Self-forgiveness: The Key to True Healing that You’ve Probably been Missing

There is a lot of talk in the healing world about forgiveness. We all know that to truly let go of a situation or person that has disturbed us, we need to forgive. This world is a tough place and all of us are at one time or another, the subjects of mean words, traumatic accidents, gossip, criticism, and sometimes even physical, emotional, or sexual violence. Life as a human being can be hard!

Often times when difficult things occur, a piece of ourselves gets stuck in the negative event. While this society can be pretty harsh, we aren’t taught how to really release and integrate a difficult experience. This leaves many of us walking around with minor or major PTSD – anxiety, depression, flashbacks, general unease, etc.

One thing we are taught is that we need to forgive others when we’ve been the victim of some kind of perpetration, whether minor or major. And it is true, forgiveness can radically help a healing process. But I have found that for mysForgive yourself and forget about(1) copyelf, even once I’ve forgiven someone who has hurt me in some way, I still feel hurt. I still spend time and energy thinking about the event and I still feel anxious that the event could happen again. When I forgive another, I feel better, but I usually don’t feel great.

It wasn’t until I stumbled onto the power of self-forgiveness that I realized it was even possible to feel great again. I was doing my M.A. and had started working with an incredible spiritual teacher in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He led me through a series of self-forgiveness exercises that completely transformed my life. In five or ten minutes, I was able to once and for all, heal some situations that were still hanging out in my body and mind. He led me through a process to recover the parts of myself that had gotten stuck in those negative events. And at once, I felt my entire body soften. I felt joy and inklings of happiness again. I started to feel like me, the real me. Self-forgiveness turned out to be a magical process that changed my life forever.

Through working with my spiritual mentor, I realized that we’ve had it wrong this whole time. Forgiveness of another is not the way to fully heal, forgiveness of yourself is. In working with hundreds of clients, I have witnessed firsthand the power of self-forgiveness. I would even be so bold as to argue that forgiving others doesn’t matter, but forgiving yourself does. I would also say that once your forgive yourself, forgiveness of another happens spontaneously and without any effort.

My hope is that one day we will all be taught the power of self-forgiveness and how to actually do it. If you are wanting to try self-forgiveness out for yourself, you can try this exercise (for simplicity sake I am using a female pronoun but this exercise works equally well for men and women).

  • Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Close your eyes.
  • Call to mind a difficult event that still doesn’t feel resolved.
  • Look at the you who is in the event, experiencing it. We are going to gently work with that version of you.
  • Call that version of you over to you. Hold her, nurture her, put a blanket around her. Do whatever feels natural. Give her some love.
  • Look at that version of you and repeat this statement “I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I am so sorry. I love you. Please forgive me. I forgive myself.”
  • Take a deep breath and notice what happens in your body.
  • Give that version of you whatever love and attention she needs.

My Love Story

IMG_2068_2It is the day before Valentine’s Day and I’m feeling particularly thankful for the adorable man who is asleep in our bedroom as I write this. I love Valentine’s Day. I love the pink and red paper cut out hearts hanging from ceilings, displays full of delicious chocolates and cookies, sappy sentimental cards, and the dozens of crimson roses wrapped in tissue paper. I especially love the chocolate.

I didn’t always feel this way about Valentine’s Day. In fact, this is only the second year ever that I’ve had someone to celebrate with. Before this relationship, I used to despise the Day of Love and would celebrate by wearing black, eating ice cream, and watching bad movies with my other single girlfriends. I remember how dreadful Valentine’s Day was in middle school and high school when I watched all the popular girls receive carnations from the popular boys in the National Honor Society’s “Send your Valentine a Flower” yearly fundraiser. I remember how angry I was and how much I couldn’t wait for the day of sickly fake pink flowers and cards to be over.

So how did I go from a grim girl dressed in black cursing about love, to someone tempted to plaster her walls in fuchsia hearts?

I fell in love.

But not with anyone else.

I fell in love with myself.

Let me explain. For years and years, I dreamed about the magical man I would one day meet who would make all my problems vanish. He would swoop me up in his strong arms, take me back to his castle, cook delicious food for me, gather flowers from his garden, and tend to my every desire.  I spent most of my waking life fantasizing about the soulmate I would one day meet who would be able to read my mind and meet my every need. He was perfect – tall, dark, handsome, wealthy, strong, smart, successful, masculine and completely emotionally intelligent. It was terribly fun to be in such a deep state of longing about the man I had yet to meet. But it also left me miserable and feeling like I needed that soulmate to be happy. I truly believed that I would not be happy until meeting this magical dark-haired prince.

Eventually, something happened. Years of being single spanned into decades of being single. I started to doubt that I would ever meet this perfect prince of a man that I just knew I was destined to be with. I was single for so long and had so many disastrous dating experiences that I started to give up on the idea of a soulmate completely. I’m not sure when the exact moment was, but I started to become aware of how much energy I had given to this idea of the “soulmate.”

For the first time, I objectively examined my life as it actually was, sans soulmate. I was single, but I had my own tiny apartment that was all mine where I could do whatever I wanted (like set up a painting studio on my kitchen floor at 3 a.m.), friends who really got me, a beach that I could drive to in under a half hour, and work that I loved. I looked around and it dawned on me, that I had created a life that was all mine and that strangely enough, I really enjoyed that life.

It was in this moment that I realized I had started to fall in love with myself and my own life. I loved my incredible support system and the wonderful freedom I had. I loved that on a whim, I could take off and drive to Santa Cruz and spend $8 on a fancy smoothie from Café Gratitude and drink it on the beach with my own good company. Instead of focusing at everything I thought I was missing (the man), I organically started loving everything I had. And everything changed!

Valentine’s Day no longer was about seeking love from another to feel worthy, validated, accepted and loved. I had unintentionally created a life where I already felt worthy, validated, accepted and loved  – by me. And so the Pepto-Bismol colored heart and sugary candy no longer represented the love I didn’t have, but the love that was all around me. My love for Valentine’s Day was born.

The Day of Love has become a celebration of all the many forms of love I have in my life. I love myself, Spirit, my family, friends, and each and every one of my clients. I experience such an abundance of love in my heart these days that sometimes I spontaneously well up with tears while sitting on the couch staring at the redwood trees in our backyard.

And yes, I also love the tall handsome man I did eventually meet. He is by no means the perfect fantasy I dreamed about when I was 13 years old. There is no castle and he has no cooking skills. But he offers me his heart, and I take it.