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 myself, 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.