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Dinner with Monica Lewinsky: 6 Reasons to Forgive Yourself

Dinner with Monica Lewinsky: 6 Reasons to Forgive Yourself

While we were recently in England we were invited to a dinner party that was also attended by Monica Lewinsky (yes, that Monica!). She struck us as being a beautiful, intelligent, and confident woman, having attended the London School of Economics.

As we left we thought about how tough it can be to move on in life beyond difficult or challenging times, such as Monica experienced when she had her mistakes played out in the glare of the media spotlight and became one of the worlds most recognizable names. Who hasn’t heard of Monica Lewinsky?

Forgiving ourselves for past transgressions is one of the hardest things we have to face at some time in our lives as none of us get it right all the time. Imagine how boring it would be if we were all perfect and none of us ever did anything wrong. We are here to learn and grow, not to be perfect. Perfection is our ability to see our imperfections!

In a recent workshop, we asked how many people were carrying some personal guilt or shame for something they had done that they could not forgive themselves for. At least three-quarters of the people put up their hands. One participant, Leila, had been looking after her daughter’s dog when the dog unexpectedly died. Leila’s grief was compounded by the guilt and remorse she felt. As she described this event it sounded very recent, so we were surprised to hear that, although it had happened many years earlier, Leila had still not been able to forgive herself.

Guilt for what we have done stays with us long after the event: I am such a bad, hopeless, useless, awful, uncaring, hurtful, unlovable person who never gets it right. We think that through our guilt we are somehow redeeming our wrong doing, when in reality all it does is create more suffering. Blame follows guilt: How could I have done such a thing? How can I ever trust myself? How can I ever be trusted by anyone else?

And that is the biggest reason why we need to forgive ourselves. Holding on to past guilt or shame hurts us, not anyone else, and it doesn’t change what happened one iota. As we thought about this, so six different reasons to forgive ourselves came to mind.

1. We are not who we were yesterday
Within the space of seven years every cell in our body dies and is reformed, our thoughts are constantly changing and our feelings come and go. We are literally not the same person we were a minute ago, let alone a day, a month or a year ago. As we are no longer who we were when we did the deed, so we can bring forgiveness and hold our past selves with kindness and compassion.

2. Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting
Inside us is the equivalent of an airplane’s black box: everything we have been through is logged there, whether we are aware of it or not. So forgetting something is not really an option. No matter how hard we try, it will always be lurking around the corner, waiting to drag our emotions down again. On the other hand, forgiveness accepts the presence of the dreaded deed, it looks it full in the face and says, ‘Yes, I know you. Now let’s have tea together and get to know each other a bit better.’

3. We can learn so much from our mistakes
By getting to know who we were we have the chance to learn from what we did. We can become our own greatest teacher by seeing how mistaken we can be, even when we fully believe we are right. Mistakes show us we are human. If we do not acknowledge our blunders then we are not only blind to our own failings, but we are also much more likely to repeat them.

4. I am ok but I don’t always get it right
Forgiving ourselves is not the same as forgiving what we did. A bad or rotten act is just that, and no amount of forgiveness will change it. But nor does constantly blaming ourselves. For instance, Monica made some obvious mistakes–but to continually blame herself will get her nowhere fast. What we can do is to really accept what we did while forgiving that part of us that was unaware of what we were doing or how it would impact other people; the part that just doesn’t always get it right.

5. Accepting ourselves, warts and all
When we do something wrong or hurtful we tend to beat ourselves up, to try to find redemption through shame, remorse, and even self-hatred. “I am such an idiot,” “My stupidity ruined everything,” “I am a hopeless human being.” Forgiving ourselves is the opposite. It is a radical acceptance of ourselves just as we are, mistakes and all, so that we can know ourselves more deeply and honestly. And because, in the long run, it is only through such self-acceptance that we are free to love and laugh again. Remember: Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly!

6. Letting go of the drama queen
This is one of the hardest things to do, but holding onto the story and the details of that happened is actually like a smokescreen that clouds our mind and stops us from seeing that we are more than the event, that whatever we did is not the whole of us. We can put the story down. We do not have to hold on to it, or keep repeating it in our minds. We can say: “I made a mistake, but I am not the guilt, I am not the mistake, I am not the failure, it is not the whole of me.”

Forgiving ourselves is an ongoing process. Every time we criticize or blame ourselves for being hopeless, useless, wrong, stupid, for all the self-dislike and self-denial, for believing we deserve the bad things that happen, that we must have done something wrong to be so abused, for thinking we should have known better, that it was all our own fault, that we were asking for it, for rejecting ourselves, for abandoning ourselves, for ignoring or denying our own needs and feelings, we can simply say, “I forgive myself.” We do not need to create more guilt, shame, or blame–the world has enough already.

Here is a little practice you can do. Sitting quietly, aware of your breathing, silently repeat, “Whether through my words or my actions, if I have created suffering for another, I forgive myself. If I have created suffering for myself, I forgive myself. May I be happy, may I be filled with forgiveness and love.”

Have you had to forgive yourself? And how did you do it? Do leave us a comment below.

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Ed and Deb Shapiro

You can learn more in our book, Be The Change: How Meditation Can Transform You and the World, forewords by the Dalai Lama and Robert Thurman, with contributors Marianne Williamson, Jane Fonda, Ram Dass, Byron Katie and others. Our 3 meditation CD’s: Metta—Loving kindness and Forgiveness; Samadhi–Breath Awareness and Insight; and Yoga Nidra–Inner Conscious Relaxation, are available at: EdandDebShapiro.com

41 comments

+ add your own
6:27PM PST on Jan 2, 2010

Excuse me...but apogies are totally unecessary. I was sexually abused. Period. There is no perosn that can apologize to me other than than the deviant that abused me. You have not a clue.

