Most of us have heard that forgiveness is a healing step toward recovery. When we read these words, we think of applying the act of forgiveness to the people in our lives. But do we think about the character most central to our lives, and our healing?
I’m talking about us. Me. Ourselves.
Do we offer the same compassion, grace, and forgiveness to ourselves that we work so hard to extend to others? I speak for myself, when I answer honestly, no.
Self forgiveness is bringing the healing act of forgiveness to ourselves and our lives. When we bring love and understanding to who we are, we begin to shed light on healing and recovery. But how can we feel love for ourselves when we hold the strongest barricade against that love – the false belief that we don’t deserve to be forgiven.
That feeling of well being, the peace that we crave, comes from deep within. It is comprised of understanding and compassion, and that includes ourselves as part of our world. With all of the dark and the light, the ups and the downs, the hills and the valleys, all of it makes up our life and who we are. We’ve got to be on our side, though, and not against ourselves, to see it.
Have you noticed, that just as in so many other areas, we fall short when it comes to us. We give our time to others, our love to others, our empathy and encouragement to others… but we neglect to give those very gifts right back to ourselves.
We promise unconditional love to those we cherish, and yet to ourselves we say, “Once you’re perfect, I will love you. When you are without error or fault, I will love you. Once you never disappoint, I will love you.” This sets up any possibility of loving ourselves as a conditional love. We are too beautiful and too amazing to accept that.
When I had postpartum depression with my first child, I blamed myself for feeling the way I did. I felt it was my fault that I had it, that my weak character, my inability to be strong, had brought on my postpartum depression. When I began therapy for my PPD, my therapist helped me realize that I did not cause my PPD. I couldn’t have predicted it or prevented it. And I needed to forgive myself for having it.
I held an illusion of myself, one of perfection, as the only canvas where I would apply acceptance to myself. I spent years angry at myself and ashamed by what I interpreted as not good enough parenting while I had postpartum depression. I was sad for what I judged myself as: an inferior parent to a beautiful child. My lack of forgiveness for myself was a shameful secret that I carried on top of the burden of blaming myself for my postpartum depression. The lack of empathy I had for myself and for the difficulty and challenge of what I was enduring during that time stood in my way of being able to understand what I had lived through.
At one time I found it difficult to confess what I believed about myself while in those dark days. That I had done things as a new mother that made me unforgivable. I didn’t smile at my baby, I didn’t laugh with him, I wasn’t happy and I wasn’t joyful. The pain from the honesty of knowing I had disappointed myself, hurt more than words can say. I didn’t give thought to how I was struggling, I only compared myself to those who were being the kind of mother I wanted to be, but wasn’t able to be.
Deep down, my fear was that if I forgave myself, then I was saying that what I remember being, was OK. And I didn’t want it to be OK, because I felt the guilt of not being perfect for my child. During one session, my therapist explained to me that my thoughts against self forgiveness were based on love for my child. It was my wish of what I wanted for him, that made me unable to forgive myself. This made sense to me. The realization that my therapist helped me reach was that as long as self forgiveness remained an intangible, I wouldn’t be able to make peace with that part of my life. My postpartum depression would always feel like a separate occurrence, a step out of who I was, rather than a part of my life and a path in my journey. It would always feel unresolved.
By seeing how much surviving postpartum depression has strengthened my belief in myself, and helped me be part of a community of strong, surviving women, I can appreciate and accept, postpartum depression as part of me, not separate. I don’t need to feel cut off from a part of who I am and I can extend love to all of me, not just the non-erring aspects.
I now see that when I was surviving postpartum depression, I was not a bad parent. I was not an inadequate mother, and I wasn’t unfit. I loved my child, and I fought to be who I wanted to be for him. This insight helps me accept my path, the things that brought me to who I am now and the mother I never gave up hope of being.
My postpartum depression is not something wrong that I did or brought upon myself. It is not a reflection of me or means that I failed. It is part of my life and my journey, but not my entire journey. I have come to let go of my guilt, my shame, and my blame, and now I am able to see what my only desire has always been: to be the mother I knew was there, somewhere, and one who would find her way back again.
Self forgiveness says ‘yes’ to the complete person that is me. I should be forgiven, I need to be forgiven. I did nothing wrong by having postpartum depression, and I did more things right than I allowed myself to remember. I am not the sum of my imperfections or perfections, or stellar care or struggling care. I am the person that I love, the one who is still standing and the one who has finally heard the words she needed to say to herself. It wasn’t your fault, I forgive you.