Once the addiction recovery process begins, you’re dealing with a wide range of emotions, including shame and guilt. Self-forgiveness is a helpful way to cope with these negative feelings. Therefore, learning to forgive yourself is an important part of the healing process. For recovery to truly be successful, you must examine your feelings of guilt or shame and learn to forgive.
The Purpose of Guilt and Shame
Despite the unpleasant feelings they bring, guilt and shame play an important role in life. They are a part of the human conscience, which is important for helping to understand right from wrong. Specifically, your conscience helps you determine how you feel about your actions based on your personal value system. Facing these feelings is an important part of the recovery process. You must practice self-forgiveness if you hope to complete a treatment program successfully.
Break the Cycle of Guilt
Before you can forgive yourself, you must break the cycle of guilt. This typically includes four steps.
- Face your wrongs. If you try to hide the things you’ve done or bury the feelings associated with your past actions, you stay in a negative cycle. Admit you made mistakes and then work on the second step.
- Correct your wrongs. You may not be able to fix each situation, but you can “correct” them in other ways. Do something nice for the people you’ve hurt in the past or take part in an activity that helps your community on a larger scale.
- Ask for forgiveness. If you can, speak to the people you’ve hurt to ask if they can forgive you. However, remember that sometimes talking to someone you’ve hurt will only hurt him or her further, so consider your choice carefully.
- Forgive yourself. Only after you’ve completed the first three steps can you move onto forgiveness.
How to Practice Self-Forgiveness
Self-forgiveness is often the hardest part of the recovery process. What works for one patient may not work for another. Most people begin with talk therapy. If you seek treatment at an inpatient or outpatient facility, talk therapy will be an integral part of treatment.
If you aren’t using a treatment program, you can seek a therapist on your own. Even talking to a close friend or family member about what happened to you can help you to put your past in the past and work toward your future. Don’t be afraid to talk to yourself, either. Speaking positive statements such as “I forgive myself” aloud is more beneficial to many people than they think it will be. Several other types of self-forgiveness are common as well.
Ways to Forgive Yourself
- Writing about your past, who you hurt and how you want your future to look
- Symbolic forgiveness such as burning a piece of paper with your wrongs on it or releasing a balloon
- Mindful meditation and deep breathing exercises
- Prayer and church meetings
Practicing forgiveness in recovery is just one step. Recovery is an ongoing process. Don’t feel you need to face your addiction alone.
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