There are so many opinions about self-forgiveness. Do’s and don’ts. But already there is a limit in this. There is a denial of what comes up as you ask yourself, “what do I need to forgive myself for?” Don’t deny yourself your natural response.
I am already a hypocrite with what I have said to not do. Perhaps my opinion about forgiveness of self is nothing new.
Forgiving ourselves doesn’t look like a list of bullet points, ‘I am sorry for ABC’, ‘I am sorry for XYZ’. How are you supposed to apologise to yourself when you’re not enmeshed in the sensation of the experience? You cannot write a list to forgive yourself and be done with it.
You have to focus and hone in on one thing at a time.
If you can write a list of things you need to forgive yourself for, you likely have to work through several past situations.
Only in feeling that past experience can you release it. And that requires time, patience, and the intention to feel and release these feelings.
It also comes with the knowledge that a single letter is likely not going to be enough.
Forgiveness of Self to Move Forward
Forgiveness is the conscious action to release feelings of anger, sadness, resentment and revenge towards the person or people that caused you harm.
Forgiveness is a process and part of an equation in moving forward in healing.
In my eyes, the equation is the act of apologising, accepting the apology, forgiving, and moving forward. The method and the moving forward depends on individual contexts. But without these elements, forgiveness is not permanent and runs the risk of a problem – if not the same problem – arising again.
What does it mean to apologise anyway?
It means to acknowledge and take accountability of a wrong you have done to others. What warrants an apology depends on the person that is wronged. For example, now, I have much more tolerance than other people I know for people who raise their voice.
However, there are a handful of people I know who have an anxiety response to raised voices. Even though my tolerance is relatively high now, it does not mean that I don’t have to apologise if I raise my voice too much around those people who have a low tolerance.
And what of acceptance?
Acceptance is the consent of the apology and to accept the apology being offered. So if the apology is not adequate, then you don’t have to accept it. If it is, then that’s fantastic.
What is the difference between accepting an apology and forgiving someone?
There is a fundamental difference between accepting an apology and forgiving someone. Accepting the apology will always please the other person. But you might not be pleased. You might feel pressure to accept the apology, or internally feel that the apology is just not good enough.
Forgiveness is, therefore, not complete because forgiveness is primarily for you. When you forgive someone, you release feelings that you felt and held onto.
An important part of every relationship – familial, platonic or romantic – is to forgive one another. After all, how can we move forward from something without an apology, acceptance, and forgiveness? That is, in my opinion, the equation for moving forward.
Moving forward is always going to be unique to the context. After the apology and forgiveness, maybe there is a discussion about the next steps. Maybe it looks like boundaries, agreeing to see each other less for a little while. Or it could be in spending more time together to mend the gaps that had been made. Perhaps it could require legal parameters for safety.
Nevertheless, we can see that apology and acceptance are collaborations between the people or parties that have been wronged and the people or parties who have done the wrong. We can see that forgiveness is for the hurt party to decide to give or not.
Without all parts of the equation, moving forward is not achievable.
In life, we also have to accept that we might never get an apology. And so the moving forward equation doesn’t work in this scenario and require a different blog post.
However, I mentioned above the different relationships that are likely to need forgiveness – familial, platonic, and romantic.
But your first forgiveness should be to yourself and the relationship you have with yourself.
Yes, I know. Things just got uncomfortable.
And in this scenario, we have full control of apologising and accepting the apology we give to ourselves too, and then, moving forward.
If you were to talk to me right now in person, what three words would you use to describe the relationship you have with yourself? Are they positive? Negative? Sarcastic?
The relationship we have with ourselves will be the most important relationship we ever have in our lives. We simply cannot love another until we love ourselves. Or we can, but from my experience, and what I know, that love is not eternal no matter the relationship tier that love belongs to.
Life has many conditions too, but you can always count on the relationship you have with yourself.
So we must forgive ourselves, otherwise, how can we move forward when we have wronged ourselves?
The relationship I have with my inner-child needed the most healing. I am still working on it. Our inner-child takes the brunt of our childhoods and holds us together. I feel that my true healing from my childhood began when I engaged in active connection with my inner-child.
Inner-child me or present me, I still had to forgive myself.
I would get angry or loud in my childhood when there was a confrontation or a conversation where I couldn’t express myself. This was a coping mechanism – if I was loud enough, then the fighting stopped, or my point would finally get across. So as I grew up, two things happened when I was faced with confrontation; I lost my temper, or I said nothing and became resentful.
I was angry at the others for not letting me talk, angry at myself for losing my cool, frustrated at my inadequacy. I wanted to know what was wrong with me that I couldn’t communicate or communicate without getting angry.
I didn’t know until I started therapy that this was because when I was in situations where there was a tough conversation or a confrontation, I would become overwhelmed and revert back to a child-like state. As you read, in my childhood, my response to those situations was to be the loudest.
