If we have suffered at the hands of those who we trusted and who were meant to protect us, we can feel shame and blame ourselves for what happened rather than the other person. We are also likely, in our active addiction, to behave in a way that violates our values and harms others, and which generates more feelings of guilt and shame.
Part of our addiction recovery journey will involve forgiving ourselves (I’ll cover forgiving others in another article). Forgiving ourselves doesn’t mean letting ourselves off the hook or excusing our behaviour. It means owning the past but not living there!
Why is self-forgiveness important for someone in addiction recovery?
Self-forgiveness is essential because it helps us let go of feelings of guilt, shame, and self-blame that can trigger or worsen addiction-related behaviours. Or it can feed other problem behaviours (e.g., finding other ways to relieve those feelings – cross addiction)
Self-forgiveness allows us to acknowledge our mistakes, take responsibility for our actions, and find compassion for ourselves. It involves understanding that while we may have made mistakes, we are not defined by them, and we have the power to change our behaviour and to make amends. By forgiving ourselves, we can let go of the emotional baggage that can hold us back and move forward in our recovery with a renewed sense of purpose and hope.
Writing it down like this might make you believe that forgiving ourselves is easy and I guess that depends on a number of factors, including what happened to you and what you have done to others and to yourself.
A good friend of mine that is also a colleague in the drug and alcohol field noticed that in treatment programmes, the focus is often on addressing harms we have caused to others, and making amends but rarely if ever are we shown how we can identify and address the harms we have caused ourselves and to make amends there too.
So how might we go about self-forgiveness?
Given that Recovery is a journey that often involves addressing past mistakes and regretful decisions. Shame and guilt can be overwhelming and cause people to feel stuck in the past, hindering progress in their recovery. Self-forgiveness helps to release negative emotions and promotes healing.
Here are some strategies for letting go of past mistakes and forgiving yourself:
1. Be kind and understanding to yourself, as you would to a close friend. Recognise that everyone makes mistakes, and it is an essential part of the human experience.
2. Challenge negative self-talk and replace it with positive affirmations. Encourage yourself by acknowledging your progress and accomplishments.
3. Mindfulness meditation helps in gaining self-awareness and reducing self-judgment. It allows you to observe your thoughts without reacting to them and promotes self-acceptance.
4. Take steps to repair relationships that may have been damaged by past behaviours. Apologising and making amends can provide a sense of closure and promote self-forgiveness.
5. Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or therapist for support. Talking about past mistakes and feelings of guilt can help process and release these emotions.
What might the benefits of self-forgiveness be?
Self-forgiveness has numerous benefits, and some are listed below:
1. It can help release negative emotions such as guilt, shame, and self-blame that can cause stress and anxiety. By forgiving ourselves we can experience emotional relief and feel more at peace with ourselves.
2. It can help us let go of past mistakes that may have harmed our relationships with others (including with ourselves). By forgiving ourselves we can take responsibility for our actions, make amends where necessary, and move forward with healthier relationships.
3. Self-forgiveness can help us increase self-esteem and self-worth. By letting go of self-blame and negative self-talk, we can develop a more positive self-image and improve confidence.
4. It can help us learn from our mistakes and develop resilience. By accepting responsibility for our actions, we can gain insight into what we need to change and grow from the experiences.
5. Self-forgiveness can have a positive impact on mental health by reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. By releasing negative emotions and practicing self-compassion we can improve our overall well-being.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article and if you have been following the lent series on addiction recovery, I hope you getting something from it.