Letting Go of the Old
More and more we are witnessing a realization bubbling up in individuals, a realization that is preceded by a number of questions:
- Why am I acting this way?
- Is this who I want to be?
- Why do I keep standing in my own way?
- Why do I set out to do something, only to find myself feeling completely different about it, once it’s time to do it?
- Where is this experience coming from?
- Why do I feel afraid to do what I rationally understand to be beneficial for me or others?
- Why don’t I recognize myself sometimes?
- Why do I keep hearing my parents’ opinions in my own voice in my head? That’s not ME!!
- Why do I care so much about what other people think, even if I say I don’t, or don’t want to?
- Why is it so hard to do what I see is best?
- Why do I get so scared when I consider doing something differently?
When we take the time to answer these questions, we inevitable come to the realization that much of who we are today is determined by the past. Throughout our lives, we’ve made decisions about how to deal with certain things, what to avoid, what to value, who to listen to, which examples to follow, what goals to pursue, and these decisions still guide us today. Most of these decisions, however, were made on a subconscious or unconscious level, whilst following a logic that isn’t sound. As a result, we often don’t understand our own impulses, our own reactions, our own feelings of apprehension or admiration towards people and things in our reality. And what’s more – our decisions have resulted in behaviors that are automated, where we may want to be a different person, or express ourselves in a different way, but as soon as a predetermined behavior pattern gets triggered, it is like a movie playing or a program starting, and we are just in it for the ride – often afterwards looking back and regretting our choices, actions and words, because we know we can do and be better.
We start our parenting journey with the best of intentions, with the highest of hopes and the truest of dreams, to create the best possible life for our children, to be the best possible guide and support for them. We read up on different parenting styles, how this and that approach affects a child and we make decisions about the type of childhood we want to give our little ones, and the type of parent we wish to be.
However… In practical reality, we bump into behavior and reaction patterns that are not aligned with our good intentions and that, in spite of ourselves, override our common sense and aspirations.
As parents we become so much more aware of ourselves, of the examples we set – not only in our actions, but in thought and word too – because we know our children see more than we do, and are keen observers and learners. They will model their own principles according to ours – not according to the ones we preach, but the ones we practice, the ones we live.
So, our best intentions, they are not enough. We may have all the knowledge and common sense in the world, have the understanding of what would be best for children and our child in particular, but if we cannot live up to that, then we are coming up short.
Additional reading: What Drives You: Conditioning or Awareness?
For true self-change and self-transformation to be possible, we must be able to let go of those parts of us that we have created through past decisions, acceptances and allowances, but that do not in-fact serve us in life today. The tool that we use to resolve these conflicts between our predetermined (pre-decided) behavior and reaction patterns, and what would in fact be best for us and our children – is the writing and/or speaking of Self-Forgiveness. It is a tool that we have personally used for the past 10 years and we wouldn’t be where we are today without it. We wish we could point to scientific evidence showing why Self-Forgiveness (in terms of how we use it) is in fact effective, why it works, and how – but there is at this time unfortunately no such research. For now, its effect and effectiveness requires to be tested by and proven to self. Our best advice is therefore to try it out and see for yourself. The worst that can happen is that you forgive yourself, so at least there’s that… 😉
The application of Self-Forgiveness is a ‘three-in-one tool’ – it simultaneously supports us to:
- Understand ourselves
- Release that which does not serve us/is not best
- Take responsibility for ourselves in thought, word and deed
Again, this is not a scientific assessment, but one born of personal experience. In what follows we share the observations and realizations that have come through both from us personally using self-forgiveness in our own journey, as well as sessions with clients that we have supported over the years, who used the same tool. You will find, that in reading on, you will also be able to cross reference our words with your own common sense.
Please note: Self-Forgiveness is the tool that we use, it’s the one that you’ll hear us mention and what you’ll see popping up on our site. That doesn’t mean you have to use the same tool. If you have for yourself developed tools and means that achieve these same three goals and that you are more comfortable with, then use those. What we’d like to highlight in this article is the importance of understanding yourself, releasing the old and taking responsibility for yourself, how you do that is up to you. We will use Self-Forgiveness as an example because it’s what we know best and trust to be effective.
Oh how easy it would be if we could just let go of behaviors and reaction patterns we don’t like, just make ‘em go ‘poof’ without having to look into them, without having to investigate and understand them. Alas… it takes a bit more than that. If we want to change ourselves, we have to face ourselves and come to terms with who we have created ourselves to be.
There are several reasons:
1. So you don’t recreate the same problem
Every behavior and reaction pattern has a ‘story’ – it doesn’t just come into being and become a part of us. There is a reason you’re reacting and behaving a certain way and if you don’t understand your own reasons for being who you are, you may well recreate the same patterns in the future. It’s like pulling weeds without getting the roots out – a short term solution with a long term problem. When we become familiar with the backstory, the creation process we participated in to establish our behavior and reaction patterns, we empower ourselves with the ability to recognise when we are starting to tread the same path again. We’re then able to stop that particular creation process in its tracks and take corrective action right then and there, preventing us from going down the same road again.
