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When You Forgive Yourself for the ‘Unforgiveable’

By Ashleigh Wilson on Wednesday August 12th, 2020

The Art of Forgiving

Never forget that to forgive yourself is to release trapped energy that could be doing good work in the world. – D. Patrick Miller 

We’ve all had that ping on Messenger or Email. A dreaded painful scenario looking for closure. Mine came in the form of an old boyfriend reaching out. To say things had been left uncomfortably between us would be an understatement. As my eyes flicked over his name and took in his cordial message, memories swam back; of his tears, of mine, of his begs, of my shame, of his depression, of my dread, of the disaster my actions had created. 

I briefly considered not responding, of not opening that can of dirty worms, of not inviting them to mark my new life far from him. But I also knew I had no choice. At the very least, I owed it to him. Years after our separation, the wound was still asking to be healed; healed for us both. 

Forgiveness is a choice, but it is not an option. – Joel Osteen

Four years prior to the message, we had been in a long-term relationship. We had started dating when we were teenagers, and six hormone-fuelled years followed; we became each others’ everything, and then as we stood in the face of adulthood, our everything changed. We drifted apart, we began on different internal paths, yet our relationship continued. We both knew the relationship was not in a good place, that much was obvious, yet neither of us wanted to face the truth and what it meant. 

I think we both felt lonely and unfulfilled. He tried to fill this hole with alcohol, new friends and reckless behaviour. I filled mine by meeting someone else.

In all the disconnect, I found connection with another man. It had not been my intention to be unfaithful, it developed slowly, yet with each progression, I continued. My guilt was pushed down by the excitement of my secret, the adrenaline of the danger, and the warmth of my developing feelings for this new lover.

Looking back, I see I was out of alignment with my integrity, I was acting out and hurting both myself and my partner. Though I don’t regret the ending of the relationship, I regret my actions that led to it and the pain that followed. 

Alt text hereI knew I needed to move my negative feelings out of the path. I needed to forgive myself. Image: Andrew Le

It’s toughest to forgive ourselves. So it’s probably best to start with other people. It’s almost like peeling an onion. Layer by layer, forgiving others, you really do get to the point where you can forgive yourself. – Patty Duke

Starting on the Path to Forgiveness

The surprise message I received was a critical moment for us both. He had reached out as he wanted to forgive, he wanted to salvage what he could of the friendship that had underpinned our relationship. I wanted this too, our friendship had been a beautiful thing, and it’s absence had left a hole in both our lives.  However, for him to come to peace with the past hurt, for our friendship to blossom once more, we needed to meet on a deeper level; a level that I could not delve into when I was overshadowed with regret. To allow us both to move on from that point in our lives, I needed to move my negative feelings out of the path. I needed to forgive myself. 

Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future. – Lewis B. Smedes.

I knew the repercussions this stalemate of unforgiveness would be having on my ex as well as myself. The negative health effects of holding a grudge are well-known. Studies have found blood pressure and heart rate increase when people ruminate over a grudge, and those in the depths of unforgiveness have higher levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in their bodies. Holding onto grudges also impacts the way our body fights infections, putting grudge-holders at even more risk of getting sick. As forgiveness researcher Everett L. Worthington, Jr. says, “unforgiveness can take its toll on physical, mental, relational, and even spiritual health”. 

It has also been found that when we care deeply about someone, the act of forgiveness becomes even more important. Worthington defines forgiveness in close relationships to be about more than simply getting rid of negative emotions. In relationships we truly care about (which can include relationships with ourselves), forgiveness is also about “moving toward a net positive feeling”. In this situation, healing the hurt I had caused within myself was the best way to increase my mental, physical and spiritual health, and it would do the same for him. We discussed it and agreed it would be just what the doctor ordered and we began on the journey together. 

Alt text hereForgiveness keeps us healthy and strengthens our relationships. Image: Liz Weddon

Genuine Self-Forgiveness

I knew I had to do more than to simply tell myself that I was forgiven. I had to put in the work to genuinely forgive. 

Sitting in my feelings, for the first time, I truly recognised the level of shame and guilt I still felt over my past actions. I realised how much I had been burying and carrying. Just as withholding forgiveness from others breeds resentment, not forgiving myself was laying a bed for pathological self-blame and suppressing my spiritual growth. 

Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past. – George Orwell.

I wish I could say that I was able to easily forgive myself. That once I recognised what I must do and the negative effect of holding onto those corrosive feelings, that I could just let it all go. I wish I could say that it was an easy three-step process and here is how to do it, but I can’t. 

Genuine self-forgiveness is a process. It is a process that may look different for everyone. For me, it took many heart-opening sessions, both with myself and with my ex. I came to realise that there was also resentment I held for him and had to also work on letting that go. I needed to sit with the acceptance of violating my own values and move out of my fixation on self-incrimination. Most of all, I had to realise that I was worthy of forgiveness, that I had grown from the experience, that I was not that same person anymore. 

It took time. And then some more time. 

And eventually it happened. I forgave myself. I forgave him. He forgave me. He forgave himself. Together, we shut the door on the past, not to forget it, but to move forward with our lives and our friendship. 

It has been four years since I got that fateful message, and in that space our friendship has blossomed more and more. We have been there for each other during the tough times and the joyous, we have laughed, cried and everything in between. We are in contact less now; we live in separate states and lead different lives, both of us in healthy relationships, but there is an unspoken truth that we will always be there for each other. That our friendship is lifelong and can survive anything. 

