Do you beat yourself up when you don’t feel like you did something right? Have you seen or read something and all of the sudden felt this extreme amount of guilt or shame over ways you’ve handled things in the past?
I have. I used to use the stories of my mistakes to beat the crap out of myself. My own stories were weapons of mass destruction to my inner world. To add insult to injury, I would unconsciously take the guilt and/or shame over my mistakes out on the people I loved the most. I would expect them to give me the love and compassion I wasn’t giving to myself. This was a vicious cycle.
As I explained in the introduction to the Listening with Love Series, I’m doing this to get better at listening with love. One of the important steps is to notice when I’m not or I haven’t—without the expectation of doing it perfectly. For me, it’s the difference between self-blame, which is a form of self-abuse and taking responsibility and accountability for my actions.
With self-blame, we beat ourselves up. To use the Ohio State University 9 Dimensions of Wellness, we could use any of these 9 dimensions as a tool of self-abuse: Creative, emotional, spiritual, physical, intellectual, social, career, financial, and/or environmental. That’s where self-abuse can get tricky. It can sneak into any area of our lives and do damage to our health and wellness.
We can use creativity with the stories we tell ourselves. We can try to numb, run, avoid, or suppress our feelings, only to make them come out sideways. We can use guilt and shame as spiritual practice to beat ourselves into line. We can avoid movement, eat poorly, drink or take unhealthy substances, and/or do self-harming acts to cause ourselves physical pain. We can use what we learn or don’t learn against ourselves . We can use relationships as forms of self-abuse. We can stay in jobs that go against what is best for our highest good. We can spend money we don’t have or spend money we do have on things that will cause us or others harm, and then use the consequence of that to beat ourselves up more. We can put ourselves in unsafe and unhealthy environments as a way to abuse ourselves.
I want you to see a glimpse of the ways we can self-abuse in all nine dimensions. The problem I see with so much of what is out there is people not recognizing how they are self-abusing. I know it took me a long time to figure that out for myself. I might see one or two areas, but I couldn’t see that I was still doing it in others. I know when a person is in a toxic relationship there is a lot of self-abuse happening. We use ourselves as punching bags, and it can be a challenge to break those patterns. If this is resonating, believe me, you are not alone.
To break any toxic and/or unhealthy patterns, we HAVE to forgive ourselves. Not listening with love to ourselves and others is an unhealthy pattern, and I’m still working on it. Forgiving myself, and then taking accountability and responsibility is how the unhealthy pattern is being replaced with healthier one. I’m noticing with continued work, I forgive myself faster and faster.
I had two conversations recently that I noticed I wasn’t listening with love. I got reactive. I could no longer hear what the people were saying. The good news is that when I gave myself some space, I figured out in both situations I was reacting to unintegrated feelings from the past. One was from an argument my parents had when I was about 11-years old, and the other was pain from hearing about a friend dying in a car accident when I was 16-years old. My fears took over, and I could no longer listen with love.
The blessing is by having these things come up, I could integrate them. I used both breathing and EFT Tapping to help me with the process. By taking those steps, I could see value in my reactions. I forgave myself, and I moved on. Then I went back to the people and took accountability and responsibility for my reactions. How I reacted was NOT their faults! Nobody is responsible for my unhealthy choices. When I realized that, I started making choices that were healthy for myself and my relationships.
I knew when I started this journey that things would come up. I would have to look at things that I wasn’t willing or able to see before. I knew there would be A LOT of forgiving that would need to take place. I’ve been writing this series for six weeks now. I know my relationships are improving by how much my teens are coming to me to talk. The energy around most of the conversations feels different—better.
What I realized is that when I don’t forgive myself, I set myself up to be even more reactive. I know that in order to listen with love, I need to be responsive. Fear, shame, guilt, and unintegrated feelings from the past will surface from time to time. In order to listen with love, I must find ways to be accountable and responsible for what I’m projecting, otherwise the person I’m listening to will not feel seen or heard. Thankfully, I’m able to talk through most of this with the people involved, but sometimes I won’t feel seen and heard with them, and I need a find a way to give that to myself, which is what Episode 3 was all about. Make sure to go back and check that one out if you missed it.
When I truly forgive myself, NOBODY can use my past against me. They can try, but it doesn’t work. I learn from my mistakes, so I no longer use them to self-abuse. Being able to forgive ourselves and move on is essential for healthy relationships. If we don’t forgive ourselves, we can get caught up in cycles of abuse in any one of those nine dimensions I mentioned above. Ignoring the problems only makes the problems grow bigger. I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of stuff I put up with when I didn’t forgive myself. I couldn’t listen with love because I loathed myself. I couldn’t hear the voice of love trying to speak to me, because I was self-abusing.
I wanted to add that just in case someone you love is caught up in any toxic relationships—maybe it’s you. I know it can be challenging to listen with love when we fear for someone’s safety. It takes a lot of guilt, shame, and self-abuse to stay in these situations. We can tell people they are loved and worthy until we are blue in the face, but they have to believe it for themselves. Feeling safe to talk to someone who won’t add to the fear, shame, and guilt is a HUGE step for someone in this situation. Listening with love is one of our greatest tools, but one of the hardest for us to utilize in these times of extreme stress. Sometimes we need to get outside help.
We may need to forgive ourselves and move on multiple times while trying to listen with love in abusive situations, and that’s okay! I’ve definitely got caught up in my reactions when listening to people who are going through this. I do my best to take responsibility and accountability for my reactions when I see them. I know the worst thing I can do in this situation is blame the victim for my reactions. When I do that, I know I’m giving them a bat to beat themselves with, and that is the LAST thing I want to do.
Forgiving ourselves and others is an act of self-care. It’s about letting go of unhealthy energy we are carrying around inside of us. It keeps us from creating toxic patterns in our relationships with ourselves and others. When we don’t forgive, the people we love most are the ones who pay the biggest price for it. Our resentments project out and they are aimed to hurt anyone who might trigger the unintegrated feelings. They keep us from being able to listen with love. Sometimes, when we listen with love, we will hear love telling us to move on from relationships that aren’t healthy. Forgive yourself and move on. It’s in the best interest of all your relationships.
With Love and Gratitude,
©Rachael Wolff 2022