self-forgiveness

the heavy weight of shame

I carry some extra weight with me right now. Some of it’s on my body, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Recently one of my coaches talked about feeling stuck with weight loss—you might be doing everything right, eating well, exercising, sleeping, doing all the things that being health conscious asks of us, yet not making progress. I think that describes me pretty well. I can’t seem to lose the extra weight that has slowly crept onto certain parts of my anatomy over the past three or four years, so I related to what she was talking about.

At times I’ve been able to lose up to 10 pounds by what can only be called crash diets. They do work, but they aren’t sustainable, and my weight creeps back up. I can cut way back on alcohol and sugar, eat only low-fat protein and vegetables, work out every single day, and only see a small effect or no effect.

Of course, it could very well indicate some kind of imbalance in my body, thyroid or hormonal. But it could also be something more covert than that, in addition to, instead of or even a cause of the imbalance itself.

When it’s not affected by lifestyle, the coach brought up the idea of our extra weight serving us, in some way. To protect us, to cover a wound, to hide us, to make us invisible or bigger, to manifest an emotional burden. She suggested we first thank our body, thank the weight for serving us, and then spend some time asking it what purpose it serves and feeling grateful to that purpose. I do believe that our feelings, beliefs, emotions, repressions, fears and traumas manifest themselves in our bodies, especially if we aren’t conscious about releasing, feeling, addressing or accepting them. With that in mind, I started reflecting on what purpose my weight could be serving.

I’ve thought a lot about this. I now know that the weight, whatever its cause, is there to make me whole. In what way, I’m not sure, but that’s what it told me very clearly. Knowing that, the question I’ve opened myself to is why? Why have I felt it’s been necessary to create this extra padding in order to be whole?

Over a number of days of coming back to this, asking for guidance, and meditating about it, I realized this morning that I do have a heavy emotional burden, manifesting in the past few years, which I haven’t fully processed. This burden is a deep mortification, shame and anger toward myself.

While I’ve processed a lot of trauma in the last decade, I recognize that I’m still deeply ashamed that I let myself down, compromised, disrespected and betrayed myself by choosing to be involved for more than two years with an abusive, manipulative and dishonest partner. I take no responsibility for his choices or actions, but I do for mine. I allowed him into my life. I participated in the process of conditioning and manipulation. I knew it was wrong from day one, and I overrode all my instincts for the sake of a fantasy, instant gratification, the drug that he became to me.

Do I hold this man accountable? Absolutely. But I’ve spent a lot of years effectively dealing with my fury, resentment and contempt for him. I’ve purged him through fire and water, written angry letters and poetry, poured out my feelings in my journal and released his toxic presence from my body, home and mind. I came face to face with him earlier this year and felt nothing but a sort of glad gratitude that I felt nothing else—not fear, not anger, not even scorn. He’s nothing to me now, no longer the bogeyman that he was during and right after our relationship nor the dark shadow once I’d started to heal. That’s been the easy part.

The hard part is forgiving myself.

My closest friends know the truth about the relationship. They know—not during it, but now—that he stole from me repeatedly over two years. That I supported him and his children by other women and received no repayment of any kind, in spite of endless empty promises. That he emotionally abused me, using intense manipulation techniques from rages to coldness to accusations and word garbage to love bombing when he wanted something. They know that sex could be nonexistent or aggressive bordering on violent, depending on his mood, and that I believe that he was cheating on me throughout the entire relationship, going on late night “music drives” in my car in order to engage sexually with other women.

This was just some of it.

I’ve never told my family more than the barest shreds of these truths. I’ve been far too ashamed to admit that I allowed this. Not once, but for 26 months. I allowed it, allowed him to use and disrespect me, to violate my boundaries, my home, my body, my emotions. Not only that, I protected him, lied to my loved ones and made excuses for it.

I imagine most victims of manipulation and abuse, any kind of abuse, will understand this self-recrimination. It isn’t unique to me, and it’s very real. The trauma isn’t just that I was violated, but that I, in some measure, chose the violation. Invited it into my home. Offered it money, and more money. Said yes.

Said yes.

I wasn’t robbed at gunpoint by a stranger. I was robbed by my trusted partner—and robbed again, and again, and still trusted. I was so desperately attached I couldn’t see any other choice. I didn’t even end it. I was starting to become stronger and less tolerant, less emotionally flexible, and that set him off so that in a fit of pique, he broke up with me. Then demanded, and got, I’m sorry to say, a second chance, which he naturally blew by violating all our new agreements. When I worked up the courage—and it took great courage—to ask for an explanation, he suggested we break up. I agreed.

From that moment on, I’m not ashamed. I stood my ground. I said no when he asked me to get back together, two days later. I said no when he asked me for money. I was unmoved when he tried to manipulate me. When he wrote pleading emails, I saw through his lies and exaggerations.

From that moment on, I’m proud of myself. Proud that I took the chance offered to gain freedom and make the most of it. That I chose not to date for a year so I could focus on healing myself and figuring out what the hell I was doing with men who let me down. Proud that I worked extremely hard to make reparations to myself, to repair my home and finances, become a much better friend and partner to me. To understand why I’d been so vulnerable at the time we met that I was a perfect target for him, and heal those older wounds as well.

The choices I made from that moment on brought me here today, in a place of authentic contentment and alignment. I’m in a secure, loving second marriage, financially stable, firmly centered in self-respect and the practice of listening to my instincts.

I know that my growth required those 26 months of anxiety, pain and struggle. I wouldn’t be the person I am without them, and I’ve learned to be grateful for that. I see that it had a real and positive purpose. It’s helped me forgive (not to accept his behavior, but forgive) the man for his failures and transgressions and learn about the psychology of narcissistic personality disorders, sociopaths and aggressive personalities, leading to my growth in setting boundaries and recognizing manipulation. Without that relationship, I might very well not have chosen to date my husband, or been able to create our partnership. I wouldn’t have become so committed to following my instincts even when they don’t make rational sense, and to fiercely honoring my own needs and feelings.

