the process too. 

A new job may be a fantastic opportunity, but it may be hard to leave your amazing coworkers, and you’ll mourn those relationships. Your child getting married may bring tremendous joy, but you may mourn the change that this will bring to the relationship with your child. 

This is human nature, and we need to permit ourselves to grieve the changing connections and life circumstances. A myth perpetuates the idea that if you’re sad, you’re sad. If your happy, you’re happy–and the two don’t often overlap. 

That’s just not true. Don’t berate yourself for grieving the changes in our lives. People and patterns matter in our lives, and when something happens to shake that up, the grief can be real. It doesn’t have to negate joy. Believe it or not, allowing yourself to feel happy and sad is self-care. When it comes to grief, especially forgiveness, we have to normalize the existence of different emotions existing and shaping us simultaneously. Particularly in the last two years–there have been so many changes for us. There’s been much loss, but many have found new paths and journeys and growth. 

Ambiguous Grief: Life Changes–But So Do You

As a forgiveness coach, I’ve learned a lot about how forgiveness is self-care, and I’ve been able to share that concept with others to help them grow and take care of themselves. 

This is important because self-care often takes a back seat when grieving. The thing is…when it comes to ambiguous grief or anticipatory grief, we may not even realize we’re in a grieving process.

Such was the case for me, as I recently learned something new about grief and its many facets and angles. My husband and I have been together for about 10 years, but I have noticed some changes in him in the last few years. 

He seemed to be going through some mental changes–not really being present or wanting to engage. He seemed to lack purpose and energy, and sometimes, it seemed as if he’d just ‘check out.’ Our adult kids even noticed the changes, but he didn’t want to go to the doctor to check it out. 

As you can imagine, this began to strain our relationship.

Still, we chalked it up to the possibility that the semi-retirement he was going through may have been the factor behind the lack of motivation and purposeful feelings. He kept himself busy with things he liked to combat, but sadly, the dementia-like behavior worsened.

Scarily for us both, he even got to the point where he wasn’t sure he even wanted to be alive. The powerlessness I felt to help him gutted me and put me on an exhausting mental roller coaster. When he was low, I was extremely sad, but I was hopeful and optimistic as he’d coast back into ‘better.’ Then, he’d simply become apathetic at times, and I’d be so angry with what seemed to be him not caring at all. 

The truth is that I was pretty much as much a mess as he was, just for different reasons. I’d go between deep sadness and rage, exhaustion and depression.

When I could finally share what was going on with a friend, she told me she believed I was experiencing anticipatory grief. Also sometimes called unconventional grief, it was a grief I’d not heard of before. Still, it was worth exploring; although my husband wasn’t dying, I sure did feel like what I knew were parts of the stages of grief.

I came to find this grief is when you’re grieving someone still alive. They are not recognizable to you anymore…and this grief often accompanies your feelings when you watch someone go through situations like addiction, mental illness, dementia, or Alzheimer’s. 

The hard part of this anticipatory or unconventional grief, compared to other types, is that not everyone expects or even allows it. It’s expected you’ll grieve when your loved one passes, but there’s not as much grace for you when you’re grieving someone alive.

And this is the tragedy of anticipatory grief. Even though the person is there, they’re psychologically different from before. This is hard for you and them, as all the factors of this life change are out of anyone’s control. Still, while challenging for the one going through the change, it’s equally challenging for you as you’re forced to adapt to this new person and new life. To top it all off, you’ll likely feel tremendous guilt and shame for even thinking the things you’re thinking.

Please don’t. Be gentle with yourself and recognize that this change and the accompanying grief you are experiencing are valid.

Radical Forgiveness: Key In The Grieving Process

Fortunately, my training as a forgiveness coach allowed me to rely on the processes of self-forgiveness and forgiveness of others. Forgiving yourself for your very human shortcomings is so essential in anticipatory grief. It’s human to be frustrated and exhausted, and while you are thankful for the opportunity to love and serve, you deserve some grace. Forgive yourself for the times you fall short, as they’re bound to come. It may even feel like radical forgiveness because you’ve never really felt these valid feelings before.

Additionally, the forgiveness of others helps immensely as well. To do this, it’s important to always let compassion guide you. When you do, and you bring compassion for the other person, you’re able to see the changes occurring in your life through a lens of love and empathy. Recognizing that hurtful behaviors aren’t always purposeful makes it easier to forgive others, bringing your possibly fractured connection back together. Remembering this with my husband was key to remembering why I loved him so much in the first place.