2. To stand equal and one
Our tendency to want to ‘shoo away’ a behavior and reaction pattern without investigating it oftentimes stems from a subtle fear of that very pattern, a fear of our own emotions, our own logic, our own backchat, a fear of getting lost in it perhaps. But what we forget is that fear is not only an experience, it implies a statement as well: “that which I fear is more than me and has power over me”. When you’re unwilling to get up close and personal with your own weaknesses, your inner demons: Red flag. You’re disempowering yourself to change those parts of you, because you’re giving your power to those weaknesses in a stance of inferiority. So, remember always that whatever comes up in you, whatever you express, is a part of you – you cannot change it by fearing it. Instead, through investigating how you created those parts of yourself, you’ll gain understanding and within your understanding stand equal and one to the issue at hand. It is only once we see ourselves in our issues that we have the ability and power to change them.
3. To get to the core of the issue
The experiences that come up in our conscious mind, the thoughts we participate in and the behaviors we express are often but the tip of the iceberg, a symptom of a deeper misalignment. When we only see our weaknesses at face-value, how they ‘look’ on the surface, we pass up on an opportunity to access a deeper part of us in need of support, a part of us we are not aware of, whose shouts for help we don’t hear unless we are perturbed by our own conscious experiences. If we use the analogy of the weeds again. The weed is but a symptom, there is a story to it in its roots, but we can even go further and ask how the weed was able to take hold in the first place? What does the presence of the weed tell us about the quality of the soil? What happens when we correct that? How many other types of weeds will stop sprouting if we address the core issue?
So, how does Self-Forgiveness support with understanding yourself?
The application of self-forgiveness allows you to start ‘at the top’, at the surface of an experience/pattern, and one statement at a time, you peel away the layers an issue consists of, gently guiding yourself to uncover how you created that part of you, step by step, until you understand it in its entirety. Here’s an example:
Say your baby slaps you in the face – in reaction, you immediately become flustered and simultaneously feel sad, like a ‘drop’ in your solar plexus, while also becoming upset. Your mind starts racing with thoughts and questions about why your child slapped you and what it could mean! Your self-forgiveness could go as follows:
I forgive myself for accepting and allowing myself to become upset with X when (s)he slapped me in the face.
I forgive myself for accepting and allowing myself to take it personally that X slapped me in the face.
I forgive myself for accepting and allowing myself to think and believe that it must MEAN something when X slaps me in the face, because I as an adult, if I were to slap someone, it would be for a reason – and so:
I forgive myself for accepting and allowing myself to project my personal understanding and relationship with slapping someone in the face unto my child and assume that they are doing it for the same reason that I would do it.
I forgive myself for accepting and allowing myself to think that my child hates me/doesn’t like me/ doesn’t love me – and then in turn become sad when accepting these thoughts as fact.
I forgive myself for not accepting and allowing myself to realize that I created my personal understanding and relationship to slapping/being slapped in the face over time and especially in my childhood where, every time I reacted emotionally to being hit in the face, I made that memory/that event part of my understanding and relationship to slapping/being slapped in the face.
I forgive myself for not accepting and allowing myself to realize that my experience in that moment of becoming both angry and sad was actually stemming from my own memories, and all the times that I had been slapped/slapped in the face and did not release my emotional experience of myself in that moment or afterwards – and so, that my experience of myself in the moment that X slapped me, has nothing to do with X, and does not define how X sees or perceives me.
I forgive myself for not accepting and allowing myself to realize that while my child slapping me in the face could at first be a completely innocent point, if I continue to emotionally react each time he/she does it, they will learn that they are able to emotionally trigger me that way and could potentially in the future start slapping me deliberately as a means of manipulation.
I forgive myself for not accepting and allowing myself to realize that my responsibility as a parent extends beyond what I tell them, like ‘no, don’t slap people, it hurts and you wouldn’t want to be slapped in the face, so don’t to it to others’ – it also extends into my emotional response as they learn just as much from my internal response as my external/verbal response.
I forgive myself for accepting and allowing myself to have defined ‘slapping someone in the face’ as a deliberate act with the message: I hate you, I don’t like you, you are not good enough, you are worthless, you shouldn’t be here, leave me alone! – and to have attached the emotions of anger and sadness to it.
I forgive myself for having taken it personally every time someone slapped me in the face, and to have accepted another’s intention when slapping me in the face as valid, in other words, in those moments believing that I am indeed to be hated, not liked, not good enough, worthless and unwelcome.
I realize that a slap in the face, is a physical act of quickly waving your hand against someone else’s face – nothing less and nothing more, especially with a young child who does not have the same concept and history to being slapped in the face as I do.
I realize that X has limited means to express herself as (s)he has a limited vocabulary and that slapping could be a way for her to get a message across pertaining to her needs in a moment.
