Forgiveness: Let's Just Call it "Letting Go"
By Kingsley Gallup, MA, LISAC
It tugs at the heart, boggles the mind and puts the spirit to the test. It’s called forgiveness. But what exactly is it? While the concept conjures up many decidedly unappealing connotations, could it be that forgiveness is simply letting go?
Forgiveness is at the heart of recovery, and mastering it the essence of renewal. And many of us can't put it off any longer. Our ill will has become chronic. We have been inviting resentment into our hearts through our unrealistic expectations. And resentment is nothing short of bondage. It drains our life force. Forgiveness can replenish it.
Today we have choices. We can cling to the past, to a childlike ego state and the security of an unforgiving spirit. Or we can let go. These are the choices of the functional adult. After all, are we victims or volunteers?
Perhaps we never felt powerful early in life, and we aren't about to relinquish that power now, however real or perceived it may be. Perhaps our resentments make us feel one-up and better-than. Perhaps we fear looking others in the eye, as this would mean coming face-to-face with the truth of who we are.
So why forgive? Why risk the pain of exposure? Why give away our perceived power? Because as good as the payoffs of not forgiving may have been, the perks of forgiving are far better! Forgiveness releases healing power. It frees us from the burden of hurt and anger. It calls us to confront humanity and fallibility and, in so doing, allows us to live in peace and change for the better. It liberates all that energy we previously expended on resentment. It opens the door to intimacy. Forgiveness is about remembering and letting go (Claudia Black).
Since we can't give away what we haven't experienced, forgiving oneself is step one. We learn to release sorrow and regret. We love ourselves through our misdeeds. We confront our past and work out resentment. We become open to the belief that we can change. The path of self-forgiveness is paved with trust in ourselves, our humanity, and our higher power. It is a spiritual self-healing of the heart that comes by calming self-rejection, quieting our sense of failure, and lightening the burden of guilt (Messina & Messina).
Some of us have bought into the myth that that self-forgiveness is selfish - just some socially acceptable way of letting ourselves off the hook by avoiding responsibility. If so, it's no wonder we hesitate to forgive others who have wronged us! Why would we ever want to let them off the hook? Truth is, self-forgiveness is an act of integrity. It is how we maintain character. It's how we live ethically and free from hypocrisy.
Without self-forgiveness, our wounds never heal. We risk unresolved hurt, pain and suffering. We fear making mistakes or having past ones revealed. Our lingering shame fuels self-pity, indifference, stuffed emotions, self-destructive behaviors, hostility, distance from others, and resistance to chance. Forgiving oneself is about letting go of shame - some carried, some our own.
What we believe about ourselves dictates how we interpret our world. Think about the concept of loving our neighbors as ourselves. What exactly are we offering our neighbors? Love and forgiveness? Or hostility and condemnation? Only from a place of authentic self-love can we love our neighbors as we truly wish to do.
Each of us yearns for the freedom of letting go. But we need to do the footwork. It's time to take a step. After all, "If you want something you've never had before, you've got to do something you've never done before" (Drina Reed). The time is now. Let go.
Note: This article was originally published in the Spring 2005 edition of MeadowLark, the magazine for The Meadows alumni.
Self-Esteem: An Inside Job
By Kingsley Gallup, MA, LISAC
The concept may be nebulous, but it's by no means inconsequential. Our very lives are a testimony to our self-esteem, the condition of which is the distinguishing difference between surviving and thriving. Consider the following questions:
Do you live by the credo, "If I can't do it perfectly, then why do it at all"?
Are you carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders?
Do you bend over backwards to please others?
Is it hard for you to forgive yourself?
Is self-care selfish?
Do you "shape shift" to fit your particular setting?
Do you go one up or one down?
Are compliments hard to handle?
When someone says "I love you" do you silently wonder, "What's wrong with them?" maybe even, "I'm not sure I want to be with the kind of person who would want me."
And so, what's the state of your self-esteem? How miserable are you making yourself? For each of us, there comes a time when we are faced with our own human frailty. It is in these moments we are confronted with the state of our self-esteem. We discover how we really think and feel about ourselves. We may find that we have simply been operating in survival mode, having mastered an array of techniques for disguising our self-loathing. The good news is to make a change we need not look far. The answers lie within.
Pia Mellody has defined self-esteem as the internal experience of one's own preciousness in the face of one's human frailty. It is a total reality experience, and it comes from embracing the concept of inherent self-worth and applying it to self.
Consider what self-esteem is not- keeping in mind that the absence of self-love can be masterfully disguised. Genuine self-esteem is not about adaptations. It is not about measurement and comparison, nor is it about "should-ing" and shaming ourselves. Self-esteem is neither other esteem (the esteem others have for us) nor reality-based esteem (esteem that comes from comparing our reality to another person's reality to determine how we measure up). Self-esteem neither goes one up nor one down. And it cannot be acquired externally.
