Forgiving Ourselves

I used to let people walk all over me. In some part of my mind I felt I somehow deserved it. I learned early on to just roll over instead of fight. When I was growing up, my cousin Cindy from the south would come up with her mom to stay with my grandparents. As we were about the same age, my grandmother felt we should do things together.

Quite frankly, Cindy scared the hell out of me. For one thing, she talked back to her mother, which in my house was a criminal offense; it was just flat NOT allowed. She was aggressive and loud, and often would get up from a game we were playing, stomp out of the room yelling in her southern accent, “I’ma gitting as far away from you as Ah kin git!” And I would just sit there, gobstruck, wondering what the heck had happened.

It took many years for me to realize that there are things in our lives that are not our fault; we no longer need to carry that guilt any more. We can actually give ourselves permission to let go of old hurts and humiliations. I learned to tell myself this: “I was a child. I didn’t know better, and this or that was not my fault.” Once I made this a habit, I realized that I was in the process of forgiving myself.

It isn’t always easy to forgive ourselves; we worry, we doubt, we fear. I learned to think of self-forgiveness in this way: if a dear friend of mine felt that she had done or said something terrible and felt guilty (when she hadn’t really done anything wrong), I would say to her “it is not your fault; forgive yourself and let it go for good.” If we would do this for a dear friend, we ought to be able to do it for ourselves. 

When my mother was dying of metastatic breast cancer, I would stay overnight for a few days each week to help Dad with her. Prior to that, she had so many friends who came by to visit, and so many of them brought us meals as well. They were a blessing to us as they lifted Mom’s spirit so much. I would sleep downstairs on the futon, and never did get a good night’s sleep as it hurt my back all night long.

When I had to tell my parents that I just couldn’t keep doing this, I felt like I was failing them both. This was before Hospice, and Dad and I were doing all we could to help Mom. It took me a long time to realize that I had to take care of myself in order to help Mom and Dad.

So here’s the thing about self-forgiveness: it doesn’t hurt anyone and it absolves you of anything you feel you did wrong. Of course, if the “something” is our fault, we need to step up and set things right. But it is critical that we learn to forgive ourselves so that we can move on and not be haunted by the past. If the thing we can’t forgive ourselves for involves another person, tell them face-to-face and try your best to mend any rifts between you. If they can’t let go of what happened, that’s on them; you will have done all you can to make things right.

If the person you had the situation with has passed on, rest assured that you can ask their forgiveness as well. I’m pretty sure that where they are now, they will not only understand, but welcome the loving intent and send you their love and perhaps their own forgiveness.


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