In my present, even though I was angry at myself and the others, I was mostly angry at my inner-child for not protecting me and not communicating well enough.
I understood that at that time, she was coping the best way she could. However, the present me was stuck in the past and felt like a failure. I needed to acknowledge my inner-child, thank her for coping as well as she could and then release her of that responsibility of coping like that.
And I needed to forgive myself for being angry at my inner-child.
So, how do we write a letter of forgiveness of self?
I have burnt many forgiveness letters to myself and other people under a Full Moon. But the templates are always the same.
Personally, I love to just write. I don’t add bells and whistles onto my letters. But, I really encourage you to explore what works best for you. Remember, the best way to embrace forgiveness is to feel it. Some people can embrace feelings and sensations by using all five senses. Don’t be afraid to draw, add photographs, spray your pages with perfume. Create your forgiveness letters with all the elements that help you.
The most important aspect of a letter of forgiveness of self is to be honest. I didn’t realise how much I still have to work on even after years in therapy. As long as you have the intention to forgive yourself and commit to the actions of doing so, then you’ve already begun.
The inner-child letter.
I want to make it very clear right now that you likely will write several of these. I’ve written too many to count. Your childhood is the foundation of your life. Even if you had an impeccable childhood and all your needs were met, there is a reason you have sought this information out.
Don’t put a limit on the time or volume of your letters to your inner-child.
How we respond to our childhood as teenagers and adults is completely individual. Your journey of healing is uniquely yours. You will instinctively feel the healing connection between you and your inner-child. And, you will notice how you behave differently to triggers in your reality.
The contents of these letters are likely to be overwhelming, so be gentle to yourself. You might need to cry for a little while. That’s okay. You might need to go to sleep or want to shut yourself away. That’s okay too. Ensure that you put yourself in the position where you can get back up again after a few hours or the next day.
That could look like having your partner or family member know what you’re doing, so they check on you a little more.
Tips for building comfort in your atmosphere:
- Essential oils – use oils that make you feel embraced by the air around you.
- Wrap yourself in a heavy blanket – having a weighted blanket or a blanket to keep you warm also feels like an embrace.
- Write in coloured ink – use a pen that has your favourite colour. Since we associate favourite colours with good and positive memories, I find writing in my favourite colour gives me confidence.
- Choose your day – the experience is very emotional. I suggest choosing a day you can curl up and be lazy after. Going to bed straight away is tempting, but it is also a good idea to go for a walk or have a small dance party to let our body’s emotional energy flow.
- No distractions – if you need music on, play music that is of a good frequency, don’t get distracted by background noise. It is also a good idea to set your phone to do-not-disturb or leave it in another room altogether.
- Write it how you feel it – There is no right or wrong way to script your scenario or letter. Don’t worry about your grammar. Don’t worry about anything but getting it out.
Remember, you have to feel. You have to put yourself in the mindset of forgiveness. Give yourself permission to forgive yourself for the resentment of your inner-child. It’s okay.
Inner-Child Letter Formula
Connection to childhood
Letter to your inner-child
Release + Aftercare
First, you have to identify the scenario or the feeling you’re going to focus on. To do this, you’re going to think about the last time that you became angry, upset, overwhelmed, anxious, frightened, frustrated, depressed, annoyed – or anything that made you doubt yourself or feel worthless, hopeless or not loved.
Ask yourself; when did I last lose emotional control? When did I last feel controlled by emotions? The first scenario or feeling that comes to mind is what you’re going to address first.
I will use the example of the confrontation where I lost my temper and felt like I wasn’t a good enough communicator.
I am 20
I am at a work meeting for my old job, and my boss is not listening. He is cutting in and demanding that everyone listen to what he says and that he knows better because he is the boss. He doesn’t know better because he does not have training in the systems he is giving orders about. His orders are eventually going to make everything harder for myself and my team. If he would only shut up for two minutes and let someone who had more experience than him explain there was going to be far less anxiety and stress in the future. He interrupts me again. So, I yell, “Could you just shut up for one second?”
Your scenario or feeling can be written in as much detail as possible. I recommend writing in the present tense, so you really feel all your emotions as if you are in that reality.
The next step is to identify the triggers. What set you off and what did it remind you of from your childhood?
My boss speaking over me reminded me of my dad.
My bosses loud voice reminded me of parents fighting.
None of my co-workers standing up for ourselves reminded me of standing in the middle of fights and not having help to stop the fighting.
Identifying the Connection to childhood
Now, we’re going to connect the triggers back to our childhood. We’re going to put ourselves in a scenario of our childhood with the corresponding triggers. There might be more than one scenario. It’s your choice how many to write about or include in a single letter. The most important thing is to acknowledge the feelings of your inner-child. How were they feeling? Name those feelings throughout your scenario writing.
