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Jun 302013
 

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.

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  7 Responses to “Forgiving yourself for being human”

  1. Joyce, this is a VERY timely article and a topic that truly resonates with me. I have had a terrible challenge getting to self-forgiveness.

    I’ve done countless things that I’m sorry for having done. Absolutely. I believe that every human being has. But, self-flagellation doesn’t seem to work. The more I beat myself up, the LESS forgiveness I experience, especially from others. Self-flagellation is an activity that I engaged in throughout my lifetime in the HOPES (just like the monks) that SOMEONE would recognize just how sorry I was for my mistakes and FORGIVE me……which translates into “validate me.” This self-flagellation and martyrdom gave me every excuse to remain a VICTIM and just give in to every terrible thing that I had been assured that I was.

    Forgiveness of self, IMHO, is vital to recovery. Without this single act, I will be unable to free myself of remaining a willing victim. Yes, I typed it: “willing victim.” I’ve forgiven myself for some of the things that I can clearly remember having done. There are other things that I will never remember – having spent so much time either stoned or drunk during my teenaged and college years, only God knows what I did! LOL (I HAVE to laugh because I was such a mess!)

    Today, I’m sick and tired of BEING sick and tired in my mind, heart, and body. One tiny ant-step at a time, I’m recovering.

    Thanks so much for this article, Joyce.

  2. You’re very welcome, Truthy. There are MANY STEPS on the road to healing that we must climb. I think “forgiving” the abuser is one–and that means “getting the bitterness out of our heart” against them, but forgiving OURSELVES I think is just as critical, we must get that bitterness out of our own heart TOWARD US.

    It is impossible in my opinion to have PEACE when we are bitter, filled with wrath and hate, or blame others for the choices we made…we must come to accept that we did what we did, we can’t change it for better or worse, and we need to stop with the beating ourselves already.. It accomplishes nothing.

    Funny thing, I think God has forgiven me for my “sins” but I couldn’t forgive myself and kept on punishing myself for being less than perfect, for making mistakes and for doing things I knew were wrong. But you know, I look at it this way, if GOD can forgive me, what gives ME the right to go on beating myself?

    I will reference back to the story of King David in the Bible. David did some pretty nasty things, like adultery and murder, and enabling his son Absolom yet he was called “a man after God’s own heart”— why would God say that about such a guilty man? Well, I think the reason is that DAVID REPENTED, truly REPENTED when he was confronted about his sins.

    I think the point of the entire story is that God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, to never do things we know are wrong, but to truly REPENT and quit with the self punishment. With our children when they are little and do something “bad” we discipline them, and when we see that they have truly repented we let it drop, we don’t go on beating them for days, weeks, months or a life time because they disobeyed and broke the cookie jar when they were five. That would not be productive but instead COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE so why do we continue to “beat” our own inner child for what we did 30 years ago?

  3. I have a difficult time with forgiveness of others. I know this of myself and struggled with it for a while. With all of the insults and hurt that the spath cast in my direction, I have a difficult time letting it go. I have come to terms with it on some level and I pray for those I cannot yet forgive.

    I pray that they find some healing for their errant deeds and twisted thoughts. I pray for them as if they were sick, because they really are, when you consider it. I know of one person who does not forgive people as that, to her, is allowing them back in to hurt her again. A pastor I chatted with, likened forgiveness to debt that you don’t expect to be repaid for. All fine and good, however we wish to view it, but in the end, at some point, we have to find a way to let it go and release ourselves of the pain it continues to cause.

    Forgiving of myself? At times it is but a foreign concept. I know I am not perfect and some days further from it than others. I like what you said Joyce, about how if God can forgive me- who am I to question that and how can I beat myself up for so long over it?

  4. Pixie, I know what you are talking about…it IS difficult to “forgive” others who have hurt us, but we are NOT required by “forgiving” them to t rust them or allow them back into our lives, it is simply to my mind, getting the bitterness out of our heart. It is a continuing project for me to…because if I open the door, the bitterness will return.

    Forgiving myself though has been even harder and I have to work hard at keeping that in the forefront of my mind.

    Without forgiving others and forgiving ourselves I do not believe we can find peace.

  5. OneBadPixie, I identify with the ability to “forgive” other people who have done things with deliberate malice. I can forgive anybody for making a mistake or doing something deliberately if they acknowledge what they did and make every effort to NOT make the same mistakes or choices, again.

    My brother was married to a severe NPD that was controlling and manipulative with everyone in HER family, as well as ours. About 4 years ago, I received a card in the mail from her stating that she (and, I quote),”…(knew) that (she) was unkind to (me)…” Um…..”unkind” is hardly what I would call the things that she did to me, personally, and to our family, in general. When her daughter (my niece) was born, she sneered into my face and said, “I guess you’re not the baby of the family, anymore, you little sh*t.” She said and did many, many other things that were very, very cruel – at age 17 I was 5’6″ and weighed 118lb soaking wet, and she said, “You look okay, but you could lose another 10 pounds.”

    I find it a tremendous challenge to forgive this woman for her deliberate and thoroughly cruel treatment of me, personally, and the derision and chaos that she machinated between my parents with regard to money.

    I think that I have to cling onto Joyce’s description of “forgiveness” as being a RELEASE of bitterness, rage, and the rest INSTEAD of pretending that the sins and crimes were never committed. Just because I forgive someone doesn’t ever, ever, EVER mean that I am mandated to “forget” what was done.

    Good topic, Joyce.

  6. For whatever reason, there is no longer an “edit” option! LMAO!!!!!!

    To clarify my statement, above, I can identify with the INability to forgive others. It’s a tremendous challenge and one that I am struggling with, daily.

  7. Truthy, we were having problems with the blog, it wouldn’t allow me on or would kick me off. My IT person disconnected the edit button, but we may try to reinstate it and see what happens. we turned of several features to see if we could add them back one at a time and replicate the problem. WordPress has added an “upgrade” that is problematic. LOL Without my IT person I would be LOST as a GOOSE.

    To me, guys, “forgiving” does NOT MEAN ABSOLVING, OR FORGETTING, OR TRUSTING AGAIN of someone who has harmed up, it simply means that we quit being BITTER about it, quit concentrating on “being abused” and concentrate on “I am no longer around this person, I have a wonderful life now, to heck with the past, nothing that was done to me is going to keep me down.”

    I so remember the days when after my neighbor “Crazy Bob” sued me for $50,000 because my husband’s plane crashed in his pasture…for HIS (BOB’S) “mental suffering ! I was SO angry and so bitter that I laid a wake nights plotting how to kill him and get by with it. After a time of this I realized THIS BITTERNESS WAS KILLING **ME** not him.

    Someone once said that bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. I agree with that.

    Letting go of that bitterness is difficult to do sometimes when we look at our bank account and realize what the offender has cost us in terms of our financial situation. Or the emotional toll that was taken against us. Or the injury that that person did to ones we love. But believe me it is worth it to let go of that bitterness. As long as we are BITTER we have difficulty healing. It puts a road block on our progress.

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