Part of healing is forgiving yourself for what you did while under the influence of spiritual abuse. This is a very tricky concept because being the recipient of abuse, makes one a victim. It’s controversial to tell a victim they need to forgive themselves. Nevertheless, self-forgiveness is often an important step in healing as a person processes layers of shame, and manipulation, and lets go of toxic teachings.
Forgive yourself for not leaving sooner. People wake up, when they wake up. The point is, you did wake up. It’s like breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend whom you loved. Sometimes you stay too long, until something happens that is the last tolerable thing. Sometimes people stay until they know they have enough external support to make it on their own. Either way, you’ve gotten out, and that’s the important thing.
Forgive yourself for letting another person come between you and your God (if you still believe). Start listening to your inner voice and your own conscience. Re-define integrity. Integrity is not defined by following and obeying another human being.
Forgive yourself for the things you justified doing, while under the pressure of undue influence. You would not have done them without an implied threat affecting your thinking. Abusive theology blurs boundaries, takes away parental autonomy, and causes policing among members. Forgive yourself for tattling, for shunning, and for participating in hurting others.
Forgive yourself for how you parented your children while you were being spiritually abused. Spiritual abuse makes arbitrary rules and enforces them through teachings, peer pressure, and punishments. You did the best you could. If you need to, apologize to your children. Move forward. Show your children that you’ve changed.
Forgive yourself for not living up to your potential. Forgive yourself for following rules that denied who you are and what you could do. Forgive and start where you are. Develop your brain, your art, and your skills. Honor your past by fervently following your passions in the here and now.
Forgive yourself for the lost years. One way to approach this regret, is to look at difficulties as your teacher. Reflect on the lessons learned, and say, “Thank you for being my very good teacher.” Spiritual abuse is a teacher like no other. Now you have discernment. Now you do your research. You are a healthy skeptic. Now you express your doubts and your boundaries. You smell trouble a mile away.
Forgive yourself for how you allowed your beliefs to affect your relationships. Sometimes you may have turned a blind eye as a way of protecting yourself. Let it go. Forgive yourself if you’ve shunned people. If you can apologize, apologize. Rebuild. Cherish today.
Forgive yourself for how you judged others. Forgive yourself for your anger. The antidote is to develop self-compassion and mindfulness.[i] The past is over. You cannot change it. But you can heal and let go. Abusive groups teach the opposite of compassion. Judging others, leads to judging yourself, and it inhibits compassion and self-awareness.
What painful events have you held onto? What things have you done in the name of faith that you can you barely think about that make you feel ashamed? These are the areas of your story, of spiritual abuse, to recall and write about. Write, “I forgive myself for…” Be specific. Then identify what you learned from the situation. What will you take with you as a life lesson? What have you already quit doing? Being able to describe what you would do differently, shows you are already learning.
Forgiveness is a step that creates space to initiate change. Forgiving yourself instead of beating yourself up, frees up time and energy. In that spaciousness, there is room to breathe and room to heal. When you feel safe you can stop repressing and start creating a life of your own choosing.
[i] I recommend Managing Your Anger by Russell L. Kolts.
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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