How Can I Forgive Myself?
Why did I do that?!
We have all asked ourselves that question at some point in our lives and if you are asking yourself ‘why,’ then you are able to feel guilt, which is a normal, healthy feeling to have when you have done something wrong.
The function of guilt is to discourage certain behaviors that will bring about negative effects in your life.
Just like with the function of pain, you need to feel guilt otherwise you may be putting yourself in jeopardy.
Guilt is necessary so that you know something needs to be fixed…something needs to be put right in your life.
You want to be able to feel some guilt, but not so strongly that it becomes debilitating.
If you are in a situation in which you feel so much guilt that the emotions are becoming overwhelming and you are allowing the guilt to debilitate your life—this type of guilt is not normal or healthy.
You may start isolating yourself from others and from situations as well as you may become depressed or anxious due to the increasingly strong emotions that you are unable to handle.
On the opposite side of the guilt spectrum if you only feel a limited amount of guilt or don’t feel any guilt at all, this could be a problem.
Those in similar situations are often selfish, narcissistic, feel little remorse or regret and may do all sorts of things without feeling guilt or shame. These can be considered sociopathic behaviors and feelings. Hopefully, you are the type of person that does feel guilt or remorse for the hurtful and negative things you have done.
The behaviors that lead us to feel guilty may stem from our past, especially if they are repetitive behaviors that cause chaos or destruction in our lives.
Our past experiences, even all the way back to childhood, can affect how we react to situations today and may influence the behaviors we choose.
The History and Stages of Guilt
Susceptibility (vulnerability): These can stem from childhood based on past experiences you have had.
Let’s use one example for all five stages of guilt. A boy (Barrett) was told that he was ugly as a child and this followed him into adulthood.
Girls never looked at him, he was bullied, and he never had a date until college.
Then he grows up and becomes an incredible politician and finally becomes attractive to women.
Because of his susceptibilities and vulnerabilities from his past hurt, he may have issues around women since so many girls/women have rejected him in the past.
This could affect the behaviors he displays and the choices he chooses, which may very much be negative. Our vulnerabilities definitely can affect our adult lives.
Possibility: If you have a susceptibility to something, everything is possible.
If you decide that you want to make a lot of money because you grew up poor…you can choose to either make it by being a successful adult or take it like a thief or con artist.
Barrett needs to decide what his possibilities are and what choices he will make.
He can choose to be with the woman who wants to be with him and get help from a counselor to guide him through the dating scene; he wants to be successful and be a good man to her.
Or on the other hand, Barrett can choose to date random women, hurt them on purpose to get back at all of the women who hurt him, and never find true love.
Probability: In this stage, problems come to a head.
If you are very vulnerable at this point, it is highly probable that you might make a decision that negatively affects your life.
Going back to Barrett—he grew up feeling ugly and abandoned. Let’s say he finally gets married.
After a couple of years, he has the perception that his wife begins to ignore him and feels abandoned once again by women.
He develops a very close relationship with a colleague and has a connection to her that he doesn’t currently have with his own wife.
He ends up having an affair with this other woman.
Reality: Cognitive dissonance sets in; Barrett’s actions are in conflict with his beliefs and values, but because he is feeling such a connection to this other woman and finally feeling loved and wanted, he compartmentalizes his thinking so that he can continue to have this affair without any guilt.
If he begins to feel guilt and starts thinking about his wife, he goes through thinking called ‘after-lust’ in which he remembers why he chose to have an affair in the first place, and this re-fuels his desire to continue the affair.
Barrett has changed his value system so that he feels better about his actions and in turn feels less guilt.
Consequence: Barrett starts to notice the consequences of his actions and realizes that he has hurt many people by making damaging choices.
The guilt fully comes back during this stage and Barrett begins to isolate himself and become depressed because of the extreme guilt.
He needs to decide if he is going to try to make amends with his wife and other people he has hurt throughout this situation.
How do you get past the guilt?
Here are some tips for acknowledging the negative and moving forward:
- Admit what you did was not a mistake—-you knew what you were doing.
- Take responsibility for your actions.
- Apologize. Ask for forgiveness no matter how you feel about it.
- Be vulnerable and do the right thing even though it may be uncomfortable.
- Allow yourself to feel pain for what you did…fully feel the emotions.
- Accept that you cannot undo your decision.
- If you are religious, realize that God will forgive you.
You also need to forgive in order to get past the guilt and move on…
Forgive These Three
- Forgive God—IF you feel anger or resentment and are blaming God
- Forgive all of the people who hurt you along the way
- Forgive yourself
The feeling of guilt is such a powerful one; it can attach itself to you like a disease and linger indefinitely unless you do something about it.
If you are willing to accept, acknowledge, ask for forgiveness, and make amends, you are very likely able to rid yourself of that guilt and move forward with your live in a positive way.
ALSO SEE: How To Deal With Guilt
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