The kicker is, external esteem seekers tend to gravitate toward those from whom acceptance and love cannot easily be found. We flee from those who want us and pursue the rejecters. Perhaps we learned external esteem seeking early on. Perhaps it was how we learned to garner worth and value. It failed us then. And it fails us today. Genuine self-esteem, on the other hand, cuts beneath externals to inherent worth and value. It is constant, rather than situational; enduring, rather than fleeting. It is a mature and unconditional love. And yes, it truly is an inside job.
Breaking the shackles of our histories and reclaiming our preciousness hinges on the internal work of shame reduction. Much like faith and fear, so too are shame and self-esteem contrasting forces: more of one, the less of the other. It's the carried shame, that toxic carryover from our histories, that cripples. Letting go of this shame is an act of self-love. It is motivated out of an awareness of the truth of who we are- inherently precious, worthy and valuable.
Building self-esteem hinges on exposing our harsh inner critic- you know, that critic who without our awareness shames us... blames us when things go wrong... and calls it simple "luck" when things go well. That inner critic is dishonest. It exaggerates our failures; it calls us names; it records all past mistakes and transgressions. Sadly, this critical voice may be so familiar we hardly notice its destructiveness.
Recovery is about coming to our own assistance. In doing so, we match our healing action steps to our unique histories, giving ourselves today what we didn't get then. If we were falsely empowered as children, says Pia Mellody, we need first and foremost to base our sense of self-esteem on the concept of inherent worth. We stop controlling, manipulating and caretaking others, focusing instead on self-care and interdependence. Self-care is not selfish. It's not a character flaw to ask for help! We learn to love ourselves in the face of our humanity - as human beings rather than doings.
If we were disempowered early on, we need also to develop self-esteem from the concept of inherent worth. We learn to use boundaries accompanied by an attitude of moderation, so as to start living in action rather than reaction. We take responsibility for our own issues of self-care.
All of this involves stepping out of our comfort zone. It entails not only thinking our way into feeling and behaving but also behaving our way into thinking and feeling. It's the "act as if" principle. We say goodbye to our adaptations – to the coping mechanisms that perhaps helped us survive less than nurturing histories. We find gratitude for our insights and in so doing, become liberated from resentment. We learn to change the one person we can change. After all, if we want something we've never had before, we've got to do something we've never done before!" (Drina Reed) In this spirit, here are some thoughts for developing self-esteem:
Do an accurate self-assessment, listing positive and negative traits. Then, clean up the negative statements by making the statements factual, not judgmental. Remember, self-esteem is based on an accurate self-assessment.
List important positive traits. Repeat them frequently with feeling.
Accept the things you cannot change. Don't confuse an unchangeable cause with an unchangeable trait.
Become a change agent, a self-helper. Attend to your wants and needs, identifying and respecting what fulfills you. Your number one responsibility is yourself.
Identify the internal critic inside you. Write about it. What messages bring you mental misery?
Use affirmations to challenge negative cognitions. Tailor them to counteract individual self-defeating cognitions. Confront the internal critic.
Eliminate shame-based self-talk. It drains and discourages. It distracts us from identifying and fulfilling our needs, abilities, interests and goals.
Watch out for victim language. People and events do not cause feelings. They simply trigger mental habits.
Adopt responsibility language. Instead of "I can't," "I should" or "I'll try," use "I can," I will" or "I choose to." As Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right."
Set achievable goals and seek out situations in which the probability of success is high, places where you will stretch, but not overwhelm.
Be proud of who you are. Don't try to be someone else. Rely on your opinion of you for that's the one that matters.
Be patient. Our self-concept reflects years of experience and self-evaluation. Seeds were planted in our subconscious long before we had a say. Debunking the internal critic is a daily practice.
Today, we have choice. We can drape ourselves in the cloak of self-love. We can let go of the old to grab onto the new, remembering that recovery isn't changing who we are but rather letting go of who we are not! (Claudia Black) We can choose no longer to accept the lies we learned about who we were, embracing instead the beauty of who we are- perhaps for the first time.
No man is rich enough to buy back his past. As such, the best redemption is recovery. We can embrace the pain of the past and burn it as fuel for our journey. We may not have had choice early on, but today we do.
This is mind, body and spirit work, the fruits of which are nothing short of freedom, authenticity and acceptance of self and others. How liberating for those of us who have long played to an audience, denying the truth of who we were to come to love ourselves - not in spite of our humanity, but because of it!
