When we share our honest stories of dealing with shame and embarrassment, we feel less alone and we realize that these experiences don’t make us less worthy.
At the age of 24, I fell in love… and I fell hard. Looking back, it was merely a summer fling of infatuation but I really thought it was forever love. He lived in D.C. and I lived in Chicago, but we made it work… until the moment I felt that something was off with him.
There was a shift from a feeling of warmth and connection between us to a cold and disconnected feeling that really confused me. I began to feel sick, but ignored it. I ignored the fact that something wasn’t right in the relationship and I ignored the feeling that something was wrong in my body.
After I flew home from visiting him one weekend, I didn’t hear from him for about a week. I already had the worry that I was unlovable, but that really sent my anxiety over the edge. Eventually, I got into contact with him and he had nothing to say! He couldn’t give me an explanation, so I said, “I can’t be in a relationship with you like this. If I can’t talk to you, if we can’t be in contact for over a week, that’s not going to work for me. Either we’re going to talk about this, figure it out, and fix it… or this is not going to work.” Way to go, Adia! He decided he didn’t want to talk about it or fix it, so, that was it. It was over and I was heartbroken.
When I finally went to the doctor to get checked out, I learned that I had herpes. This guy, who had just decided to end our relationship for no reason, had given me herpes… genital herpes! I fell apart right then and there. I thought my life was over, that I’d never have a relationship again, that I’d never have children, and that I had to give up on the life that I had hoped for.
This news and the heartbreak triggered a depressive episode for me. I lost weight, withdrew from friendships, and turned my anger on myself, spending the next several months trying to figure out what I had done wrong. Why hadn’t I protected myself from this? Why was this happening to me? I had the evidence to prove my belief that no one would love me. Except, that’s not the truth.
I wish I could go back and comfort my younger self and let her know that she is still worthy, despite having an STD. I’d let her know that she’s still capable of living the life that she dreamed of.
We withhold forgiveness from ourselves because we are hoping that the past could be different and that if we hadn’t made those mistakes, we wouldn’t be experiencing the pain that we’re experiencing in the present. The irony is that when we don’t forgive ourselves, we’re holding onto that pain! It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting to carry pain and shame with us, right?
Once I was able to forgive myself, leaving the shame and embarrassment in the past, I was able to move on unburdened.
What exactly is self-forgiveness? How can I forgive myself?
Self-forgiveness involves four components:
- Accepting what happened in the past – In order to forgive myself, I had to accept that I did get herpes, that I did make mistakes, and that I didn’t protect my boundaries.
- Acknowledging the hurt you felt because of what happened – I needed to let go of self-criticism and tune into the part of me that felt hurt, violated, and unworthy. I had to become compassionate with myself for what I went through so that I could heal.
- Identifying the wisdom you can draw (what you learned) from the experience – I learned that I needed to be more protective of my body and my safety. I learned to trust my intuition about when something was wrong in a relationship or with my body and address that instead of ignoring it.
- Telling yourself you forgive yourself and allowing yourself to move forward – For me, this looks like telling my 24-year-old self that I forgive her for not trusting herself. I tell her that I forgive her for not fully knowing how to protect herself. I forgive her for trying to prove her worthiness.
These are practices that can be returned to as often as needed. Self-forgiveness is a process that can sometimes be difficult and painful. I encourage you to take it slowly and be gentle and compassionate with yourself.
Through self-forgiveness, I learned that even though I had contracted an STD and felt overwhelming shame, I was still worthy of love, forgiveness, and care.
Sometimes, it is when we experience the worst that we connect with our unshakeable humanity.
When you have some free time, sit down and reflect on where you may be holding onto things from your past that are keeping you from feeling worthy. Oftentimes, these feelings come from major mistakes, failures, or traumas that we’ve experienced, and they cause us to feel less than human. Once you’ve identified that scenario, walk through the four steps to self-forgiveness and return to them as often as you need to. Remember, be gentle with yourself.
You can be freed from whatever has happened in your past! If forgiveness allowed me to move on from herpes, it can help you move on from whatever is holding you back from your unconditional worthiness.
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