“And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Okay, you did it. You spent half the month's food budget on a new coat. You did not get to your son's band concert before it was almost over. You put your mom in a nursing home. When the cat's yowling got on your nerves, you--you awful person!--put him outside where he was promptly hit by a car. You sometimes think that your family and friends would never forgive you if they knew half of what you do. Unfortunately, you know. You know all that you do, and the sheer awfulness of it rocks you with guilt and sinks you with shame.
Did you ever wonder why we remember so vividly the bad stuff we did. Often it is just trivial stuff. You remember something that someone said to you 20 years ago that hurt your feelings. The person who said it has probably forgotten you and what they said to you, but you remember. Or maybe there was something you did as a kid. You stole something; You hit someone; Or you told a lie about someone. These things are like bubbles that pop to the surface of our minds every now and then, and we need to deal with them. It is usually far too late to make the trivia bad stuff right by going back to the offended person and saying we are sorry, so what do we do? We must forgive ourselves. It is a strange thing about the human mind that we remember the bad things much more that the good things. You can help half a dozen people, and that is a good feeling, but if you accidentally insult one person, you lie awake at night tossing and turning and saying to yourself, why did I do that. How could I have been so stupid. You feel like a totally worthless piece of trash.
If someone else did these things, you would forgive them, kindly and graciously. It is easy to forgive others, because they do not live in our head. They do not read us the same old script over and over, and this same old script of guilt can cause us serious damage.
Your physical health and your mental health may depend on your ability to reduce anger in your life, and this includes most of all the anger you feel at yourself. Stanford University had conducted a number of studies called the Stanford Forgiveness Projects. [(http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/learning-to-forgive-yourself)], and the results indicate a definite link between physical well-being and forgiveness, particularly self-forgiveness.
The director of the Stanford Project is Dr. Fred Luskin. Dr. Luskin has been conducting studies and workshops up and down the California coast for the past several years. From Berkeley to Big Sur, he has worked with men who have cheated on their wives, wives who have cheated on their husbands, kids who have dumped their parents, parents who have dumped their kids, and a whole lot worse.
The biggest obstacle he found to self-forgiveness is a tendency to wallow in our own guilt. "It's not just that we feel bad because we know we've done wrong," he explains. Everybody does that. But some of us actually draw those bad feelings around ourselves like a blanket, cover our heads, and refuse to stop wailing about it.
If that sounds nuts to you, you're not alone. Wailing should be reserved for the victim, not the perpetrator, right? But some people try to use those bad feelings to ward off the consequences of their actions. They curl up in a ball and say, "Look how bad I feel! See how I'm suffering! I'm pitiful! I'm pathetic! I can't be punished any more than this; it wouldn't be fair!" Instead of taking responsibility for what they have done by trying to repair the damage or make things right, many people unconsciously punish themselves by feeling miserable for the rest of their lives.
Unfortunately, the decision to live in despair can have tragic consequences. For one thing, misery loves company. If we beat up on ourselves, we tend to beat up on the people who love us also. Hurting people hurt others. Anyone who is wallowing in guilt is going to be more withdrawn, more critical, more miserable. So whoever is around these people--spouse, children, parents, friends, even the family dog--is going to suffer right along with them.
But they suffer the most. All that self-loathing, that self punishment feeds back into the person's body. Mind affects body in a million interconnecting ways, and those guilty feelings we are nurturing are generating chemicals that head straight for our vital organs. They increase our heart rate, raise our blood pressure, disrupt our digestion, tense our muscles, dump cholesterol into our bloodstream, and reduce our ability to think straight. And every time we remember what we did and wince, those bad feelings give us a fresh hit of corrosive chemicals. It is no wonder that studies on forgiveness have led scientists to suspect that those who have difficulty forgiving are more likely to experience heart attacks, high blood pressure, depression, and other ills.
However, Dr. Luskin offers us a very NT solution to the problem. He says give your mind and body a break from all the shame and guilt by replacing them with gratitude and love. He has some specific advice.
# When driving, mentally thank each of the drivers who follow the rules of the road.
# If you have a significant other in your life, thank him or her for caring for you every day.
# Really notice the salesperson in a store who waits on you. Thank them for helping you.
# As you wake each morning, give thanks for your breath and the gift of life.
At Stanford, Dr. Luskin has spent 6 years studying how people move toward forgiving themselves. He says, "Forgiveness is a tool with which we face what we've done in the past, acknowledge our mistakes, and move on. It does not mean that you condone or excuse what happened. It does not mean that you forget.
"Remember the saying, 'For everything there is a season'?" he asks. "Well, there's a season for our suffering and regret. We have to have that. But the season ends; the world moves on. And we need to move on with it." Here's how to do it. Here are some principles to help us move on.
1. Forgiving Requires Specificity. Sometimes we try to escape our need for self-forgiveness, by generalizing the problem. We say, we are only human and we are not perfect, we make mistakes—which is true but it is not the point. We need forgiveness for specific things. It is not being human that is the problem, it is that thing we did or said in a certain situation that we regret. Forgiveness means being specific about what we did that needs forgiving.