Also–reach out! Reaching out in your grief process allows you to be in the company of those who understand what you’re going through. You can allow yourself to grieve this unconventional grief in spaces filled with love and concern. Friends who have walked the walk you’re walking (or those similar to yours) are of incredible help as they’re a wealth of knowledge and understanding. Support groups can also bring you a community of those who care, understand, and will support you in the topsy-turvy process you’re going through.

To get the full benefits of reaching out, first open yourself up to the idea that your grieving relationship is different. Ask how you can allow yourself to find some happiness in this new relationship, and let supporters help you walk that path.

Most importantly, when it comes to this ambiguous grief, remind yourself that the illness or changes the person faces are not them. While it may be hard to do because they are the ones behaving differently, remember the uncontrollable aspect of the situation and then focus on what you CAN control. You CAN be angry at what’s going on, and you CAN permit yourself to feel what you’re feeling. 

But you also CAN see what’s going on with your loved one, and you CAN choose to do the best you can for them and with them. And that’s all anyone should ask of you. Are you interested in hearing more about how to walk through heavy times, particularly those that grieve your heart? In that case, I’d love you to check out this episode of Love From The Hyp. My friends and Intuitive & Transformational Coaches Sakura Sutter, Rory Reich, and I talk more about how to walk through this journey and how we don’t have to feel alone.

The concept of self-care brings about a million different ideas of what self-care means in your life. The pandemic has taken a toll on most of our mental health in various ways. Self-care has become a term we see more often and in a more positive light. That’s a good thing, as self-care isn’t just indulging in pleasures such as spa days. Instead, self-care is radical, and forgiveness may be the most radical way to love others and yourself.

What Do People Think Self-Care Includes? 

The thing about self-care is that it is unique to each person because it is about being kind to yourself. That means self-care for you may be different than self-care for me. There are some universals about self-care, though. A BirchBox study found that 74% of people considered self-care to mean taking care of their bodies, and 57% thought it meant taking a mental break.

It’s definitely both of those.

The sad fact is that many people think self-care is indulgent and luxurious instead of necessary to your health and happiness, and we don’t take it as seriously as we should. People are quick to call taking time for a massage or pedicure as extravagant and will quickly judge you if you dare to put yourself and your health as a priority.

That same study found that 1 in 3 people feel guilty for taking care of themselves. Guilty for caring for oneself? This is a misconception about self-care and why we need to break the silence about self-care, and how radical forgiveness is one of the highest forms of taking care of oneself. 

What Self-Care REALLY Means

As I said, self-care means a lot of things–different things because people are different. Personally, my idea of self-care has changed over time. I admit that I used to find myself in that ‘feeling guilty’ camp because if I happened to take time to get away from my responsibilities for a few hours and have a massage or take a bath, I felt like I should have been committing that time to my family. A morning at the spa or even a lunch with a friend felt very selfish of me–we women and mothers always have something to do or somewhere to be as we always tend to put our needs at the bottom of the to-do list. 

Self-care felt like exorbitant pampering, and in truth–that hot bubble bath or relaxing massage rarely happened, so it was pampering for me. Like many of you, I felt I had to make sure everyone else was taken care of first and foremost. As is the case for many of us who find ourselves in codependent relationships, if there ever WAS any time for ourselves, it was always in small snippets, and always after every other need, want, and desire of those in my life was met. 

Guess what that meant for me (and likely for you)? It meant I was pouring from an empty cup, which doesn’t typically pan out well. As cliche as it is, there’s a reason we’re told to put our oxygen masks on first when we’re on an airplane. We’re of no good to anyone else if we’re not first okay ourselves.

forgiveness is self-care

The same goes for our everyday life. I found myself pouring and pouring and pouring out to others, only to drain an already very dry cup. I wound up frustrated no one saw my efforts and resentful of the fact that no one seemed to pour back into me. If you’ve ever felt like you’re a pitcher of water and everyone else is a sponge, you may know just what I’m talking about.

That’s where self-care comes in. Self-care is an obligation–a responsibility to yourself! Yes, you DO have a responsibility to yourself and your well-being. You are as valued and beloved a creation of this earth as any other, and you deserve to give the same care, effort, and concern for yourself as you do for others. 

Self-care means reflection–learning who you are and what you need to be the best version of yourself. That takes time–time that we often feel guilty for taking. To truly and wholly learn to care for ourselves, we need to take the time and then commit to making choices and taking actions that will help us be who we were created to be.

