Wrangling the Beast that is Self-Forgiveness
"These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them." Rumi
Every decision you have made, every behavior ever elicited from you made sense at the time, somehow and in some way. Maybe you have memories of past moments you're not that proud of or for which you have outright disgust for yourself. Maybe you try not to think about them or you deny them entirely by having parked them in the dark recesses of your psyche where you hope they stay.
I have behaved in ways for which, I have had regret. One period in particular took me a long time to unpack because I acted so out of character and didn't recognize myself in the choices I was making. At the time though, I was compelled to continue making them; caught as I was in a vortex of my own complexity and then suffering because of it. I didn't have much of a point of reference then to help me see what I was up to and so I was subject to my own chaos in a way that I never had been before. When I managed to extract myself from the external circumstances (no easy feat) I was left with a huge chasm within me with respect to my relationship with myself. I had to work diligently to get to the self-acceptance and forgiveness that accompanies me now when I look back at those months. Overall, the depth of understanding I now have of myself and what I was up to at that time has freed me from the torture I put myself through mentally and emotionally.
I was utterly committed to understanding myself during that period mainly because I didn't ever want to repeat what I had just been through. I knew that if I didn't get to the bottom of how I got myself into the situation I was in, I was likely to repeat it. If I didn't know what to look for in myself; if I didn't become intimate with the part(s) of me making those choices, who was to say I wouldn't inadvertently make them again? This was not acceptable to me so I was driven, as a preventative measure, to do this difficult piece of my work. It was a dedicated act of self-preservation.
Self-forgiveness can be tough to come by. So tough that the tendency is to repress the less-than-savory feelings we have about ourselves, drown ourselves in some kind of addictive behavior to medicate it away or we project our pain onto others and find blame 'out there' somewhere. My preference, when I have been troubled by my own self, is to look at my less-than-complimentary behaviors with some attempt to sort out the genesis of certain impulses and their subsequent actions.
I will tell you that I heavily doubted my ability to ever forgive myself. With utter dread, I used to say, "I'm going to have to live with the pain of this, the internal split I feel within me, forever. This will never end for me until I die." Seems hyperbolic when I write it here but then, it just felt like a fact. "I will be tortured by this for the rest of my life." A rather bleak outlook, for sure, and a clear indicator of the mindset I was in at the time.
Then, amidst this hard work I was doing and without my directed orchestration, something unexpected occurred. Though I never really tried, specifically, to forgive myself, it just happened. It was, I learned, a natural outcome of my self-understanding. As I untangled myself and all the parts of me that led to the events I was involved in, I found softening. I found compassion. I was freed.
I read somewhere recently that it's easy to love people when we know their stories. I certainly find that to be true in my work and in my life. All behavior is explainable if we can get to the bottom of the story. The complexity of our stories paints the picture of who we become and who we are in our lives. These precious stories explain our quirks, our bad decisions and the good ones, our idiosyncrasies and, yes, the choices we make. Emerging from my dedication to knowing my own story came a gentle impulse of forgiveness. There it was. It happened for me so naturally; like a soft surprise from the heart of my being. An exhale that led to a receptive place within me where I could land. The line, if there is one, between self-understanding and self-forgiveness is thin, I learned. Forgiveness is born of understanding. I see this now.
So go toward those moments that harass you, internally. Befriend those memories where you struggle to accept yourself. Be curious about all of it. Turn toward yourself and learn who you were in those moments so that you can find eventual self-forgiveness. It's easy to love when we know the story. Know your story. Be kind to yourself. Make room for yourself. Understand yourself. Love will be there on the other side.