Updated: Jun 15, 2021
Sometimes the worst damage done by trauma and abuse is the kind you can't physically see. It’s the damage that stays with you even after the abuse has ended and it’s the hardest to heal simply because it lies beneath the surface. It is the damage done to your self-worth and it manifests in guilt and shame that can follow you for years. Trying to move towards healing when you’re weighed down by crippling guilt and shame can feel almost impossible. How do you heal something you can’t see or touch and you don’t even know how it got there? You didn’t ask for it, you didn’t invite it into your life. It simply arrived one day along with the rest of the emotional burdens that come from being a victim of abuse.
The path forward, through the guilt and shame, through the anxiety, and depression and all the self-doubt starts with forgiveness, but probably not the kind you’re expecting. The forgiveness isn’t for the person who hurt you - it’s for you. You’ve probably heard that before, it’s a popular saying that usually means forgiving someone who wronged you frees you from the pain they caused. But that’s not what we mean here. We mean actual self-forgiveness. So, we’ll say it again.
The forgiveness isn’t for the person who hurt you. IT’S FOR YOU.
It reads a little differently when you shift the perspective, doesn’t it? Self-forgiveness is about showing yourself compassion and treating yourself kindly in the face of all those negative beliefs you’ve been carrying around. It’s looking at all your flaws, imperfections, mistakes, experiences and traumas and saying, “I see you. And I love you. No matter what.” It’s stopping the cycle of doubting yourself, of questioning your worthiness, of wondering if you could have done anything differently to prevent the trauma you experienced. It is coming to an understanding with yourself and accepting that you did the best you could. And it is the first step that will lead you to healing.
We know it’s a scary step to take. The guilt and shame may feel normal, even comfortable to you now. So, letting go of these things that you’ve gotten used to will always be a little scary but you have to trust that what comes next is so much better - and, more importantly, it’s what you truly deserve. You deserve to move freely through life, to trust and empower yourself.
Of course, it’s important to understand that self-forgiveness isn’t a single act. It isn’t one moment or one choice. It is a practice - a choice made over and over again to value yourself and treat yourself kindly.
Here’s how you can start to practice self-forgiveness:
1. Acknowledge, accept and appreciate every emotion you experience, knowing that each one is necessary for your survival and moving through them is healthy. Emotions are powerful and being able to experience, process and release them is empowering.
2. Use your voice to share your thoughts and feelings, even if you’re just writing them down. Giving a voice to your thoughts, especially any negative beliefs, helps you not to fixate on them and allows you to see them for what they are - just thoughts, not truths. And because you know they are not your truth, you can forgive them and let them go.
3. Look for the learning opportunities. Everything you experience in life can teach you something and understanding this makes it easier to forgive yourself for anything you’ve previously viewed as a mistake because you know that something valuable came from it.
4. Talk to your inner critic - that voice in your head that tells you nothing is ever good enough. Replace every limiting belief with a positive statement about yourself
5. Ask for help if you need it. You don’t have to do this all alone - it is not a sign of weakness to acknowledge that you could use some help. It takes incredible strength and courage to seek help.
The most important thing about practicing self-forgiveness is accepting that it is not a perfect practice. There will be days where you struggle with it more than others, and that’s okay, too. You do not have to be perfect to be valued and worthy. Because you always MORE than enough.