In my journey toward healing from life’s pains, and from the PTSD and the pains caused by the trauma from the offenders in my life and family, I think one of the hardest things has been to forgive myself.
I was raised in an abusive Christian atmosphere with a terrible, impossible definition of “forgiving others,” no matter what they did, no matter if they weren’t sorry, or how likely they were to repeat the abuse to me. I was programmed to try to meet my obligation to “forgive” when there was NO WAY I was going to trust them again. How could I?
While this previous “definition” of forgiveness of others who are unrepentant, has changed post-trauma, to one of getting the bitterness out of my own heart for what they did, but it does NOT INCLUDE restoration of TRUST or “pretending it didn’t happen.”
That done, I recently had an “ah ha” experience about “FORGIVING MYSELF” for the things I have done to others that were less than stellar acts. Acts that were down right nasty, vengeful, spiteful, etc.
Some of you may have read my little “parable” about how none of us would hold a grudge or get mad at our little pet dog that was injured and lying on the street with a broken leg, if we were to rush to our puppy’s aid, and in its blinding pain and fear it lashed out at us when we tried to pick it up and it bit us. That would be a totally different reaction on our parts from the way we would react to a dog that bit us every time we went to pet it or feed it, would attack us in our sleep or when our back was turned. Few of us would keep the “psychopathic dog” very long, but we would not at all be angry with our pet that bit us in his fear and pain. We would be understanding and compassionate, though the wound was deep and hurt like heck!
The old saying “there are two sides to every story” is one we have all heard, and many times that is true. There are in the above story two VIEWS—the one of the owner, and the one of the dog.
Many years ago I fell on some brick steps and hit my shin so hard that a huge bruise immediately rose up on my shin the size of half a large grapefruit. The injury was so unexpected, and so sudden, and so painful, that when my beloved husband reached out to extend me a hand to help me up, I immediately struck out verbally and actually SNARLED at him, “DON’T TOUCH ME!”
Another time, a couple of nights after my husband’s tragic and sudden death, a beloved friend of our family was there to console us, she had driven over seven hours to be there. She was very anxious and just kept chattering and chattering. In my pain, the sound of her voice was agony, and I asked her to please be quiet and go to sleep, which then upset her more and made her more anxious and she chattered louder and longer. I finally got up in her face and seething in rage, looked at her and told her to “Shut your lips, if another word or sound comes out of them I will hit you.” Right at that moment in my horrible pain I could have done so. I could actually have hit someone I dearly loved who is in no way anything but loving to me.
Looking back over these instances, I realized in my “ah ha” moment, that there are various things like this that I have done in my life that I am sure not proud of. In pain at various times I have struck out at the very people I loved who were there for me. I have also struck out at the psychopaths many times. I have said things and done things that I am sure not proud of. I have hurt people who loved me and were only trying to comfort me in my pain.
I also realized in my “ah ha” moment that I have not forgiven myself for these things. They still make me feel bad about myself, guilty, shamed, and imperfect.
How do I forgive myself for these things? Restore my own self esteem and trust in myself? I realize that I am human, and looking at the “parable” of the injured dog, from the dog’s view point, I realize that those that love me realize, just like the little dog’s owner, that I was striking out in intense pain, and that those people still love me, and forgive me. That I also should realize that I have forgiven them when in their own pain they might have hurt me, so why am I holding myself to a higher standard than I hold others to? Why am I not allowing myself the same forgiveness that I extend to others, even the psychopaths?
I realized that I need to get the bitterness against MYSELF out of my own heart for being human. I acknowledge the wrongful acts I did in striking out at others, even the psychopaths, I feel great remorse for these acts, I have “repented” (made a promise to myself and others that I will not repeat this type of behavior) I have apologized, made restitution if I could, and in short, done everything I can to “make up for” these acts. The people I wronged (except for the Psychopaths) have all forgiven me, and restored me to a trusting position in their lives, so I should also forgive myself and trust myself. Being in pain is no “excuse” for biting a lovingly extended hand, but it is definitely understandable.
My forgiving others, getting the bitterness out of my heart so that it does not hurt me, is important, I think, but forgiving myself, I think is just as important. My unkind acts or verbal assaults toward the abuser did not “ruin the relationship.” If I had been perfect it would not have improved the one-sided relationship of all-taking on their part and all-giving on mine. My failure to please them was not my “fault” in any way. No one could have pleased them. My failure to see that and to cut the relationship sooner, to set boundaries and enforce them, rather than trying to placate them by allowing their abuse, was not “right,” it wasn’t a good decision, but it is understandable considering the pain that I was in. It is now time to forgive myself for being human, for being fallible and making mistakes, and for even doing things I knew were wrong.