1:02PM PST on Dec 31, 2009

Personally speaking, it's nigh impossible to forgive oneself when you've been instilled with high values & expectations..that somehow go off course. (A hard cross to bear, since it can't be considered just ignorance).
The problem then becomes not only not forgiving YOURSELF, but the anger & righteousness you feel when SO many out there don't even feel the need to self-examine! We live in a mostly spoiled-brat society where it's considered funny & acceptable to royally screw up. This generation especially seems to think there ARE no consequences, and forgiveness grows on trees. Perhaps it's martyrdom, but why do I always feel like I need to apologize to the Universe for ALL the jerks out there? Ok, Ohhmm....

12:46PM PST on Dec 31, 2009

Wow, Leslie S.- instead of holding the men (prez')accoutable, you blame Monica for wait, what it is? Setting the nation back 20yrs, the war, environment, healthcare, etc., etc..? ARE YOU SERIOUS?! Wow.

12:16AM PST on Nov 22, 2009

I always forgive myself because when I think about it, then this person I've harmed is - in 95% of the cases- not an angel either, so...I've nothing to be ashamed of.

6:17PM PDT on Sep 15, 2009

To Black T.
My heart goes out to your. I am so sorry for what was done to you. I can feel your anger and frustration. My wish to you is that you somehow find peace for your soul. I don't know how that is accomplished, when you suffered so much. It must be very difficult for you to think that someone who commits such an act should ever be allowed to forgive themselves and move on with their lives, so that they can be happier. I can see why this causes you pain. Someone very dear to me is dealing with similar pain and anger. She "goes off" a lot. I know it is her pain trying to get out, and I wish I could help her. I just don't know how. It's not right that her suffering should have to continue like this, and it's not that your's should either. May God Bless You and Help You To Heal, and know that other's care.

12:19PM PDT on Sep 12, 2009

Thanks Janine, but sharing wisdom is a pain in the butt. After I went through divorce I did some time on the wild side and just got sick of it. Then I seen an ad for a singles events held for a week at Crystal Cathedral.I went and liked it because they held workshops dealing with personal issues those starting over as singles face. Eventually I found myself involved in helping out and then a church in my area had me start a singles group. I liked the theory of "not going out to find the right person but instead become the right person" so I held firm to that in starting the group. I tried t get members involved with sharing things they learned to better their lives instead of just changing bed partners to solve their problems. After awhile I just wore out and said enough. I walked away. Then I get a phone call one evening asking me to come back to the group. The Male voice added, "We got rid of Ken so the group will be lot better." After I told him I was Ken he stammered some and I shared some unprintable wisdom with him. I did go back to do some meetings for them a few times but stuff like that is very draining. It's next to impossible to put anything in a closed fist. Living my own life became more important to me and laughing with those that also enjoy living their own lives became my priority. That's the results of self-forgiveness.

10:17AM PDT on Sep 12, 2009

"Forgiveness' is giving up the right to hurt someone who hurt me back."
That is one of the wisest things I have heard in years.
Corrie ten Boom had some good things to say about forgiveness too. Imagine her wisdom.
Honestly, I crave more wisdom like this. I have been merely existing in a world filled with people who seem to be fake and nonsensical. The wise ones are so quiet these days. Is it because they believe wisdom is wasted on people so outrageously wrong? Listen up wise ones. Come out of hiding because we need you and fast!

9:20PM PDT on Sep 10, 2009

My opinion is that introducing Monica at the beginning of this article was a great introduction. I do have to admit that attracted me to the article.
At one time I was in Toastmasters as I wanted to learn and improve my attempts at public speaking. In one speech I used the word 'guilt' in a speech. When I finished a psychiatrist who had been in the audience approached me saying, "You don't have 'guilt.' 'Guilt' is when you don't do something about a problem. You've got 'shame' because you're doing something about it." So to me 'guilt' usually goes along with forgiveness in my mind so I kind of like the idea of doing something about it stands a chance of moving me to shame.
Another time I heard a definition for "forgiveness" that stayed with me to this day. "Forgiveness' is giving up the right to hurt someone who hurt me back. For self forgiveness I try to keep in mind that I want to give up the right to hurt myself back. That sort of thing helps me.
I do have to admit I am very hard on myself when it comes to learning from incidents where forgiveness is required. I don't like to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

Thanks for writing and sharing this article with us.

1:04PM PDT on Sep 10, 2009

All too often people expect public figures to be flawless and superhuman ! When will we realise we are ALL human, celebrity, famous or not ? I am not saying what is right or wrong here, i prefer to look after my own life and personal flaws than to judge a person "from the outside" - only God has the omniscience and compassion to appreciate and the right to condemn anyone, right? " Let he/she who is without sin cast the first stone !"

11:35AM PDT on Sep 10, 2009

As for personal success at self-forgiveness, I have not found success as yet. It is so easy for me to forgive others...yet, I still hold on so tightly to my own guilt, it's as if I continue to punish myself. I hold on and in my mind, I can re-live those moments where I did or said something that I should not have said. I remember when I was only six years old, I came home from school after my very first day of school, and my little sister, all wide-eyed and excited to see me, ran up to me at the door asking what it was like at school. My reaction was so unthoughtful, I had a terrible migraine, I had gotten lost at the big new school and was crying in a dark corner for a really long time before someone found me...I suffered from migraines since age 3...My thoughtless response to my adoring little sister: "Leave me alone, I have a headache!" I yelled at her. I will never forgive myself because I know how awful it made her feel and each time I think of it, I see her happy little face turn into a frown and I feel the disappointment and sadness I caused her. I can never take that moment back. I hate myself, again. Self-forgiveness is difficult.
Sincerely,
Eileen

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