I’m always going to be lugging some kind of baggage around. Life creates baggage, we never get rid of it all. And aging changes our bodies, there’s no denying that. Maybe my extra weight is purely physical and I just need to eat fewer and burn more calories, or cut out all cheese and chocolate entirely. (As if I could.)

Maybe. Very possibly.

But it’s also possible that this deep shame is a burden that’s manifesting in some extra pounds, or compounding an existing physical imbalance. It said its purpose is “making me whole”—perhaps it’s helping me understand that this trauma and mortification is still a part of me, a literal weight that I carry. And while I’ve done a lot of impressive work in processing and forgiving and healing, there’s more to be done.

I deserve it. I deserve to forgive myself as I’ve forgiven the man who abused me.

It’s hard to talk about this, to be honest. Even as I write this post, I feel the choking hand of shame at my throat, the tingles creep up my neck, as if something menacing is standing just behind me. But hiding it only gives it more power, which is why I choose to share my experience today and commit to bringing it into the open and the light.

I may never tell my family the full truth of what I went through. I may never share every sordid detail with my husband. And I don’t have to. I will find the support I need to let go of my anger, disappointment and humiliation, and to be whole in a healthier way. I will invest in the resources, the time and the honest reflection to come to a place of self-acceptance.

I’m ready to release this weight.

 

 

If you have any resources to recommend, books or support groups that have helped you through releasing shame and self-forgiveness, please share them in the comments.

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the game of I’m right, you’re wrong

There seems to be a very definite “I’m right, you’re wrong” theme to this month. Deep down I know I’m just as righteous as the next person, so it’s a good opportunity to examine my own behavior as I’m faced with the extreme righteousness of others. It’s been impossible not to trip over someone being RIGHT and TELLING ME SO at every turn, either that or creating negativity and conflict by accusing others of being unhelpful and negative. Which I can’t help but find both hypocritical and ironic.

What’s the lesson in all of these angry accusations and righteous posing? What can I possibly take away from being bullied and blamed because someone believes I let them down, or was a party to letting them down, in some way? Am I truly accountable for others’ perceptions or opinions, or can I release accountability and find a way to balance my need to defend myself against my desire to heal, grow and persist?

Every dark place, painful moment, misunderstanding and conflict holds a valuable lesson. Sometimes the lesson is that the relationship is broken beyond all fixing and needs to be abandoned, or that I can’t be the only one responsible for fixing it and must find a way to make it work within the dysfunction. Or that defensive reactions only provoke stronger attacks, an extremely important reminder. Or that persistence requires courage and calm, especially in the face of anxiety, stress, angry outbursts and fear. Or that accountability for my own feelings, actions and reactions in no way makes me responsible for the feelings, actions and reactions of others—nor their opinions, perceptions or prejudices. I’m accountable for ME, and therefore will own my mistakes, apologize, make amends and learn as best I can. However, I don’t have to take ownership of anyone else’s moods or ideas, nor do I have any obligation to conform to their views or compromise myself to fit their expectations, when these are not reasonable or true to who I am.

There are no “shoulds” when it comes to my instincts and integrity. I have extremely high standards for myself, which I sometimes fail to meet. Those are my own failings, and while I can take responsibility for them, I don’t need to blame, shame or punish myself for having failed. I can admit I was wrong and move forward with self-forgiveness.

I can also forgive others for their failures, though if someone isn’t living up to the same high standards of behavior, respect and integrity that I, and they, expect from me, I don’t owe them my allegiance, trust or the benefit of the doubt. Unless they’ve earned it, I’m not required to give it to them. Nor they to me, if I’ve failed without redeeming myself.

This is an opportunity to step back and change my conduct to reflect greater accountability and vigilance against those who would exploit my failures and use them against me. Avoiding gossip with anyone but those I trust most implicitly, finding positive approaches and solutions—without compromising myself, recognizing and abstaining from righteousness and defensiveness, finding ways to boost my courage and stay calm in moments of turmoil. Taking time before I react, writing things out, breathing, venting to SAFE sources. And, when necessary, apologizing sincerely and taking ownership of my mistakes.

Being with my ex-boyfriend really did teach me a lot about dealing with difficult people, among all the other lessons I learned throughout our relationship. I know that there are situations that simply won’t be made any easier or better by working harder to make them OK. When a situation has reached a certain point of dysfunction, there’s absolutely no way one person can fix it, and often the solution is to simply let it go. I know that there are also some people that will never be satisfied or pleased, no matter how much you give. They’ll simply take more, and punish you for it in the process. They don’t respect others, they don’t respect boundaries, and they’re always going to believe they’re right. These are not people who deserve our time, attention, trust, loyalty or respect. And if you have to deal with them, regardless of this, limiting your exposure to them, avoiding any defensiveness, and withholding any more time or attention than the extreme minimum requires, are the only ways to function successfully.

I know that not everything is my fault, even though there are those who would have me believe that. And that I’m allowed to say no, even if it disappoints people—and infuriates the toxic ones. I know that I’m not always right and never will be, but my instincts ARE, and I can trust them to show me the best way to move forward. I know that feeling beset, bullied, invaded or manipulated is a pretty sure sign that someone is actually doing all of those things to you, regardless of how little you want to believe that. And I certainly know that not everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt or a second chance, but that forgiveness is a gift we give OURSELVES, not the people who hurt, betrayed or disappointed us.

Just as I learned all of these really wonderful life lessons from a toxic, painful relationship, I can find a wealth of juicy wisdom and insights from a toxic, stressful work environment, from every challenge that life throws at me.