Part of the recovery process is facing the parts of yourself that you aren’t proud of. When you were at the worst point in your addiction, you may have done many things you regret, such as lying, stealing, cheating, and hurting others. Getting sober requires you to accept all your actions and make amends when possible, but one of the most difficult aspects of recovery is that it requires you to forgive yourself.
Why Forgiving Yourself is Essential to Recovery
Everyone’s core cause of addiction is different, but for most people, it is feelings of shame and self-loathing that keep them trapped in the addictive cycle. Addiction and risky behavior are sometimes born out of misplaced guilt. Once the cycle begins, it is almost impossible to escape the guilt-inducing consequences of harboring an addiction to a destructive substance.
Moving out of addiction and into recovery means you no longer choose drugs or alcohol to cover up your pain; you face your choices head-on. This is an important step in recovery, but to truly embrace the process, you also have to forgive yourself for the harmful choices you have made. If you cannot forgive yourself, you are more likely to continue feeling shame and guilt, which puts you at greater risk for relapse due to inescapable negative emotions.
Breaking the Cycle of Shame
Although guilt can help develop a moral compass and create a personal value system, shame can lead to negative thoughts that can harm your recovery. Dwelling on these feelings can keep your nervous system on high alert and prevent you from moving forward and learning important lessons about managing your addictive behaviors.
To fully forgive yourself, you first need to break the shame cycle by:
- Admitting your mistakes and facing the consequences
- Righting the wrongs you have done
- Asking for (but not expecting) forgiveness from those you have hurt
- Practicing self-forgiveness
What is Self Forgiveness?
Self-forgiveness is a critical step on your journey to recovery. It marks a turning point in the recovery process, allowing you to let go of the shame and guilt surrounding your addiction.
Self-forgiveness allows you to separate your identity from the mistakes you have made, helping you learn from your choices and move forward. It requires you to find a balance between taking responsibility for your actions while maintaining a positive sense of self-worth.
Research into self-forgiveness suggests the process occurs over four stages, called the 4 R’s of forgiveness, which includes:
- Responsibility: Acknowledging wrongdoing and not laying blame elsewhere.
- Remorse: Recognizing harmful emotions like shame and reframing them as feelings of guilt to motivate yourself to make amends and positive changes.
- Restoration: Actively repairing relationships and reaffirming your moral values.
- Renewal: Achieving moral growth by practicing self-compassion, self-respect, and self-confidence.
How Do You Forgive Yourself?
There are numerous strategies you can use to forgive yourself. Self-forgiveness is an ongoing process of emotional work and self-reflection, and it takes practice to get right.
Start by attending individual therapy sessions with a qualified counselor who can help you identify negative emotional thoughts and the potential sources of your addiction. Your counselor can then work with you to develop tools you can use to begin the self-forgiveness process, including:
Write it down
Writing is an incredible therapeutic tool. Jotting down your thoughts and feelings in a journal can help you gain perspective and transform negative internal talk into positive affirmations. It can also help you remain in the present moment to practice mindfulness without leaving you to dwell on shameful emotions.
Another excellent exercise for promoting self-forgiveness is to write yourself a letter. In the letter, identify negative actions and take responsibility for them, express remorse for what you did, and give yourself advice on making amends.
Use positive self-talk
Compassion is critical for self-forgiveness, but that little voice inside your head making you feel ashamed can interfere with your progress. Positive self-talk could be repeating positive affirmations to yourself or learning to notice when negative talk invades your thoughts and having a conversation with your inner critic.
Practice mindful meditation
Mindfulness practices, like meditation and deep breathing, can help you stay in the present moment. Using them helps to avoid lingering over shameful feelings and negative past actions. Once you have accepted responsibility for the actions and their consequences, mindful meditation can help you avoid falling back into the cycle of shame that can disrupt your journey to recovery.
Gain a different perspective
Often, addicts can be overly self-critical of their past actions, which can contribute to shameful feelings. Getting a different perspective on your situation can help you break out of negative thought patterns.
Discussing your addiction with other addicts in group therapy or with your therapist in individual therapy offers a safe space for you to express emotions and thoughts that might be holding you back from forgiving yourself.
Other members of your therapy group may have been through a similar situation and can offer insight into how they overcame their shame and forgave themselves. Hearing about similar experiences from others may also give you a new perspective on how you’re treating yourself internally.
For example, you may have sympathy for someone else who acted the same way you did, prompting you to wonder why you do not possess the same compassion for yourself.
Work On Forgiving Yourself Every Day
Self-forgiveness is never easy, and taking responsibility for past actions can evoke intense, deep-seated emotions that can be challenging to deal with. Seeking help through group and individual therapy at Right Path Addiction Centers can give you the tools you need to practice daily self-forgiveness and move forward on your road to recovery.
Native of Moldova, Dr. Zhitar is Board Certified in Addiction Medicine as well as Internal Medicine and completed his training at UPMC Shadyside, Pittsburgh, PA in 2000.