There is no self love without forgiveness

I recently found a copy of a book that I can honestly say changed my life when I came across it many years ago.

The book is called “You can heal your life,” by Louise Hay.

It was first written in 1984 and has sold more than 40 million copies world wide. 

Louise Hay is known as the ‘queen of self-help’ and was ahead of her time in many ways. She was the first person to popularise the notion that your thoughts and feelings are directly related to your life outcomes. That everything in your life today was created by your thoughts, emotions and actions to date, and furthermore that at this very moment we are creating our future selves by the thoughts, emotions and actions we choose today, moment by moment. I still recommend this book to friends and clients who are struggling with any mental health issue or addiction or who are just going through a rough patch. 

I have had many copies of this book since the first time I read it 10 years ago, I can never seem to hold on to a copy for long. I am forever giving them away but nowadays you can download a copy for very little on Amazon or pick up a copy at most second hand bookshops. That’s where I picked up my latest copy from. 

As I was reading through the first chapter today I was reminded of her core message which is so simple it is often considered overly simplistic to be of any real use to people. I disagree as most truths are simple, it’s our humanity that’s complicated. 

Louise’s basic message is “Love yourself” and everything will fall into place. She states, 

Self-approval and self-acceptance in the now are the keys to positive changes, (p.9).

While this sound simply wonderful and it is, in reality simple does not necessarily mean easy. Whenever I speak to clients of self-love and acceptance I see and hear doubt and resistance. Often they will agree with me in theory but often the how escapes them. How do I love myself? They ask, sometimes with tears in their eyes. 

In her book Louise outlines some clear instructions on what to do to start ‘loving and accepting yourself’. She is a big fan of saying positive affirmations daily as one way to retrain your brain to start thinking in a way that will begin to create the changes you want in your life. Do positive affirmations work? I believe they do, as I have used them in my own life to positive affect. When you learn a little about how the unconscious mind works you can see how if you have been programming your brain with negativity and so creating negative experiences for yourself, it makes sense that changing the internal script by thinking more positively can have the opposite effect.

An example of the above is constantly feeling unloved and misunderstood. This combined with negative self-talk such as “no-one will ever love me”, “I always get abused”, or “everyone always takes advantage of me” will certainly create more of the same. However, when you start choosing more positive thoughts or even more realistic thoughts such as, “I am loved and supported”, or “most people mean well” or even “everyone is doing the best with what they know,” then the script changes. Science now has an explanation for why this works which is called “neuroplasticity” and which I have written about before. However Louise Hay has been saying much the same thing, albeit in much more simplistic and metaphysical terms for decades. 

If affirmations aren’t your thing then there are other ways to love yourself more. One simple thing is to treat yourself well. Put yourself first. Listen to your body. Eat food that nourishes you and is good for you. Care for yourself as you would care for a dear friend. Give yourself a break. Let go of perfectionism. Try to be compassionate to yourself for past mistakes or perceived failings. Be your own best friend. These are all simple but effective ways to care and love yourself more. 

However, there is something else that Louise talks about which is even harder to do than loving yourself and that is forgiveness. She writes, 

We must release the past and forgive everyone, (p.9).

Woah. Hold up a minute there. Everyone? Everyone??

I remember struggling with this one caveat when I first read it 10 years ago and I must admit, I still do. Forgiveness of self and others unfortunately goes hand in hand with self-love and compassion. Until one is willing to forgive or at least release resentment for past wrongs (done to and by you) healing will always be slow going. Like constantly picking at a scab deters the healing process and leads to scars, attempting to love and accept yourself without forgiveness of self and others only slows down the healing process. 

I know this is something you don’t want to hear. Often we hold on to our hurts and resentments like dysfunctional friends whom we no longer even like all that much but can’t bear to cut loose. They are a drag but at least they are company. They keep everyone else away but are always around to light your cigarette, pour you a beer or pass you that tub of ice-cream. Louise says, 

Resentment, criticism and guilt are the most damaging patterns, (p9).

They are the most damaging because they are the most sticky. They like to stick around and feed our bad habits and negativity in order to keep us around. Almost like a codependant relationship. 

The truth is that unless you can kick out those freeloaders, Resentment, Criticism and Guilt and their cohorts Shame, Blame and Anger or at least be willing to let go of them true healing and self love will always feel just out of reach. 

Finally, it is never too late to start making positive changes, or begin to think differently as, 

The point of power is always in the present moment. 

Louise passed away in June 2017 at the age of 90. 

 

 

 

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I forgive you.

We are not our mistakes

 

I recently posted a rant of Facebook, something I very rarely do which I now regret in a way but in another way it has actually brought up some issues which I think are worthy of further investigation. Forgiveness is something that is often overlooked as a form of therapy these days. The power of simply being able to say, with sincerity, “I forgive you” is perhaps the most powerful form of healing there is.

Being able to acknowledge and say sorry for past transgressions is one thing, but being able to forgive someone who has done you wrong is an entirely other proposition. Sometimes, it’s not possible to say sorry to someone, for various reasons, but if you do and they are gracious about it then that is when true healing starts.

But if it is possible, if the person is still alive or contactable should you? Well, that’s up to you. But if you do, should you expect their forgiveness? Well, no, of course you shouldn’t. It depends what has transpired and every case is different. However, if someone does apologise to you for something they have done that may have been hurtful to you, if you are able to forgive them then in the end, it is you who will receive the greatest gift. For being able to let go of hurt, suffering, pain, resentment and our attachment to these feelings can be the most liberating experience of a lifetime.

Maybe there is someone out there that really hurt you. Someone you blame, rightly perhaps, who did the wrong thing by you. Maybe they have never apologised. Maybe, and most likely, they never will. Should you still forgive them? Could you? Maybe your parents were jerks or outright abusive. Maybe a past partner has wronged you, hurt you and made you cry. Maybe an ex boss was a complete bitch to you and made you feel 2 feet tall and you have moved on from those times but the hurt is still there. The resentment, the anger is still lurking in the background waiting for a chance to ruin your day yet again.

Or maybe you’re the one who was hurtful to someone else. Maybe you have made mistakes and done things you just aren’t proud of and have never really been able to forgive yourself. Well, chances are that’s a good place to start.

What’s important to remember is that we are not our mistakes, for one thing. So much bad blood gets thrown around because we fail to separate the actions from the person, especially when it comes to ourselves. So, instead of saying, I did a bad thing, we say… I am a bad person because I did a bad thing. And over time we reduce that even further to, I am a bad person, or just “I am bad”.

Narrative therapy calls this a “meta-narrative” – stories we tell ourselves over and over again so that they become our way of thinking about and describing who we are . CBT calls them “core beliefs” – messages that we continuously and subliminally tell ourselves which become part of our definition of who we think we are. Whatever you decide to call them and whatever therapeutic modality or theory you choose the effect is essentially the same. We become what we tell ourselves is true. 

So in essence, perhaps the place to start is awareness. Separation of your self from your past acts and behaviours is the first step, and then just saying to yourself, I forgive you. That could be a pretty good place to start. Why not try it?