By Wesley Gallagher
Forgiveness is a powerful act. If you’ve ever been forgiven for something you did that hurt someone, you know just how effective forgiveness can be. And if you’ve ever been deeply hurt by someone, you also know how hard it can be to extend forgiveness. But sometimes the toughest act of forgiveness is learning how to forgive yourself.
In the process of recovery from addiction, forgiveness plays an integral role. In fact, one of the steps in 12-Step programs involves listing all the people you’ve wronged and making amends with them by apologizing and asking for forgiveness. But as healing as it is to be forgiven by others, learning how to forgive yourself is another crucial aspect of recovery.
Research has shown that people who practice self-forgiveness are healthier emotionally and mentally and have better relationships and more positive attitudes.
What is Self-Forgiveness?
Everyone, not just those who struggle with addiction, has done things in their life they regret. And while asking others for forgiveness can be invaluable, overcoming guilt and shame you carry from your past actions by forgiving yourself is also important.
In Success magazine’s “The Importance of Self-Forgiveness,” author Margie Warrell described it as, “extending mercy to ourselves when we slip up, mess up and fail to live up to our own ideals.” It is accepting your actions, accepting the blame, attempting to right the wrong and coming to a place of peace about what you’ve done.
Why Self-Forgiveness Is Important in Recovery
If you’re in recovery, chances are you’ve made a lot of choices you regret. You’ve probably hurt others, damaged relationships and let yourself down. But you’re also attempting to get well, and that counts for a lot. It may seem impossible to get on the other side of all of your past regrets but learning how to forgive yourself for the mistakes you’ve made is a key step in the healing process.
Shame and addiction often go hand in hand; addiction is a vicious cycle of doing something you either don’t want to do or know you shouldn’t be doing. You then feel guilt and regret for your actions and try to stop but fail over and over again. Shame will not get you out of that cycle; in fact, it will keep you in by making you feel bad about yourself and convincing you that overcoming your addiction is impossible.
Only when you come face-to-face with your actions, accept responsibility, and figure out why you do them will you be able to break the cycle. By doing this you are addressing the underlying issues leading to your actions. If you can take the necessary step of recognizing you are flawed and make mistakes, but that you can get past those mistakes and learn from them, then you’ll be able to make steps toward recovery. This is the power of self-forgiveness.
Another important aspect of it in recovery is the willingness to admit that you will most likely make mistakes in your recovery journey. Recovery isn’t a straight line, and in order to stay the course, you have to be willing to forgive yourself for any missteps, no matter how big they are. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can act carelessly with intention to forgive yourself later. Finding the right balance is key.
According to a feature on Stanford Medicine’s blog, Scope, research has shown that people who practice self-forgiveness are healthier emotionally and mentally and have better relationships and more positive attitudes. Anyone who has been in recovery knows how vital emotional and mental health is to success—it takes whole-person healing, not just healing of the addiction itself.
Practicing Self-Forgiveness Activities
Now that we know how crucial it is in recovery is, how do we go about practicing it? Here are five ways to get you started:
1. Take stock
You can’t forgive yourself for actions you don’t know need forgiving. Just like the step of making amends with others, it’s important to dig deep within yourself to figure out what guilt and shame you’re holding onto from past choices. Only then can you begin the journey of forgiving yourself.
2. Practice the four R’s
Responsibility, Remorse, Restoration, Renewal. Try these four steps the next time you need to forgive yourself for something. First, accept what you’ve done without making excuses or justifying your actions. Then sit with the guilt that comes with that acceptance. Next, take steps to right the wrong you’ve done. Finally, find a way to learn from your mistake and try to do better next time.
3. Don’t wait for others to forgive you first
While it’s essential to make amends with others for your hurtful actions, you can’t let someone else’s lack of forgiveness keep you from forgiving yourself. Once you’ve done the work in your heart and attempted reconciliation, it’s OK to forgive yourself even if the person you’ve hurt has not yet forgiven you.
4. Realize what forgiveness is and what it isn’t
According to Greater Good Magazine, psychologists define forgiveness as, “a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.” Forgiveness is an internal act, and it doesn’t erase the action or the consequences of that action. Even if you’ve forgiven yourself for something, you still may have to deal with the fallout from it. The most important part of self-pardoning is the internal peace you gain from letting go of the shame you have from your actions.
The most important part of self-pardoning is the internal peace you gain from letting go of the shame you have from your actions.
5. Maintain self-care in the process
Be kind to yourself, take care of yourself, believe in yourself. Accept the fact that you are flawed and show yourself love even when you make a mistake. This will go a long way in getting you over your failures, learning from them, and moving forward.
If you or someone you love could use some support in their recovery, or if you have questions or are considering taking that first step, we would like to help you. Contact us today to learn more about getting the help you need.