Niamh Devereux finds out how we can let go of damaging shame and guilt.
We’ve all been hurt, disappointed, or at the receiving end of someone else’s bullshit at some point in our lives. Every single one of us has been let down. And we know how to react to that pain; we cry, we vent, we go to our mam for a cup of tea, we cuddle the dog, we write a cryptic post on Instagram (although please do try not to be that ‘u ok hun’ person).
But how about when we are the ones responsible for the hurting? It’s a complicated process to go through, being the one that has messed up. See, usually when a colossal f*ck up has been made, the blame can be placed at the other person’s feet, and that’s easier to deal with, in a strange way. When the mistake is yours, it means the responsibility to clean up the mess is all yours, and that’s a whole lot, well, messier.
The thing is though, as multifaceted human beings, we are all going to screw up from time to time – whether it’s winding up in a web of lies, saying something you shouldn’t have during a heated row or cheating on your partner. Whatever it is that has been done, among the blind panic of damage control, we also take on an overwhelming cocktail of emotions; guilt, anxiety, self-resentment, regret… and often, unlike an espresso martini, it’s a very difficult cocktail to swallow. We can get stuck, decide we’re a crappy person, and take our sweet time to move on, if we even manage to at all. Why is it that when someone else hurts us, we rage and wallow but eventually put it behind us and go forward in our lives, whereas if we’re the ones to do the hurting, things tend to be so complex?
“Easy. Because we just don’t believe we are worthy of forgiveness,” Niamh Ennis, AKA The Change Coach, tells me.
We place such little store on our own wellbeing that we believe others are far more deserving of forgiveness than we are. The truth of course being, that unless we are truly capable of forgiving ourselves, of putting ourselves first, any forgiveness we extend to others is hollow, as it is not coming from a place of love. I know how fluffy that might sound, but it’s totally true.
An acquaintance of mine, who’d rather remain anonymous, recently grappled with the concept of self-forgiveness, and she learned just how difficult it can be to master. For weeks, after the proverbial hit the fan and she had to deal with the aftermath of the emotional carnage she’d caused, she struggled with self-blame and unrelenting negative thoughts.
“A drunken night out led me to the biggest mistake I have ever made, which hurt someone I loved. I couldn’t really remember what happened and tried my best to brush it under the carpet… but everything comes out eventually,” she tells me. “Forgiving myself was probably the hardest part of it all. At the time, when you see someone you love in so much pain because of your actions, you think that it can’t get any worse. But when the dust settles and you have only yourself to blame, it can be hard to look at yourself in the mirror.
“The only thing that comforted me when I crawled through the internet on many a sleepless night, looking for advice on how to cope, was the quote, ‘Your mistakes don’t define your character. It’s what you do after that makes all the difference’.”
So, how did she get it all together? She made the decision to turn a real low point in her life into a positive, as ultimately, the most vital part about making mistakes is learning from them.
To forgive myself for what I’d done, I knew that I needed to better myself, so firstly, I looked at my drinking – the repetitive cycle of going out, having complete black outs, putting myself in vulnerable situations. It had been a pattern for years and only I could look at why I kept doing it to myself.
“I started counselling to deal with emotions I was afraid of and slowly learned to be kinder to myself. Now, I feel like I can look back and say that I have changed myself for the better.”
Ms Ennis, who works with women to help them make transformative changes in their lives, commends this approach. “When we do something that we are not proud of, we have to acknowledge that we have done it, accept that we have done it, ask ourselves why we did it and whether we would we do it again… in trying to understand it, we remove the power from it and we commit to doing our best to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
As well as digging deep into our psyche and working on ourselves so that we don’t repeat the same actions, Ms. Ennis says it’s all about coming to terms with letting go – “one of the most simplest phrases that requires the most complex of actions. Being unable to forgive yourself, or others, only causes deep bitterness and more anger to develop inside of you and that toxic feeling only harms one person – you,” she says. “Letting go of anger, hurt and disappointment is a process, it can’t happen overnight, but when we learn how and when to do it, it is rare that we have to revisit it again.
Doing our best is all we, as humans, with flaws and failings, can do. The world only celebrates perfection but we all know how hard it is to be perfect. It’s near impossible, but doing your best is always possible. You realise that along the way that you won’t always get it right but you will always try. That’s real self-forgiveness, right there!
And, so if you’re reading this and are currently in the midst of some Eastenders-esque drama that you’re responsible for, know this much: you are not your mistake. As my pal says, it’s how you react to the consequences that will be remembered, not what you’ve done. You could do a Ja Rule on it and offer up the worst apology of all time (remember his ridiculous statement after the chaos that was Fyre Fest? “I truly apologise as THIS WAS NOT MY FAULT but I take responsibility…” iconic, really) or you can take the bull by the horns and own it.
Take a breath, stop beating yourself up, stop going around in torturous circles in your mind with the ‘shoulda woulda couldas’ and do something productive about the situation. Without getting all hippy-dippy, good people do bad things, and as long as you have genuine remorse about it, this experience just means that you needed to learn a certain lesson. We’re all perfectly imperfect people – no matter what today’s society tries to make you think – so quit the self-punishment and focus on becoming a stronger, wiser, better version of yourself instead.