This self-esteem journey is a homecoming of sorts. It's a coming home to self- to a place we have always known and to a place that we've never known. It's both liberating and daunting, familiar and foreign. It is the essence of authenticity and the ultimate soul work. And pretty soon, our hearts become strangely warmed. We have arrived home at last.
Note: This article was originally published in the Spring 2004 edition of MeadowLark, the magazine for alumni of The Meadows.
Rigorous Honesty: From False Pride to Authentic Self-Respect
By Kingsley Gallup
While in our disease, we may have prided ourselves on many things - perhaps even our "honesty." In recovery, however, we come to see the truth about ourselves - namely, that when we pride ourselves on something, it is likely something for which we wish we could take credit, something we wish we could claim as our own... but something that is not truly us. We discover in our lives the toxic presence of false pride. In our adapted ego state (the modified ego state in which our addictions flourish), we prided ourselves on being everything to everyone... all the time. This was our badge of honor. We were chameleons, forever flexible. At all times adaptable. And we believed it is precisely this malleability that makes us good people - people who deserve to be proud.
In recovery, we discover just the opposite to be true. While in our addictions, we had been indubitably dishonest. Our malleability had been intrinsically deceitful. (Would it seem logical to pride ourselves on that?)
We now find that our pride had been nothing but a mask... a false front. It was simply another brand of denial. It was a facade of self respect. Pride was our pretense. It hid our shame.
Now, this is not to say we were in no ways honest while in our disease. But let's face it: When it came to the critical points, the truly consequential details of our lives - like who we were and what we wanted and needed - the inherent dishonesty of our disease reared its head. And we paid the dearest price. Simply stated:
The deceitfulness of our codependence - and our resulting addictions - may indeed bring us embarrassment and shame. Even so, we must not allow ourselves to remain stuck in this place of indignity and dishonor. (We have been there far too long!) In order to heal, let us instead find in this shame a motivation to change.
As we learn in recovery, much of the shame we have been carrying around is not our own shame. It belongs to others. At the same time, however, we learn that some shame is healthy shame. It is our conscience speaking, motivating us to grow and to change. Responding to this personal shame, while at the same time releasing the carried shame that has been nothing but an albatross around our necks, is the hallmark of the functional adult. It is about taking responsibility for our choices. It is about owning our dishonesty. It is about getting honest with ourselves and others - and choosing to do things differently as we move forward.
Rigorous honesty is nothing short of hard work. It takes courage, after all, to speak our truth. It takes strength to be vulnerable, readily admit wrongs, stay current with the people in our lives and acknowledge the truth of who we are. Disciplining ourselves to share our realities and to attend to what we want and need - when we want and need it - is the liberating work of our recovery.
Interestingly, maintaining our dishonesty had been hard work as well. After all, keeping up appearances was exhausting! Keeping all those balls in the air all the time was arduous and draining. The feeling of wanting desperately to flee (and from a situation, no less, that we perpetuated through our deceitfulness), and yet remaining amid all the craziness, certainly felt like hard work. But doesn't hard work usually pay? Were there any payoffs from our dishonesty? Or were there simply trade-offs?
Our disease has robbed us of our integrity for long enough. No longer must we live in that proverbial "pressure-cooker" of codependency - namely, that adapted condition in which the pressure of external demands and the pain of our own dishonesty inhibit our ability to truly thrive. In recovery, we learn to consistently release "steam" from that pressure-cooker by speaking our truth. No longer must we operate in crisis mode. No longer must we seek simply to survive in an environment from which we want to run. We come to embrace life, rather than flee from it! Getting honest involves acceptance and vindication. We acknowledge that our addictions served a purpose in our lives. They helped us to survive in less-than-nurturing environments. Next, we accept where our addictions took us by confronting the dishonest patterns of our disease. The addicted life, after all, is inherently dishonest. (This by no means implies that addiction is a moral issue, but maintaining the addicted life demands a degree of deception.)
One of the greatest - if not the greatest - fruits of recovery is intimacy, the path to which is self-knowledge. To achieve true intimacy in our lives, we must challenge each and every message that has led us astray, that has taken us away from ourselves. In doing so, we come to know ourselves... perhaps for the very first time.
We need no longer cling to false pride. Rather, we now love ourselves justifiably as we nobly strive for rigorous honesty. We learn to love ourselves, if only for the effort we make, as true valor is found in progress, not perfection. We love ourselves for being honest about our fallibility and our weaknesses. We love ourselves as we walk down the perfectly imperfect path of recovery... two steps forward, one back... two steps forward, one back...
Honesty is nothing short of an act of love - for ourselves, for others and for our higher power. It is in this place of honesty that we truly connect. It is here that we genuinely feel a part of the human family. It is here that we not only survive, but thrive. Simply stated, the language of recovery is truth. May we speak it now with honor, dignity and love.