This essay is part of our month exploring the theme of Forgiveness. Follow along with us all May to read more stories on the theme, and be sure to check out Pablo’s other stories on his personal experience with veteran re-entry and the prison system.
As a former contributor to ENDPAIN, I was asked to share my views on the topic of self-forgiveness. Because I personally struggle with the application of the concept, I found the challenge intriguing. Here is what I think and feel.
Self-forgiveness has proven a difficult concept for me to grasp much less apply to my life. When I was young, I didn’t entertain the thought of forgiveness very much at all. I lived for the moment, dreaming about what wonders adulthood would bring. If I used the word from time to time, it was probably to get out of some predicament. This, in spite of the fact that as a Catholic attending Catholic school, I was constantly repeating the word in the Lord’s Prayer, but in those moments it had empty meaning.
I say the Lord’s Prayer now as an adult having lived through the consequence of my mistakes and still have trouble with the meaning of “forgiveness” but for different reasons. In the prayer, we ask God to forgive us of our trespasses. Allowing for this feeling of forgiveness for my past wrongdoings often seems like an impossible task, especially in regards to forgiving myself. At times I feel I struggle with the concept of self-forgiveness because I don’t know what it looks like or what it should feel like. Other times, I worry about the possible negative effects forgiveness of myself might have on my life.
AT TIMES I FEEL I STRUGGLE WITH THE CONCEPT OF SELF-FORGIVENESS BECAUSE I DON’T KNOW WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE OR WHAT IT SHOULD FEEL LIKE.
I have been accused of lacking empathy for others and I worry what the effect self-forgiveness would have on that. Would I be giving myself too much slack? How would those who know my story feel about that? What judgement would I subject myself to? I also worry about losing my motivation to embrace living amends as a worthy goal. Those of you who are familiar with the 12 step programs such as AA and NA will recognize this term. Living amends means living a completely new lifestyle and being committed to that lifestyle (in part for those you harmed and in part for yourself). Living amends means making genuine changes, that our behavior and actions be true and honest and follow an emotionally sober path. This is important to me because I don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past.
As hard as I try not to beat myself up for the wrongs committed, my soul and my spirit remain restless. I pray for divine guidance to obtain peace of mind. But up until now that peace of mind escapes me.
I’ve read and listened to opinions of others on the subject. For instance, Radical Self-Forgiveness by Colin Tipping and Nataley Kogan on “Self-Compassion” from the podcast, Sounds True. I understand the importance of achieving or embracing self-forgiveness. I take the suggestions to heart. However, the truth is: I don’t feel any changes in my consciousness that indicate I have moved forward. This is troublesome to me. It opens the door to depression and other unhealthy thoughts and feelings.
Often times I feel as if those whom I have wronged would indicate clearly that they forgave me then that would pave the way for me to feel it’s okay to move on. There is definitely a connection there even though I have no reason to believe that this will happen. The end result is that I feel I am waiting for something to happen, I’m not sure what, that would make it okay for me to stop beating myself up. I suspect the feeling is linked to not having a relationship with my son and my former in-laws.
Living like this is hard. Joy, love, happiness, excitement and the like are on hold waiting for this issue to be resolved. And when something happens that brings me face to face with the consequences of my bad decisions the clouds of shame, guilt, regret, and disgust knock on my door to remind me they are still around. I pray, I meditate and I attend individual therapy to regain my focus and find emotional balance. Some days are better than others, as they say.
IN THE SECOND PART OF THE LORD’S PRAYER, WE’RE ASKED TO FORGIVE OTHERS FOR THEIR WRONGDOING, I HAVE TAKEN TO HEART WHAT IS MEANT BY THIS AS A RESULT OF MY OWN PAIN.
In the second part of the Lord’s Prayer, we’re asked to forgive others for their wrongdoing, I have taken to heart what is meant by this as a result of my own pain. I can say, however, with some degree of certainty, that because of what I went through—today I have a better perspective on what causes misery and suffering in the world in myself and others. I’m more vulnerable and connected to those around, whether relatives, friends, acquaintances, or strangers. I guess you could say I have become more accepting and less judgmental.
If I had to imagine what forgiveness or self-forgiveness would feel like I have a vision of nature and its splendor, with birds singing and a cool breeze caressing my face, sunshine, and my heart at peace with creation and its creator. Whether I experience that in this life I cannot say, but my faith is strong and I trust God will make me an instrument of his will and make it so my experiences will help others feel they are not alone.