I read the memoir Eat, Pray Love by Melissa Gilbert several years ago and loved it. Recently, I decided to watch the movie and there was one scene that stuck in my head for some reason and really got me thinking.
The book is about Elizabeth’s self-discovery journey as she travels to Italy, India and finally Indonesia.
When Elizabeth arrives in India to stay at an ashram, she meets a man named Richard who nicknames her “Groceries” (because she eats so much). There is a scene where he leads Liz up to a rooftop to confess that he’s at this ashram so he can learn to forgive himself for being the sole reason that his family left him, which resulted in him missing the majority of his son’s childhood.
Richard tells her the story and how he feels about everything, then leaves her up there to ponder on her own issues. “You have to forgive yourself, Groceries. And you should stay here until you do,” he says.
This really resonated with me, as I too, have been working on forgiveness for a while now.
What does “forgiveness” mean?
Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.
Most of us really struggle with this. Learning how to forgive others. But there is also another aspect we mustn’t forget. Self-forgiveness. Many of us do not pay attention to the strong correlation that exists between lack of self-forgiveness and our increase in moodiness and irritability, and ultimately, our stress levels.
Personally, I’ve started to notice that everytime I feel angry or frustrated with a situation or person, I’m actually not upset with them and what I “think” they did wrong. I’m really angry with myself.
I’m angry about not being able to have control in that situation; feeling like I somehow caused it or it’s all my fault; that I didn’t see it coming. It doesn’t matter the situation, it’s always me I’m really most angry with.
I needed to figure out how to fix this. I could feel my irritability kicking in; my stress levels were going up.
That’s how I found a dissertation online that discussed the relationship between self-forgiveness and health. It referenced several studies – according to one done at the University of Hartford, results indicated that self-forgiveness was positively correlated with both physical and mental health. Specifically the General Health and Bodily Pain subscales and all four mental health subscales, which included Role Emotional, Mental Health, Social Functioning, and Vitality. You can read the whole dissertation here.
While I knew I was on to something, I still couldn’t truly forgive myself for a lot of things. Why was self-forgiveness such a hard thing to do ?
It took me a while but after sticking at it and working through my issues no matter what, I realised that it’s more difficult to start than it is complicated to actually do. I also believe that it really takes work. It’s not something that happens overnight. It’s a daily conscious practice and requires focus and mindfulness.
The more you practice, the better you get at it.
I found some resources that listed several ways to practice self-forgiveness. Below are the 7 of my favorite.
Hope these help you as much as they helped me!
1. Acknowledge your own inner pain. This is a crucial step – it’s almost impossible to forgive yourself if you don’t realize the importance of why you need to do it in the first place.
2. Write a forgiveness letter. Writing is a form of therapy. Take a notepad or blank sheet of paper and start writing a letter to yourself. Write down how you feel, describe your situation in detail – and go on for as long as you like. Release everything that comes into your mind.
Once you’ve finished writing, read it through, see if you’d like to add anything else, take a deep breath and tear it into pieces. You can set it on fire and watch it burn. Hopefully, afterwards, you should feel much lighter and refreshed.
3. Mindfulness walks in nature. The idea is to do a long walk in nature and aim to focus on nothing but the present moment. As you walk, focus on each foot step one by one, look around you: what do you see, hear, feel, smell? If you have trouble staying present, this is the forgiveness exercise for you.
4. Write a gratitude list. This is my favorite and works all the time. Writing a gratitude list will help you even more to stay into the present moment and allow you to figure out your priorities. What do you want to spend most of your time thinking and dreaming about? Don’t let anger and sadness take the top place in your mind – it’s not worth it.
So write down the 10 things you’re grateful for in this moment. These can just be simple pleasures like the tea you’re drinking or the smell of fresh flowers. Or maybe someone paid you compliment or a loved one was not well and has recovered… You can list anything you want – just make sure you repeat this exercise every day and observe how you feel when you’re done. (It’s wonderful!)
5. Ask for help in forgiving. You can do this silently or out loud. Just ask either yourself, God, the Universe or a higher power – whatever you believe in – to help you forgive. You might also want to give an offering of fruit, flowers or say a prayer.
6. Visualise yourself blissed. Visualise yourself in the moment that you were the most angry. As this image becomes clearer, start sending yourself love and blessing. Don’t let the anger overcome you, just focus on sending lots of love and bliss to yourself.
7. Say the words. Simple as it may sound, this can be powerful. Stand in front of a mirror, look at yourself, place your hand on your chest over your heart and truly say: “I forgive you”. It is common to start crying during this very intense exercise.
I hope that this can get you thinking about your own journey toward self-forgiveness. And if you haven’t watched the movie, add it to your wishlist! 🙂
“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” Buddha
What is your tip for self-forgiveness and do you have a story to share? Comment below, we’d love to hear from you.