Forgiveness is difficult, rewarding and essential for your wellbeing. But ironically, sometimes it can be scary to let go of feelings like guilt, shame and disappointment because they have become familiar and feel safe.
For years, I recognized that "feeling guilty" had become a huge part of my life, and I was scared of what would happen if I actually forgave myself. To my delight, what has replaced the disappointment is feeling really good about myself, something I’m growing more and more accustomed to.
It has taken a TON of work — daily habits, nurturing exercises and heightened awareness. I have good days and bad days. What is most rewarding about this process is that I can look back at those old emotions and see how distant I am from them now. They no longer hold power over my mental state.
Here are the steps I took to forgive myself and release guilt:
1. Own your feelings.
If you've been unable to forgive yourself for something, admit this out loud to a trusted friend.
- “I am guilty for not having done better in tennis.”
- “I am guilty for getting an eating disorder and for the pain it caused those around me.”
In my case, I had to say these statements aloud numerous times and fill pages and pages of my diary to finally admit I felt guilty about it.
2. Tune into your thoughts and stop holding yourself to unrealistic expectations.
Recognize the unrealistic expectations you have placed on yourself and your actions. This one has been exceptionally hard for me to recognize. I started analyzing my thoughts by writing down statements I believed to be facts, and then labeled them as "fact" or "fiction."
Here are a few examples:
- Not being unhappy will make me complacent. Fiction.
- It is raining outside. Fact.
- You must always set your goals too big in order to achieve your actual goals. Fiction.
- Starting out small is no good you have to have a big plan. Fiction.
- I played tennis at an elite level. Fact.
- Not being perfect makes me less worthy. Fiction.
3. Deal with your feelings instead of pushing them aside.
Whenever I thought about the issue I was struggling with, I'd feel a sharp pain in my chest or a lump in my throat. I became more aware that it was the current thoughts and physical manifestations that were making me feel bad, not the actual past issue.
This allowed me to focus on changing my physical reaction when those thoughts arose. I committed to breathing through the anxiety whenever I felt it — no matter what I was doing at that moment. It took me three months to get rid of that physical reaction.
Personal forgiveness is one of the roadblocks we face when moving toward self-love and life success. It’s essential to your future happiness and it's worth investing time and energy to learn the best practice for you.
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