During a deep discussion someone close to me revealed that they were unable to forgive themselves for some things they had done. They knew it was preventing them from moving forward with their dreams, but they had absolutely no idea how to get past it. Watching someone you love suffer is awful, and worse if you are witnessing needless suffering. It got me to thinking about the purpose of guilt and how to help someone, even myself, to move into a place of forgiveness.
All of us have something to forgive.
We each have something or someone to forgive…I hear it all the time in my work. Whether it’s small stuff like a thoughtless comment, or a pet who got sick on the rug, or following a slow car that made you late (the nerve!)…to the colossal things like a trusted friend who lied to you and hurt you, or the mother who refuses to let you live your own life, or the driver who fell asleep and cost you something precious. Maybe it’s wishing you hadn’t lost your temper, or your self control, or a time you regret being spiteful or impatient. Perhaps it’s wishing you had been somewhere one minute earlier, or had listened to that advice.
But truth be told, we all have something to forgive because life is always happening – especially when we’re not ready. There will always be opportunities to deal with situations that test us. In each event, we bring our humanness to the table and do the best we can in that moment. Ready or not, the sun will rise today, and ready or not, it will set today. In between, the wind may blow, the rain may fall, and the light may shine…all simultaneously, depending on where you are. Stuff happens.
Guilt makes martyrs.
A wise woman healer I know said that “the only function of guilt is to prevent you from taking action.” Simply put: Guilt makes martyrs. It takes away your power and makes you a victim. Guilt and shame are thieves stealing the life you were born to live. It’s misdirected energy aimed at keeping you weak.
Are you a victim or a victor?
Choosing to keep yourself in the suffering and tormented place means you remain a victim. No bravery is required. This is actually not a hard choice for anyone already used to pain, because if you don’t know what it’s like to live without pain – be it physical, emotional, mental or spiritual, then on some level you are always seeking to recreate it. Victims and martyrs love pain. Victors choose peace.
Lets be clear here. I am NOT saying that we shouldn’t feel responsible for our actions or become heartless. I am talking about using regret in a proactive way to navigate to a healing place. Guilt’s chief function is to create immobilization, inaction, pain, suffering, and martyrdom. I am saying that if you are letting personal guilt drive the vehicle of your life then you are not allowing yourself to take action and responsibility. This is about learning new tools and using the actions of the past to create a better now and a better future.
Action is courage.
Real bravery is going back to face the thing (either literally or in your heart) that you have previously done and being wiling to do it better than before. So whenever it’s possible, make amendments to those you may have hurt – including yourself! Living with an attitude that you are going to do better every day from here forward takes real courage. Action is courage!
How do you forgive yourself?
You make a choice to, no different than an alcoholic or addict chooses sobriety. You do it one day at a time, one moment at a time. You choose to take action every day and live your life up to the standards of what you now know you want. Face your fears head-on by taking positive action for a new outcome. Give yourself your FULL blessing to do better in each new moment and to stop suffering about things you did in the past. If you really want to feel better, than use your energy for doing what you can right now to show your positive changes in thinking. If you were previously unkind, then be kind now, previously thoughtless, be thoughtful now and so on. Walk your talk. That’s how living in ‘The Light’ works!
The truth will set you free.
This is how alcoholics and addicts go back to reclaim their kids, their jobs, their wives and their lives successfully every single day. They do a fearless moral inventory, go to those they have hurt or wronged when possible and give a sincere apology or amendment as an act of acknowledgement and a step of forgiveness for themselves. Guilt is no different. If you can make a heartfelt apology, do it. Take action and don’t delay. If you cannot because the person/situation isn’t available, then try writing a ceremonial letter of truth, or making a symbolic donation as acts of release and self healing. Promise to do better. Set it free.
Forgiving is not the same as forgetting.
Remember forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. Part of taking care of yourself is knowing how to forgive and make discerning choices. A discerning choice means that you remember the past enough to adjust your course and avoid any ‘holes in the sidewalk’ if you see them again. If you have hurt someone they may need evidence that the ‘holes in your sidewalk’ have been patched. Your evidence is your commitment to do better each time that you realize you can, and to promptly act on it.
As you know better, you do better.
If you still can’t get beyond your past choices or behaviors, ask yourself to honestly answer this: At the time which that event(s) took place, given the information, attitude, climate, environment, precipitating factors, and everything else…did you at that time do the best you could given what you were working with? Chances are, in all honesty, the answer is ‘yes.’
What did I learn and how can I grow from this?
