Jun 212011

It’s very difficult to manifest change and create new beginnings, if you’re not forgiving yourself.

If you don’t have what you want in your life, ask yourself: Where are you not forgiving yourself?

If you’re feeling guilty about something and not forgiving yourself, you are probably holding onto “toxic guilt.”

2 Types of Toxic Guilt

There are 2 ways you can experience toxic guilt:

1) One way is feeling like a bad person, because of something specific you did–and you’re carrying around feelings of guilt about this action with you every day. Maybe you don’t believe you deserve to be happy or have all the things you want in life, because you feel this kind of guilt.

2) There’s also another motivation for guilt that doesn’t really have anything to do with being “bad.” It’s more about not being “good enough.” If you’re a perfectionist, you know what I’m talking about here. This kind of guilt is about wishing you had only tried harder or known better, so you could have suceeded rather than failed.

Either way, all kinds of guilt are about beating ourselves up.

So why do we do this?

It seems to be a way to feel in control. Maybe we rationalize that if we carry our guilt around with us, we’ll always remember not to make the same mistakes.

And maybe guilt is all tied up in fear–fear of stepping into our power and trusting that we can learn from our mistakes. And that it’s okay if we don’t even learn from our mistakes right away–it can take more than one opportunity to practice doing things differently.

Be Gentle With Yourself…

Have you ever sworn you would do something differently from now on, only to find yourself making the same mistake and beating yourself up for it?

I like to think of rock musicians that go to rehab more than once before finally kicking their drug habit. Or successful entrepreneurs who had to fail at several businesses before starting one that finally suceeds. And of course, most of us have several failed love relationships before we find our true one and only love.

When you think more holistically about all the different ways we make mistakes and handle them, it seems silly to fixate on the difficulty of getting one thing in particular right…

Something else to consider is: If a friend came to you for advice about how to handle feeling guilty about something, what sort of advice would you give?

Most of us would be far more kinder to our friend than we would be to ourselves. We would probably say something like, “You just need to forgive yourself and let this go. You didn’t know any better. You have the opportunity to do things differently now.”

Or you might find that being hard on yourself also extends to holding others to the same high standards…

Say that you value being on time, and then you’re late for a meeting. You might beat yourself up for being late. And when a friend is late to meet you, instead of going easy on that person, you might be just as angry at them as you would be at yourself.

Toxic Guilt Doesn’t Work

The bottom line is that when we don’t forgive ourselves, we don’t solve the problem. Toxic guilt makes us feel more in control somehow, but it doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t put us in a state of mind that is more conducive to attracting the things we want and making better choices. In fact, we are more likely to start feeling sorry for ourselves rather than feeling empowered to create change.

If this is a pattern for you (as it is for me at times) it can feel really, really weird to let go of bad feelings about the past and start enjoying opportunities for change. It’s almost as if we’re afraid we’ll forget the lessons and make the same mistakes and feel even worse.

This is a harsh model of the world to live in, to be in constant fear of making a mistake. It’s much more effective to view the world as a place of abundance and experimentation…where mistakes are allowed.

A popular saying from the Neurolinguistics Programming approach comes to mind: There is no failure, only feedback.

It is often helpful to think of making mistakes in life as running an ad for a product. If no one is responding to your ad and you’re losing money, it just means your ad isn’t working. Instead of beating yourself up, think of ways you can make your ad more effective. If you spent a lot of time dwelling on a “bad ad,” wouldn’t that be a drain on your energy that you could use instead to write a better ad? (I don’t mean to be insensitive here if you are having a hard time forgiving yourself for an experience that has been traumatic–this may be an overly simplistic metaphor for such a situation, but the underlying idea is the same).

So how exactly do you take action and start forgiving yourself?

Here are my 4 favorite strategies:

1) Make a Self-Forgiveness List

I love this tool, because it’s hands on! This is kind of like the “brain dumping” technique, where you get all the thoughts that are cluttering your mind out on paper. Here we’re focusing on the thoughts that are perpetuating guilt.

Make a list of every single action that comes to mind that you need to forgive yourself for and write it like this: “I forgive myself for…”

Make sure that while you are writing, you emphasize the “I forgive myself” part. You may find yourself in a rhythm where you’re making a list of things you feel guilty about, and it feels more like you’re saying, “I feel guilty about” rather than “I forgive myself for…”

Once you finish your list, there are two things you can do:

You can keep your list and refer to it if necessary. When you find yourself feeling guilty, you can look at your list and remind yourself that your desire is self-forgiveness. Seeing it on paper makes it easier to say, “Cancel!” or “Drop it!” if your mind is stuck in a rut.

Another option is you can destroy your list as a symbolic act. Our minds really respond to these types of symbolic acts, which is why rituals are so powerful.  If you feel moved to do so, you can rip up your list, shred it, or even burn it. Please just make sure that if you burn it, you do it safely. I probably wouldn’t attempt to burn anything unless there just happened to be a fire going in the fireplace after I finished my list.

2) Visualize Self-Forgiveness

Visualization is so powerful. I believe it is a useful key to manifesting anything–even self-forgiveness. Studies have shown that visualization is a way to practice literally anything–athletes improve their game by visualizing it!

Take five minutes every day to visualize forgiving yourself if this is a major theme.  I know this sounds really vague, but it will look different for each person. So what could self forgiveness look like? Here are some suggestions:

* If toxic guilt is holding you back from having something, visualize yourself having it without guilt

*Visualize apologizing to someone you’ve wronged and this person telling you they forgive you

*Visualize yourself making different choices from the ones you made in the past

3) Allow Yourself to Be Loved

Toxic guilt is harsh and not very self-loving. It’s hard to stay in a state of being harsh to yourself if you are focusing more on feeling good and accepting love. You can start by noticing what feels good in the moment. Feel the sun on your face, gaze at a pretty picture, drink warm tea, or take a bubble bath…

When someone is kind to you or says something that makes you feel good, consciously accept it and feel deserving of it. In other words, allow yourself to be loved, to feel loved. Place an emphasis on experiencing pleasure rather than suffering (which is what toxic guilt creates).

See the world as an abundant place of opportunity for change, rather than a place of scarcity where one small mistake means the end of the world.

4) Say “No” to Suffering

While learning to focus on allowing yourself to be loved and feeling pleasure, it can be helpful to develop an aversion to the opposite of that….toxic guilt and suffering.  Develop an aversion to ruminating about mistakes you’ve made in the past. Develop an aversion to feeling bad about yourself.

The only motivation I can imagine for staying in this state, is that its presence reminds you not to make the mistake again (and keeps you stuck). If you’re having trouble forgiving yourself, this motivation may be what’s blocking you.  I can think of two things that would help–one action oriented and one “being” oriented.

First make a list of mistakes you’ve made that you already have learned from. Even just one is helpful here. This will give you confidence that you have the ability to learn from your mistakes and let go of ruminating about them.

Some people may experience fear and anxiety about letting go of guilt, however. If this is the case, making this kind of list can be a form of reassurance (which is not helpful in letting go of the fear/anxiety). So the more being/accepting solution is to simply trust yourself. And the fact that it could take some time to get it right. And that’s okay.


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