Shame and suffering are linked, as are forgiveness and health. On a purely emotional level, this has been accepted for generations – but psychological science is beginning to prove that the ability to forgive (both others and oneself) can have a profound impact upon one’s health and wellbeing.
Shame and guilt are toxic emotions which are often felt unnecessarily. While they may be useful in personal development (they teach us how not to behave, for example), when they last after all apologies have been made, and strike when only we ourselves believe that we have anything to apologize for, then they become damaging.
Those who are afflicted with an inability to forgive themselves may feel themselves ‘unworthy’ of recovery. They may believe that the way they are is fixed, and there is nothing to be done about it because they are intrinsically ‘bad’ or ‘mad’.
‘Twelve-Step’ programs experience a degree of success because they combat shame by encouraging participants to believe that their self-perceived ‘sins’ are forgiven by a ‘Higher Power’. This makes them feel more deserving of self-compassion. This ‘grace’ is a powerful concept which can change lives.
One must participate in one’s own emotional recovery, and this will not happen unless one feels that the effort is worthwhile. If you consider yourself worthless, you’re unlikely ever to make the effort to heal yourself. Indeed, those who cannot forgive themselves are likely to become so mired in shame that they plunge deeper into the trauma of their own issues.
The same also applies to forgiveness of others. If you can’t forgive someone for something they have done to you, then you can never let the hurt of that issue pass. We all need to learn forgiveness if we are to develop into emotionally healthy individuals.
Here is an excerpt from an article, Amazing Grace: How Unconditional Forgiveness Assists Recovery, by Rita Milios where she provides us with a Forgiveness Imagery Exercise adapted from her book Tools for Transformation. Rita has used this imagery many times with clients, and has seen amazing transformations as a result.
Please leave your comments with respect to your own process of forgiveness and/or self-forgiveness.
Mel Faith is an editor and writer with a specialist interest in addiction, anxiety and depression related pieces. In her previous career she worked within the health care arena and now as well as writing, she volunteers for a number of mental health charities too.