I am twelve.
I am awakened by my dad’s voice. He’s angry and sounds scared. So he probably had a nightmare again. But he’s angrier than he’s scared. My mum is with him, but she can’t get his full attention, so he becomes louder and louder. My mum becomes louder and louder. I have school in the morning. My siblings are awake now too. They’re telling me to do something to help – to make it stop.
I get out of bed to go and do something but I can’t. I don’t want to open the door. I don’t want to be in the middle of it. But my siblings are there and scared too, and I am the oldest. I go out, scared, tired, angry too. How many more times is this going to happen?
I walk down the hallway. They are in the kitchen. Their shadows look bigger than what they should. A plate goes flying and smashes into the tiles on the floor. I feel sick—my stomach drops. My heart beats faster and faster and faster. I am drenched in sweat. They can’t see me, but they know their children can hear everything.
They’re swearing at each other, and I am clutching the wall. I can’t step forward. I am a coward. I am not able to protect myself or my siblings. I am not a good provider. I should be brave enough to stop it and because I cannot stop it, my siblings will suffer.
Another plate and another plate. And then some food. We don’t have a lot of money for food. So how dare they waste it. How dare they waste it!
I am strong suddenly—the idea of my stomach growling in hunger for no reason than their fight fuels my rage.
“Shut the fuck up!” I scream at them. “Your kids can hear you!”
They stop for one, two, three seconds before my mum says to go to my room and tells me that it’s not my place to say anything. They disappear into their bedroom together. It is quiet now. My siblings are asleep. But I can’t fall asleep, and no one is helping me.
There is quite a lot to unpack here. Being responsible for children at 15, when I am still a child myself. Walking into a violent setting. Going against my parents. Demanding my safety and then being dismissed. Having to ask for the fighting to cease in the first place. My dad’s voice. The broken glass on the floor. Not having anyone soothe me.
Letter to your inner-child
The prep-work has led to this step where you write a letter to your inner-child. This is just a sample and not as long as my usual letters are. However, you should only write according to what is best for you. You decide that.
To my inner-child:
I am so sorry that you had to experience that all by yourself. I am so sorry that no one was there to hold you or comfort you when you did such a great job at getting the violence to stop. I am so proud of how well you held yourself together. You are an inspiration to me.
Nevertheless, I am sorry you had to go and break that argument up. I am sorry that you saw your parents fighting like that. I understand why you got angry and yelled. The situation would have been so overwhelming to deal with at such a young age. You did so well. You got the fighting to stop. And then you went to bed with no one to soothe you. You deserved so much more.
I am so sorry that I was angry at you and resented how you coped with things. I want to reassure you now that I am no longer angry or resentful towards you. Please accept my apology. Please know that I have grown a lot and that I have healed myself a lot too.
And to myself, I forgive you for having those emotions towards your inner child.
Release + Aftercare
You have to soothe yourself now. Imagine that your physical body is your inner-child, but your arms, the blankets, the essential oils are all the adult you reassuring your inner-child. I don’t recommend doing this lying down or doing this in your bed. You should sit up with your back against a solid surface, so you feel that your body is being supported.
If you had music on, turn it off. Let everything become still and silent. Put your letter on your lap. Close your eyes and take ten slow deep breaths. I want you to visualise and imagine you, as your inner-child you described in your letter. Let your inner-child come to you in your imagination. Take ten more deep breaths.
Hold the image of your younger self and open your eyes. Pick up your letter and read the entire letter aloud, word for word.
After, wrap your arms around yourself. Hold the letter between your heart and your arms. Hold yourself together tightly.
Speak reassuring phrases such as, “I love you. I love you. I love you. I am so proud of you. I am so proud of how you held it together. I love you so much. Thank you. Thank you for loving me. I am sorry for not loving you properly. I forgive you. I forgive you, and I want you to trust me that I can do it now.”
When you’re finished, and your breathing and heart have returned to a balanced state, you might feel many things. Whatever you feel, it’s okay. If you don’t think you can manage your feelings on your own, make sure that you call someone you trust to help you.
Spend the rest of the day being gentle with yourself. Eat good food, watch some TV, have a bath, have a dance party.
It feels like a lot, even writing all this!
The thing about your inner-child is that they just want the best for you. They want you to heal them, so they can heal you. Your inner-child is your greatest cheerleader, mentor, life coach.
Love them and forgive yourself. Make sure that after a couple of hours or a couple of days that you do something fun. Your inner-child wants to have fun with you! Go have some fun!
Above I said that I now have a higher tolerance for people who raise their voices. This is a reflection of my growth and healing. Not only am I able to communicate better, but I am not triggered by raised voices 90% of the time I am around them.
I can do it, so can you.