2 .Name the problem:You failed at some major life task. You failed to finish college; You failed to make your marriage work; you failed at your job. You hurt yourself by the way you led your life: drinking or doing something else that is self-destructive. You did not do something you thought you should, such as intervene in a family dispute. You did not help someone who needed you. Naming the problem begins the forgiveness process. You can break down what you did and look at it and begin to deal with it.
Now we come to the hard part. 3. Share the problem with someone else. Tell someone that you trust about this thing, this monster in your life. Most people who are beating themselves up over a failure in their lives think that they are alone in their suffering. No one else ever suffered like they have suffered, which is nonsense. Left to our own devices, if we keep turning this stuff over and over in our minds,and this can go on for years, decades. And what happens is that we make mountains out of mole hills. We build up a minor transgression into a major sin and then when we finally get the courage to tell a friend about our awful sin, the friend may say, “Why are you worried about that? Nobody even cares.”
Then there are other things you can do to begin to forgive.
4. Give yourself a break. When the failure or mistake occurred, you might have been doing the best you could under the circumstances at that time and if you had it to do over again, you would do no better.
5. Recognize Unrealistic Expectations. Most of us have a set of unconscious rules hovering in the back of our minds about how we expect ourselves to behave, but those rules sometimes do not make much sense.
I know a lady whose mom had a stroke. This lady felt she should invite her mom to move in with her. A daughter always takes care of her mother, right? But her mother was an absolutely miserable human being. There was no way to please her. Every word that came out of her mouth was a criticism, a put-down, or a complaint. What this lady had to come to terms with was that she could not do, what she felt she ought to do. Eventually, with the help of her husband, she realized that it was not realistic--or fair--to bring such overwhelming negative energy into the house. So she helped her mom move into an assisted living community with trained helpers on call day and night.
6. Identify the Hurt. It is not the failure years ago, that is causing you the problem. The problem is the hurt feelings, guilty thoughts, and the stress you feel whenever you think about what happened. It is your reaction today that is causing you a problem today. That is what you must get rid of. So every time you catch yourself ruminating on your sins, stop, and refocus your attention on something more positive. It is not going to help you, or the person you hurt,to keep replaying this stuff over and over.
Practice PERT PERT stands for Positive Emotion Refocusing Technique. It's a 45-second strategy Dr. Luskin developed to use whenever you start beating yourself up over past mistakes. Simply close your eyes, draw in a long breath that gently pushes out your belly, then slowly exhale as you relax your stomach. Draw a second breath, and exhale. On the third deep breath, says Dr. Luskin, create an image of someone you love or of a beautiful place in nature that fills you with awe: a beautiful beach, a path through a majestic forest, a mountain stream tumbling over rocks. Breathe deeply as your mind explores the natural beauty around you. Notice how you feel, and allow those feelings to center in the pit of your stomach.
Another thing to do is Make It Right. Most often you cannot undo what has happened, but you can make certain it never happens again. And you can look for ways to be kind to those whom you have hurt. If you spent half the family's monthly food budget on a new coat, make it up to them by turning out the tastiest meals ever cooked on a shoestring. Didn't get to your son's championship soccer game until the second half? Make it right by volunteering to be next year's assistant coach.
Even if the person you hurt is dead or otherwise absent from your life, you can still make things up by providing a kindness to someone else. If you thought you were a bad parent, you obviously cannot go back and reparent your children, but you can be an outstanding grandparent. You can be a Big Brother or Big Sister. You can help someone else's child. The motto is “Do good rather than feel bad.”
Above all apply to yourself the divine methods of forgiveness that we find in the Bible. For example, when God forgives us, it states that He remembers our sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34). If we refuse to forgive oursleves, we set ourselves up to be better that God. Peter said, "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality" (Acts 10:34). Applying "no partiality" to the issues of forgiveness, God does not choose to forgive one person and not another. He forgives everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. Applying His "no partiality" standards to ourselves, it is just as important to forgive ourselves as it is to forgive others.
Forgiving yourself is not about forgetting. It is about not bringing the offense up to yourself in negative ways. Forgiving yourself is simply letting go of what you are holding against yourself.
Proverbs 16:25 says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." The energy it takes to harbor anger, hatred, and resentment towards yourself is exhausting. Every bit of energy we give to negative activities to dwelling on regrets and mistakes and might have beens, robs us of the energy we need to become the person God wants us to be.
Life is full of choices and every choice we make will either take us in a positive, life-giving direction or rob us of the opportunity we should have as a child of God. Forgiving ourselves does not let us off the hook, it does not justify what we have done, and it is not a sign of weakness. Forgiveness is a choice that takes courage and strength, and it gives us the opportunity to become an overcomer rather than remaining a victim of our own scorn.
If you do not forgive yourself of past sins, it is a form of pride. Whenever we enact a different set of rules, a higher set of standards, for ourself than others, that is pride. When we can find it within ourself to forgive others, but not ourselves, we are saying that we are better and more holy than they are, and therefore, we are without excuse and should not forgive ourselves. That is pride! Proverbs 16:18 says, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." Unforgiveness brings self-destruction, a haughty spirit, and a fall. Christian forgiveness brings peace and joy and happiness.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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