Self-care is about forgiving others in your life, but just as importantly, it’s about forgiving yourself for past mistakes too.

Why Is Forgiveness Self-Care?

A turning point in my life’s journey came after struggling with adrenal fatigue, a back fusion, neck fusion, and a brain tumor. During that time, I was still doing for others. You would think that I’d have had a full cup serving so many others–as service to others is fulfilling.

The thing is… I’d let my cup become so empty. Putting myself last didn’t leave me fulfilled–it left me struggling and suffering and feeling pretty resentful about the situation. I was at a crossroads and realized that slowing down and looking at how to better care for myself meant that I would be able to serve others better. I started looking at what made self-care difficult for me and how I could tackle those obstacles. That purposed time allowed me to look at self-care differently, and it was through that purposed and intentional reflection I could see the work of forgiveness as radical self-care. 

The forgiveness work allowed me to find and examine the beliefs and patterns of not feeling worthy that were underlying my thoughts. You see, that’s why we neglect ourselves and forfeit self-care–we think we’re not worth it. We feel others in our lives and relationships are MORE important, and it’s our job to ensure they’re fulfilled, even at our own expense.

Now my thoughts about self-care and self-help are so different. OF course, I consider the physical aspects of self-care as necessary and not indulgent. Massages are not pampering; they’re therapeutic and part of my healthcare routine. Massage therapists are trained in helping us get ‘the kinks’ out and giving us preventative care. Massage therapy doesn’t just relax our bodies but lowers our stress hormones and improves our immune system’s overall health and efficacy. 

The same can be said for my bubble bath time, walks, and other pieces of my day that are just for me.

It’s not just the physical aspects of self-care that have become so pivotal in my life–it’s the emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects, including forgiveness of myself and others.

You see, forgiveness is self-care because it helps free you. Forgiveness is a purposed act of self-healing that allows you to acknowledge the pain you may feel (or may have even caused) and accept it for what it is. Too often, we confuse forgiveness with compliance, consent, or letting someone off the hook. 

Instead, I’m telling you that forgiveness means you are willing to accept the past without needing to change what you can’t alter. More than that, it’s permission to move on and toward what is waiting for you in this life.

Forgiveness is a radical self-care process that gives you control and empowerment because you purposely choose to forgive. It’s your choice, whether forgiving someone for something they’ve done to you or forgiving yourself for whatever you believe you need to. You’re not a victim of your feelings but instead in charge of soothing your soul and working toward growth. You choose to lose the resentment and ill-will, and in doing so, you place the ugly, hateful feelings that accompany them out of your life. 

How To Incorporate Forgiveness As Self-Care

The best way to incorporate forgiveness as self-care is to purpose it. Purpose it in a daily routine where you pray, meditate, and/or journal. Or create purpose by having a close friend with whom you can share your authentic self and feelings. Plan activities that focus on self-acceptance and compassion, as these will help you feel more well-rounded, confident, and connected. Most importantly, doing so will help you feel energized in your life instead of drained by it, and that’s when your true joy can shine through. 

One of my favorite forgiveness activities is pretty straightforward. Create a forgiveness list! 

  • Start by making three vertical columns on a blank piece of paper. In the first column, write down people, situations, or institutions that you feel angry, ashamed, or guilty about. 
  • In the middle column, write some words that describe your feelings–angry, sad, hurt, guilty, ashamed, etc. 
  • In the third column, rate those feelings in percentages from 1-100. For instance, rate your anger. If it’s 70% while your ‘sad’ is 15%, you’ll be able to see what’s taxing you and where you need to work on releasing. 

This exercise has been so helpful for me to get clarity around the energy that’s stuck in my body. Taking those first steps of finding out where we sit in our feelings is the way to healthy forgiveness and, ultimately, self-empowerment and genuine self-care.

The hard truth is that forgiving those who have hurt you is challenging enough; forgiving yourself can be just as difficult, if not even more challenging. Working on forgiveness as self-care helps you feel better and helps strengthen and build relationships with those you love. You’ll be able to be your truest, most authentic self, and when you do, self-care comes much easier and doesn’t feel selfish, I promise! 

If you’d like to hear more about how a connection to ourselves helps our connection to others, check out The Conscious Coaching Hour podcast, where I talk with my friends Sakura Sutter and Rory Reich. If you want to learn more about self-forgiveness, download my free e-book Untying the Knot!