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Shedding Our Guilt and Shame

There are many destructive emotions we cling to when in recovery from addiction and mental illness, and among the most destructive are our guilt and shame. We carry the memories of our mistakes, regrets and wrongdoings with us for many years, unable to forgive ourselves. We feel unable to let them go, in part because we don’t feel we deserve forgiveness, and we think that somehow by constantly thinking about them, we’re doing some form of penance. We struggle to move forward. We have a hard time making amends to the people we’ve hurt because we’re so consumed with shame that we feel we’re horrible people, and we assume they would never be able to forgive us. We allow our shame to alter how we feel about ourselves, viewing ourselves in harsh, judgmental, punitive ways rather than with compassion and understanding. We forget that our mistakes and everything we’ve done wrong are actually quite common in the grand scheme of human nature.

Shame holds us back and keeps us from living a full life. It keeps us from aligning with our purpose and finding fulfillment. It keeps us trapped in cycles of self-deprecation, where we think and speak of ourselves with unkindness and treat ourselves with cruelty. We become self-destructive and self-sabotaging. We self-harm, either in obvious ways such as physically hurting ourselves, or in more covert ways such as the addictive patterns we conceal from other people and the mental illnesses we develop that can be hard to pinpoint. We become self-hating and self-rejecting. We deny ourselves the understanding and forgiveness we give others. We aren’t nurturing, protective or supportive of ourselves. Our insecurities and self-hatred worsen, along with our addictions and mental health issues. We become more depressed, more anxious, more afraid. We create more inner turmoil for ourselves, and as a result more havoc in our everyday lives tends to ensue.

Shedding our guilt and shame means softening our approach with ourselves and our view of ourselves. It means choosing to see ourselves not as horrible, morally bankrupt sinners, but as people who were hurting, who made mistakes from a place of pain. Seeing things this way doesn’t excuse or justify the things we’ve done. It only helps us come to a better place of understanding and clarity about those things. When we’re embroiled in shame, we often aren’t thinking clearly, and we’re not usually connected to our inner selves. We avoid feeling all of our complex issues because we’re afraid of them. We become disconnected from ourselves because we’re so self-hating that we reject ourselves and essentially distance ourselves from our truth. Shame takes us further and further away from our true selves and therefore from being able to heal ourselves.

Forgiveness is a choice, whether we’re choosing to forgive someone who has hurt us, or ourselves for the ways we’ve hurt other people and also ourselves. We have to make the conscious choice to want to have forgiveness. When we forgive, we’re not saying that everything is okay, or right, or acceptable. We’re saying that no matter how deep the hurt goes, we would rather be at peace and have forgiveness than cling to anger, resentment, bitterness and self-punishment. We would rather release the hurt and detach from it than cling to it, hold grudges, and stay consumed by it. We would rather let go of all the hurt that has been impacting us so strongly all these years.

Making the decision to forgive ourselves is an act of self-love. It is a practice in self-acceptance. It is an exercise in detachment and release. All of these things can be hard for us, and for many of us, they are new to us. Work with a therapist or spiritual guide to help you navigate these processes. Meditate on them. Pray on them. Write about them. Read more about them and learn more about how other people have handled the same things. They are universal. They are part of the human experience. You’re not wrong for feeling any of the things you’re feeling, and you’re not wrong if you’re having a hard time forgiving yourself.

Can you start to see yourself with more compassion and learn to empathize with yourself? Can you see that the pain you caused was a result of the pain you were experiencing? Hurt usually happens in cycles. We hurt other people when we are in pain ourselves, and we hurt ourselves when we hurt others. It is cyclical and interconnected. Forgiving ourselves means also forgiving the people who have wronged us, something that is sometimes easier for us to handle than self-forgiveness. Why are we more understanding of other people’s mistakes than our own? Why are we self-hating and self-rejecting in these ways? We can make the choice to finally work on our self-love. We can choose to give time and energy to self-care, to spiritual practice, to inner healing. We can make it a practice to rebuild our self-esteem, by affirming and validating ourselves, by celebrating our successes, by being kind to ourselves even when we think we’ve failed. We can prioritize the relationships that help us love ourselves rather than the ones that make us feel worse about ourselves.

Shedding the shame and guilt we’ve been carrying opens us up to receive all of the joy and blessings that a life in recovery has to offer us. When we close ourselves off to healing, we deny ourselves all of the opportunities for learning and growth that are a part of our recovery. Forgive yourself. You deserve it.

At The Guest House Ocala, our recovery programs include many experiential modalities including traditional therapy, conscious connected breathwork, equine therapy, somatic experiencing, art in healing, grief therapy, mindfulness and other forms of therapy. Call 855-483-7800 today for more information.