When I think about forgiveness, I automatically think about it in terms of something you do to someone else. It is an idea that is closely entwined with compassion and kindness and is an active decision to let go of the anger you hold towards someone for something you believe they have done wrong.
The ‘Unforgiveness Hook’ metaphor by Stephen Hayes is a great illustration of forgiving others and proposes that when you don’t forgive someone else it is like being on a giant hook alongside the other person. You are the one feeling the anger, resentment and holding the thoughts of the offence in your mind. The only way for you to get off the hook is to let them off first.
If you would like to take a look, you can find this here: https://www.psychologytools.com/worksheet/unforgiveness-hook-metaphor/
But what about self-forgiveness? What if you are the only one on the hook and you are keeping yourself there through self-critical thinking, self-blame or punishing yourself for something you believe you have done wrong? What if the anger is towards yourself, rather than towards another person?
In this case, it may be helpful for us to think about the function and the consequences of unforgiveness when we apply it towards ourselves. By function, I mean what we are trying to do by holding onto the anger, resentment or guilt about something we have done (or think we have done) wrong. When I say consequences, I mean how you end up feeling, thinking and behaving as a result.
Here is an example of how to look at the function and consequences of unforgiveness and to see how you could begin to forgive yourself.
What I am not forgiving: Shouting at the kids when they didn’t get their shoes on.
What I am doing: telling myself what a bad parent I am, telling myself I should not have got so frustrated, going over all the other things I have done wrong as a parent.
Short term aim: To be a better parent
Consequences for my:
- Emotions: Guilt, shame, anger (with myself), anxiety.
- Thoughts: I am no good, I can’t do it, everyone else can get their kids to listen but I can’t, the kids are going to think I’m a horrible parent, I just shout all the time, I should be able to control myself better.
- Behaviours: Distract myself on Facebook, get more snappy or go quiet.
- Physical symptoms: Tired, tight chest, churning stomach.
Are the consequences helpful? No
Has what I am doing met my short term aim? No
How can I put this into a different perspective to help me to forgive myself? (Tip: Think about what a good friend might say to you. Can you zoom out to the bigger picture? Would you advise someone else to think and feel this way in the same situation?) Most of the time I don’t shout at the kids, everyone gets frustrated sometimes, I love my children and do my best for them, I can’t change what has happened but I can do things differently next time.
What would better meet my short term aim? Taking a breath then speaking to the kids in a calm voice next time. Praise the kids when they do get their shoes on.
I would like to invite you to think about something you are being too hard on yourself about at the moment and to give this process a try. After all, it is Forgiveness Day – forgive yourself!
Written by Louise Aaron.