Learning to Forgive Ourselves

by Guest Contributor Dr. Mark Leonard, EdD

The purpose of Whole Women Link is two-fold: First, to provide a haven for women to gain deeper levels of wholeness. Second, to link this sense of wholeness with our communities as we grow. Though this is a place for women, our lives and communities include men. Our wholeness includes our interactions with these men. We, therefore, saw it fitting to include the voice of honorable male professionals to provide a perspective that fosters the two-fold purpose we hope you gain from linking with us.

Dr. Mark Leonard, EdD, will join us this month as a guest contributor. He has a doctorate in Organizational Leadership from Pepperdine University. His specialty is in helping people and organizations achieve more and be happier doing it. His most recent work has focused on women owned businesses to create freedom without putting additional burden on families. Additionally, Dr. Leonard is happily married to his high school sweetheart, Becky. They are the parents of 4 girls and 2 boys. Their familial joy is derived from spending time with their 5 grandchildren. We believe you’ll enjoy his insights on forgiveness.

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Years ago we had a very traumatic event in our family. It is too personal to share here, but it changed the composure of our family for many years. Several years after the traumatic and egregious event, I found myself holding on to anger. Even after court proceedings I found I was not happy with the outcome. For several years I harbored negative feelings that impacted my very being.

A wise friend saw my angst and kindly suggested I learn to forgive, not only those that offended us, but also myself. Without forgiveness he suggested it would “canker my soul”. He was right of course, and I worked to make amends. It did not mean I needed to forget the event; but I did need to release the anger, frustration, and sadness.

After working on forgiving the other person it was time to work on forgiving myself. Why would I need to forgive myself if we were the victims? Without forgiving myself for the anger and frustration, I could not be totally healed. The following are a few steps that help us to forgive ourselves.

  1. Love – As we learn to forgive ourselves, we grow in love. Not just towards others, but an increase in love towards self. Commit to see yourself in eyes that garner respect and love from others. If you struggle to see your own self worth, develop a journal where you track compliments and encouraging words from others. This may take practice, but as you begin to capture nice words that others say about you, you will begin to see the love that they have for you. One example I have used is to remember the encouraging words from a loving grand-parent.
  2. Commit to no harm – Just like we commit to not harm others, we can commit to not harming ourselves. Similar to physical harm, our emotional harm can leave scars that take years to erase. When you find yourself thinking ill of yourself, commit to seeing yourself with new eyes. These eyes see you for the greatness and beauty you have. Practice each day seeing what you have accomplished and record success. Even if it is small, the accumulation of success has a compound effect.
  3. Patient – Learning to forgive ourselves may take time. It is often more difficult than learning to forgive others. Don’t beat yourself up if you find that it takes longer than you hoped. Remember, you are not your actions or thoughts. Those are simply actions and thoughts, and can be changed. Be patient and willing to try again each new day.

As you focus on loving yourself and commit to not harming yourself, you will find that you will have the ability to forgive yourself. Continue to practice self-forgiveness and you will see a decrease in guilt and shame.

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