This time of year, many of us reflect on our lives and make resolutions for how we will move into the new year. My resolve again this year is to be kind within.
It is a mindfulness practice of paying attention to how I am treating myself. Am I impatient and harshly judgmental? Am I mean or am I supportive?
This is a practice of letting go of perfectionism, my ideas of how things should be and how I should be. Pushing and shaming ourselves does not lead to positive change. It makes it harder. In the past I have held myself to standards impossible for a human being then condemned myself for not reaching them.
When my son was eight, I began a relationship with someone who was abusive to him. Through my own dysfunction, I exposed him to trauma. This is the worst harm I have done in my life. At the time, I couldn’t see clearly. I now understand myself and how that pattern is common in people with my background.
How do we forgive ourselves when we have hurt someone we love? What does it mean to take responsibility for the harm we have caused? Does forgiveness mean what we did was okay or that we are condoning it? No, it doesn’t.
Start with the original mistake and just for now, separate the consequences and results from the mistake itself. In the Living Inquiries, we break down our experience into the component parts of words, images and sensations. We slow it down and look at the building blocks of the experience. This makes it possible to understand and work with something. We can’t work with the mistake itself when we are overwhelmed by consequences of our actions. Set that aside for now.
Is it possible to understand myself enough to see how it happened? Yes. My childhood and traumatic teen years directly led to my vulnerability in relationship. That was the first time I ever felt seen and loved. I couldn’t give it up so I couldn’t afford to see what was really happening.
We retroactively judge ourselves for what we see now but couldn’t see at the time. I left that relationship. I do see it clearly now. I would protect my son now. I would not get into another abusive relationship and I am not vulnerable in that way anymore. I forgive myself for not knowing then what I have since learned through a lifetime of experience.
The fact that my actions harmed my son is what makes it feel unforgivable. This can be a black hole of condemning, shaming and despair. Whether we have hurt someone else, we see the disastrous impact in our own life, or both, can we let go of our regrets and recover?
What is enough penance? How can we truly make reparations for the harm we have done? Do we ever deserve to forgive ourselves and to be happy? Yes. There are two foundations to working with this.
We have to find a way to accept what actually happened. Acceptance is a precursor to forgiveness. This happened. I take responsibility for my part. I had many Living Inquiries sessions of looking at the words and pictures while feeling the sensations. It takes courage to feel the underlying sadness and grief. It seems so much easier to focus on hating the other person or ourselves. It’s not. That is how we stay stuck, addicted and living in fear.
Forgiving myself does not mean I condone what I did. I take responsibility. I am deeply sad for the hurt I caused. Accepting reality opens up space for the next step. What will actually help?
Our best contribution to atoning for the harm is to heal ourselves. Condemning myself does not benefit my son. It hurts him even more to see me stuck in a shame spiral. Reminding myself of this helped me stay on the path of seeing and forgiveness. The best way to repair this is to heal myself. Then I am available to him.
Over the years of mindfulness and, most important, of returning again and again to my willingness to be kind with myself, the aggression towards myself is gone. I no longer flog myself for mistakes I made out of ignorance and hurt. I do still try to do my best only now it comes from inspiration and genuine connection, not a desperate attempt to be “good enough”.
There is such a benefit in kindness to ourselves. We can only let in all of our experience when we have compassion. It is a sign of healing to be present and hold ourselves with kindness. We may have a habit of denigrating ourselves and thinking we are hopeless human beings because of what we have done. That is not true. We are not hopeless. We have all hurt ourselves and each other. We are connected in this messy business of being human. I know from my own personal experience that healing is possible .
What can you do? Give yourself a break. Rest. Acknowledge “At least I can be kind. At least I can not make the situation worse.” You deserve that. We all do.