Why Forgiving Yourself Can Be So Hard (But How to Do It Anyway)
1. Write a letter confessing your secret. Include every detail. Take your time to make sure that you have left nothing out. When you are certain that the letter is complete, perform a ritual where you burn the letter or consign it to the sea—anything that will totally obliterate it. As you do this, say, "I put my guilt behind me. Now it belongs to God (or the universe)." Repeat this ritual several times, as needed. You may not completely absolve yourself, but you will be bringing your guilt to the light, which is the only place where healing psychological scars can occur.
2. Put your misdeed on someone else's shoulders, imagining that the guilt isn't yours. Now sit in judgment. Write out in detail what punishment this person deserves, and at the same time include reasons for mercy. Consider the balance between punishment and forgiveness. Most guilty people will be much more lenient on someone else than on themselves. This exercise gives you a perspective on your guilty feelings.
3. Adopt a mantra that you say to yourself the moment that a guilty memory or feeling arises. The following phrases are particularly effective: "I'm not that person anymore;" or "My attention belongs in the present;" or "I am not here to suffer anymore." Choose the appropriate phrase and repeat it, without fail, every time you feel guilty. In this way, you are not only telling yourself the truth, for you aren't the person anymore who committed a past misdeed, but you are also giving your brain a new, more positive input. This will help to wean it off the old wiring that keeps messaging guilt long after guilt is deserved.
No matter how big or small your guilty secret, no matter if your guilt is nagging or crushing, the goal is always the same. Do whatever it takes until you truly believe that you have been forgiven.
Deepak Chopra, MD, is the author of What Are You Hungry For?: The Chopra Solution to Permanent Weight Loss, Well-Being, and Lightness of Soul, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center.
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