By Brad Hoefs:
When your brain is not functioning properly, it certainly affects your behavior, which then affects your relationship with others. Those of us with a mental health issue can end up hurting a lot of people that we love. Whether it’s through our words or because of something we have done, those closest to us are left wounded.
Those who have been hurt will either forgive us and give us another chance, forgive us but no longer be in the relationship or choose not to forgive us and leave us. And we end up feeling the deep pain our behavior(s) have caused for them and ourselves. It is at this point that we have a critical choice to make; whether we will forgive ourselves or not.
Even if others will not forgive us, it is important for us to take responsibility for any of our hurtful behaviors; asking for forgiveness and then choosing to forgive ourselves. If we do not, we end up getting stuck and unable to move forward in living well. Everyone gets stuck at times. But, staying stuck is not okay. Thus, being able to forgive yourself is an essential component of living well in spite of having a mood disorder.
These are some of the insights I offer to you about “how” to forgive yourself so that you can move forward in living well:
1. Come to this realization: no matter how hard you try, you cannot change what has happened. You can only learn from it, grow from it and move forward. Accept what happened.
2. Take responsibility for what you did and the pain it caused others, asking them for forgiveness. Even if they choose not to forgive you; you must forgive yourself. Forgiving yourself cannot be contingent upon them forgiving you. Remember, them forgiving you is going to be a process, it’s not like switching on or off a light switch, just as forgiving yourself is going to be a process.
3. If you are a person of faith, then ask God, your higher power, for forgiveness. If it is within your faith tradition to go to the clergy and confess to him or her what has happened, then I would encourage you to consider doing that. Sometimes we need to hear out loud from someone in spiritual authority that God has forgiven us.
If God forgives us (and He does), who are we to refuse to forgive ourselves? God sets the example for us. So be kind to yourself, just as you would be to a close friend.
4. Decide to stop rehearsing over and over in your head what has happened. Rehearsing it will not change it. Rehearsing over and over is a way abusing yourself for what you did or didn’t do. Decide that you will stop allowing the rehearsal of it in your head. Yes, it’s tough to do. But, it is possible. You and I can be in charge of what we think about in our thought life. At first, it will feel as though it is next to impossible to do. With time, it will get a bit easier.
To stop rehearsing over and over what I had done that had hurt so many people in my life, I disciplined myself to have two times a day where I would think about it and grieve it. I promised myself that I would only spend 20 minutes each time. During this period, I wrote what I was thinking down in a journal. At the end of that time, I always spent time in prayer and reading some carefully selected scriptures from the Bible.
Wallowing in what happened will get you nowhere. Allow those few times a day to do this and then get on with your day. Don’t sit around letting your mind “wander around” on its own. Take charge. As you do this, it will get easier.
5. With my therapist, I began to work through any emotional issues that I had that were being exacerbated by my mood disorder, that I could work through in the hopes that it would give me a breakthrough in any of my dysfunctional behaviors that were harmful to my relationships with others. Too often you and I think we behave a “certain way” because of our mood disorder. However, more times than not, much of our behaviors happen due to emotional issues that we have yet to resolve, and the mood disorder merely intensifies those issues. Plus, if you and I are not stable, we can have great difficulties with impulse control. So, in my thinking, it is imperative for you and me to be working through as many emotional issues and any of the dysfunctional ways of being in relationships as possible.
One of the emotional issues that I had to work through was not to hate myself. I did not like myself at all. I had a very critical parent tape playing over and over in my head. I had to erase that tape. And create a new healthy adult tape. It took time. It was a process. And even yet today, some 20 years later, that critical parent tape plays just a bit here and there, but I stop listening to it rather quickly.
These things helped me to forgive myself. I hope that some of them might be helpful to you. It is a day- by-day process, but you can do it. Remember, if you tell yourself, “I can’t forgive myself for that,” then you won’t forgive yourself, and you will stay stuck at that point. If you choose not to forgive yourself, then you will not move forward in living well. Without forgiving one another, where would we all be? We live in a broken world that necessitates forgiving one another and forgiving ourselves.
How about you? Do you need to forgive yourself? Have you forgiven yourself? If so, how did you go about it? (We encourage you to leave a comment or question!)
Check out Brad’s podcast: Fresh Hope for Mental Health
For more information about Fresh Hope go to: FreshHope.us
Fresh Hope is a faith-based non-profit that empowers people to live well in spite of their mental health challenge.
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