In Step 4 of the forgiveness process the focus is on healing our guilt. Underneath your anger, you will find guilt. No one wants to be aware of their guilt and the possible shame that goes with it. Guilt is particularly hard to get in touch with and deal with. Guilt includes all those negative feelings we believe to be true about ourselves. It is something we don’t want to know about ourselves. We would much rather pretend that it doesn’t exist. The problem is if we don’t look squarely at our guilty feelings we have to put them somewhere else, namely on other people. Whenever we attack someone even in times when we think it is in self-defense, we need to become sensitive to the motivation behind our actions. Often our actions are based in guilt and fear, not in genuine concern for ourselves and others. As soon as something happens to us, we can only see the situation through our negative thinking caused by our guilt. Until we recognize what we are doing, we will continue to blame others and have a distorted view of what is actually happening. We need to learn how to see through our smoke screens and own our guilt. We heal guilt by taking responsibility for our choices. Keep in mind that holding on to guilt and being stuck in a victim role is a choice, too. As we begin to heal our guilt, the prison walls around our heart begin to fall away. The healing that takes place during this phase will ultimately enable us to accept and absorb our pain, which is a pivotal point in the healing process.
The way to work with guilt is to recognize that when you are experiencing feelings ranging from a slight irritation to a full-blown fight, you are covering up feelings of guilt. Once you ask what you are accusing others of and recognize that you are also accusing yourself of the same kind of thing, you are beginning to uncover your guilt. When these feelings are exposed, you can begin to take responsibility for them, which begins the healing process. Once these feelings are exposed, you can begin to take responsibility for them, which begins the healing process. When you recognize that you are capable of committing a similar kind of act in a different form as your offender, you begin to recognize that we are all capable of doing things that hurt ourselves and others. In some respects, we are more alike than different. In acknowledging that all of us are capable of doing similar things, we begin to see the situation differently.
This may be the time when we need to forgive ourselves for something we may have done in the past. As we learn how to forgive ourselves, our interpretation of reality begins to shift. When we begin to peel away our guilt, we begin to see the situation differently, not through the eyes of guilt any more, but with eyes of compassion. Once we take responsibility for our actions, holding on to guilt becomes a choice. We can choose to hold on or to let go. Healing guilt is about looking at what we have done, taking responsibility, making other choices, and realizing that we are greater than our thoughts and behaviors. That is not to say that other people’s behavior may not need to be changed. The important issue here is our motivation. Are we coming from a place of guilt or compassion that is influencing what we do? There is something far greater inside of us that we have covered by our guilt. The more guilt we can heal, the closer we come to the truth of who we are, and the more we can hear the voice of our higher nature. When we can recognize the truth in ourselves as we heal, we will also see the truth in others. This is the work of Step Four.
To be able to forgive others you need to be able to forgive yourself. Begin this journal exercise by asking yourself, “What do I feel guilty of in relation to this situation or at other times in my life?” Explore whatever comes up without judgment. Don’t be afraid to reach back in time for feelings of guilt. This is part of your healing process. Feel your feelings as they surface and be open to what they want to say to you. “Is there something now or in the past that needs healing and, if so, what actions can I take to heal it?” Even if it is clear that you did nothing to the perpetrator, you will may have feelings of guilt. If there is something that you feel ashamed of, explore those feelings to get to the roots of your wound. This action will uncover something you need to forgive yourself for. Guilt will also surface after you ask yourself, “What am I secretly accusing myself of?” If you are honest with yourself, you will find guilt associated in some way with what has happened. Explore this in your journal. It could be that you recognize something about your actions or inaction that has caused these feelings or thoughts about certain things. Journal with whatever comes up. You will probably have to repeat the journal exercise in this step a number of times before you are able to release some of your guilt. Guilt runs so deeply that if we worked on it for a lifetime we would still find more! What’s important is to be gentle with yourself as you do this work. After you have explored your guilt feelings ask yourself, “How have I placed my feelings of guilt on others, such as through blaming or judging? What can I do differently now?” Go deep within and listen.
Reflection: Ask yourself, how has my unresolved guilt affected my life? How has guilt kept me trapped in the victim role? How has guilt kept me from forgiving myself and others? Please share your thoughts on : https://www.facebook.com/7-Steps-to-Forgiveness-109220899099707/, twitter @erborris or www.linkedin.com/in/dreileenborris
As always, I am interested in hearing about your experience and welcome all your comments, so please feel free to share your thoughts on this blog. I am looking forward to hearing from you.
For more information on learning how to forgive go to “Finding Forgiveness: A 7-Step Program for Letting Go of Anger and Bitterness” by Eileen R. Borris-Dunchunstang.