Answer these questions from the highest place of love. If you are STILL feeling hard on yourself, then ask what you would say to a child who had made a mistake. Would you continue to abuse them, punish them, embarrass them, berate them, belittle them, withhold love and joy from them, or make them feel awful because of their past choice? Of course not! You would forgive them and then take them by the hand and help them by asking about what other choices they might choose if something like this ever came up again. You would leave them in a state of love, action and empowerment. You would help inspire them to feel like they are learning positive things (not guilt and shame) and growing and becoming stronger because of it.
Regardless of your age, you are that child! And you deserve to be treated the same!
Hindsight is always 20-20.
We’ve heard the expression countless times, but think about it. Looking back in the benefit of hindsight, without duress, and with the light of illumination, anyone could create a list of ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’s’…but the only point that would serve is to help you adjust how you behave right NOW. The past is gone. The only place your power ever exists is in this moment, and if you spend all your present moments punishing yourself about the past then you are inactive (guilt driven), and continuing to steal power from yourself and hurt yourself. Use your hindsight to empower you. Make choices in the present moment that honor you, love you and respect you and those you love. Remember you did then what you knew then. As you know better now, you do better now. Period.
Suffering in your suffering.
Stop wounding yourself further. Get a grip. Once you start to punish yourself sometimes you can’t stop. Then suffering begets more suffering. It’s like sleep walking….WAKE UP! Your life is wasting!
Quit stealing from yourself.
A person who can’t forgive also can’t dream, because that person is busy looking at the past rather than at their future. If you are busy looking in your rear view mirror all the time, you can’t see where you want to go. Remember that great old adage: ‘the wake is not what drives the boat, the wake is what is left behind the boat.’ Don’t let the guilt, shame and pain of your past rob you of the opportunity you have in every moment to do it better, to do it differently. Be the captain of your boat and the good driver of your life.
The very thing that you seek to not have (pain) is the thing you keep having! Which makes perfect sense when we apply the laws of both metaphysics and quantum physics, because The Universe will say ‘yes’ to whatever it is we focus on the most. Focus on can’t, and you can’t. Focus on will, and you shall.
Decide. Act. Leap.
Decide to live in the present moment each day and do your best to monitor your actions and choices so that you don’t slip back into an old pattern and cause pain to yourself or others. The moment you realize you just made a bad choice, stop what you are doing and correct course. It’s simple. That’s what people of character do. They continuously learn and adjust (they weren’t just born that way you know!). Whenever you realize you are off course, speak up and correct it. The quicker you do it, the quicker the peace comes. Every day that you complete using this is a day filled with empowerment. Let who you are in the ‘now’ say more about you than anything said about you in the past.
Can’t I just learn to live with my guilt and hope to become okay with never having what I want or risk hurting anyone again?
Sure, if you want to live the life of a martyr in a pain-filled existence never knowing healing, love, joy or peace. But no matter how long, or what you try to medicate yourself with…like distractions of work, addictions, avoidance, etc., you will never really be able to numb out far enough. So love yourself enough not to sign up for such a hellish existence – where you are essentially frozen in the time of your tragedy.
Is it really this easy?
Yes. It IS if a person is WILLING to live in a state of peace instead of pain. Some people prefer the familiarity of pain and suffering because they fear the unknowns of peace and forgiveness. Maybe they have never had real forgiveness before…but that doesn’t mean that they can’t claim it now! God gives it freely to all of us. In my 50 plus years on the planet, I’ve not yet heard of anyone who let go of all their guilt, found the peace of forgiveness, and then said that they regretted it. Not one single person!
Find the blessing and embrace it!
What if the very thing that you are having trouble forgiving is actually a HUGE blessing in disguise? Like when being fired actually gave you a chance to relocate and meet your spouse. Or how in losing your own self control you found new respect and compassion for someone you formerly judged for doing the same thing. What if the ‘tragedy’ of your actions has somehow helped to save the lives of others? Look hard, look deep, and find what you can honestly say is a POSITIVE lesson that you are grateful that this situation has taught you. There is always at least one. Find it and feel truly grateful!
The future is created now.
Remember, being unforgiving of something or someone, even ourselves, is a form of self abuse. It’s like saying that you want to keep replaying the pain of that experience over and over and over again. It’s stealing from yourself. No new and good thing can come in because there isn’t any room for it until you let it go. You don’t have to know ‘how,’ you don’t even have to ‘get it.’ You simply have to be in a place where you are willing to allow some new thinking in. And when you do so, there is room for God’s grace to enter, room for healing, peace, love, joy, and freedom.
Forgiveness is an act of faith and self love. And, yes, an act of Divine calling on the Divinity inside each one of us…that we absolutely deserve the chance to do better.