Forgive yourself. The supreme act of forgiveness is when you can forgive yourself for all the wounds you’ve created in your own life. Forgiveness is an act of self-love. When you forgive yourself, self-acceptance begins and self-love grows. – Miguel Angel Ruiz 

~

Have you experienced the profound effects of forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness? What did your process look like? We would love to hear your thoughts and stories in the comments below. 

In acceptance and non-judgement, 

Much love to you dear friends

Team Uplift 

 

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20 Responses to When You Forgive Yourself for the ‘Unforgiveable’

  1. Nicely done! I think the core of “self-forgiveness” is working to forgive ourselves for being human…for being imperfect! And it’s a life long job! Yet it’s full of so much learning…about ourselves, about our world view, and about others! We tend to judge others less when we can recognize…and ACCEPT…our own “humanness”!

  2. Only way you are going to love someone is loving yourself first .. so every time you give love is not the love you should be giving .

    . anger guilt and shame are the issues you need to become aware of and remove them insecurities from your being..

    Unfortunately your heart is blocked due to selling your soul darling
    We need to become aware of the reason why we feel and act the way we do through all our trauma as when we were a child we didnt care about materialism such as a bike jewelry clothes handbags cars houses etc .. we should lived in the moment.
    All we want is to be happy joy peace and love .. so we need to be kind to ourselves and practice yoga meditation and become one within.

    Self enlightenment through self discovery.. becoming grateful forgive trust and kindness will find the love you want for yourself..
    Only then are you capable of loving another!

    Spiritual Franz
    Awakener of the Soul.

  3. Hi, this article was very encouraging and it reminded me of my past. Where I had to do that all alone. No comfort or understanding or support of any kind coming from those involved. Only distance and silence. Only way to find forgiveness to oneself and the others – is looking at life and people, their actions through the eyes of love and compassion. Seeing the wounds that led to circumstances. Seeing the fears behind actions and words. Because, if one uses only common sense to observe, we all look pretty much unkind. There are glasses of love to put on and see clearly, one just needs to wear them.❤️ At all times.

    • Hannah, this is so beautifully put! Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us 🙂

      Much love and thanks for reading, 💗
      Team UPLIFT

  4. Four years ago I was struggling to leave a very abusive(physically, emotionally, and mentally) and toxic 8 year relationship with the narcissistic father of 2 of my children. I was only 22. He was 29. I knew what I had to do, I knew what my children deserved. But there was something keeping me from leaving, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t leave. Until my literal spiritual rock bottom and death that was followed by my awakening and rebirth. I finally intuitively knew one night as I was drenched in tears that I needed to write, so I grabbed a pen and notebook and wrote hardly able to see through my tear stained eyes overflowing with waves of love and pain. I let the words flow without once stopping or thinking about what I was writing. Once I was finished, I took a deep breath and realized I had no idea what I just wrote…. so of course I re-read it all. And wow, here came the tears again filled with love and compassion this time. It was a beautiful, passionate love letter to myself and all about forgiveness and forgiving myself. This night and writing changed my life and my children’s. I finally not only knew my children deserved better but that I also deserved better. We left shortly after, leaving my job, my home,and most of our belongings behind.

    • Wow, Dawna, thank you for sharing this truly inspiring and heartfelt story… I’m utterly moved. I’m so glad not only that you picked up that pen and allowed that amazing guidance to come through you, but that you listened and acted upon it. 💖

      Much love to you and your children. Thanks for being here 😊
      Team UPLIFT

  5. I am profoundly thankful for this article 💝 It moved me very deeply since I’ve been struggling with self-forgiveness in my whole life.I know very well how hard it is. Your article is a masterpiece of expression,the art of putting such hard feelings into words.A truly uplifting,heart-opening and helpful message. It did help me in my process. Thank you so much for sharing your gift🙏💗

    • Eva, Thank you so much for your kind words 🙏 We’re so happy you found it helpful and uplifting. All the best on your journey of self-forgiveness. Thanks for being here.

      Much love,
      Team UPLIFT

  6. Forgiveness is what people or humanity struggle with. It is my EGO and Attitude that come in the forefront and does not allow to do so. Forgiveness is the best for ones own internal peace without caring about the other partner. We all look for our own happiness, jy , calmness and peace. So best is to Forgive and forget.

    • Yes, forgiveness is liberating indeed and also sometimes easier said than done! Thanks for reading and commenting Dr. Prakash 🙂

      Blessings,
      Team UPLIFT

  7. Thank you ! This article spoke to me at a level I have never seen / felt before with your ability to put into words and Feelings /emotions I have been carrying with me for the last 15 years. This is a gift and grateful you presented this to me on my ex’s Birthday , thank you, I may be able to release my self for being out of alignment with my integrity and authenticity and vows to myself and others .

    • This is so beautiful Barb. We are so happy it spoke to you.

      Much love and blessings on your healing journey <3
      Team UPLIFT

  8. Forgiveness is something I am currently struggling with. Constantly feel shame and guilt. Won’t go into detail but family broken up due to DV. Althogh I feel ex got away with things he shouldn’t for my , now grown up,daughters sake I should forgive him
    Don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive self. Complex and messy

    • If you don’t forgive yourself (and I know how hard that is to do), you are not fully sharing your life gifts with others. All we have is Now and our brilliant, unique selves. Who you were and what you did is all in the past.

    • That sounds really difficult Victoria, I’m sorry to hear you are battling with guilt and shame. These emotions are very damamging to our souls so I sincerely hope you find help to forgive so that you can heal your wounds. Perhaps you could reach out to free chat lines? Or online counseling if you haven’t already. Professional help can be very useful for such pain.

      Much love and best of luck,
      Team UPLIFT

  9. I am a person in long term Recovery. This article helped me with the concept of self forgiveness and discussing it with others in Recovery.

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