The self-forgiveness at first simply addresses the surface experience that the person was aware of, but as she progresses, she starts to see more of the how, what, why, where and whens that were involved in the creation of her self-experience in that moment.
By exposing the entire pattern and the relationships between her present and her past, she comes to a point of understanding, allowing her to place what happened into perspective and so, allowing her to see with new eyes.
You could argue that she could have come to the exact same conclusion, insight and realization by simply introspecting and applying common sense, and that she could have just told herself that her baby didn’t mean anything by it and that’s that. And yes, some points are easier to understand than others. With some, you can see through your emotions quite quickly, whereas other experiences and behavioral patterns are more of a mystery. That being said – understanding alone is not always sufficient to let go of the old. Yes, again, sometimes when you can suddenly see the intricacy and detail of how you created an experience, you are able to simultaneously, unconditionally let go of the whole thing and turn a new leaf. Unfortunately, what is more common is the scenario where a person tries to ‘tell themselves’ how they should be looking at an event instead, but the emotional experience is not released. Instead, the energy lingers within the mind and body, leaving a sour aftertaste and after some time, is simply suppressed into the subconscious, now forming part of the memory database that can be triggered in the future. What they ‘tell themselves’ remains an intention, they are not the words that are in fact lived.
This brings us to the next quality of Self-forgiveness, its releasing effect:
Releasing That Which Does Not Serve Us/Is Not Best
This is probably the most enjoyable aspect of Self-Forgiveness, but in some way also the scariest. When self-forgiveness is applied in detail and specificity, it will have a releasing effect, not only on your mind/head region – but on various places in your body. When speaking self-forgiveness out loud in particular, individuals have often shared to experience a release, not only emotionally (like a weight lifting off your shoulders or chest), but an actual physical release, where tension in the body dissipates, parts of the body become warm, the sound of one’s voice changes (becomes more rounded/whole and resonates throughout the body), etc. When we first started applying self-forgiveness years ago, it was this physical release that encouraged us to continue exploring and testing, because it is not something we could have ‘tricked ourselves into’ experiencing – and was also in alignment with our holistic view of a person. It made sense to us that if you address and release emotional / mental points, that it would have an effect on the body as well.
So that’s the enjoyable part, because it’s like little ‘knots’ in your soul and body getting untangled and smoothened out, leaving you with peace and clarity. But at the same time, many have feared self-forgiveness because of its releasing effect. Understandably, when parts of you have seemingly ‘always been with you/a part of you’, it can be scary to let them go. A fear can come up that if you let go of parts of yourself that you have defined as ‘ME’ for such a long time, that you’ll lose yourself, your identity, or at least, diminish, as though a part of you will be gone and nothing will come in its place. When this fear kicks in, the consideration of whether or not that part of you actually is best for you and others in your life starts to shift into the background and an irrational ‘drive for self-preservation’ kicks in. We suspect this is why few will actually give self-forgiveness a chance – making up reasons and opinions as to why it can’t possibly work or why it’s ‘not for me’, without first trying and testing it out.
Of course, we’re not here to force anyone either and whether you in fact test out self-forgiveness is between you and yourself – but if this fear has in some way kicked in and is standing in your way to make that first step, we will say that for us, self-forgiveness has in no way meant a loss or a diminishment – quite the opposite. Breathe in and breathe out – within that act, realize: I am here. Self-forgiveness cannot change that – and as long as you’re here, you have an amazing ability to self-determine and create yourself. When we let go of the old that does not serve us, we only create space within us – a blank canvas on which we can write the new words that would serve us better, creating new expressions that you can live in your day to day. That part of the process – you can read more about here, so we won’t go into the detail of it now. But it’s good to be aware of the fact that letting go of the old is only a first step, a cleaning and cleansing of old habits that, maybe, one day helped you, but in terms of where you are in life today, do more harm than good. Self-forgiveness is a gentle tool that allows us to see why those parts have been here, thank them if appropriate, and send them on their way, for they have no purpose anymore in our life today. It is like a shedding of old skin to make way for vitality and creativity.
Taking Responsibility for Ourselves in Thought, Word and Deed
This is perhaps the most contested aspect of Self-Forgiveness, embodied in the question ‘Why should I forgive myself for that?! I did nothing wrong!!’. The mainstream idea and perception of forgiveness is that it is appropriate only after a deliberate wrongdoing or an evil-spirited act. And while we agree that forgiveness (and self-forgiveness) are important in those scenarios, it entails a limited view of the concept of Responsibility when we only forgive ourselves and others after deliberate abuse. We all know the harm that can come from deliberate spitefulness, but what about the harm that is brought about by our neglect, by our ignorance, by our lack of awareness… and yet, implicitly, by our consent? When we accept and allow things to unfold without stepping in to change them, are we not just as responsible for the harm that ensues?
Harm is also not limited to physical injuries – it can refer to a compromise of well-being, the curbing of authentic expression, stress, anxiety, etc. Here at Parenting for Life, you will find us often focus on internal experiences – our thoughts, our emotions, our feelings, our projections, our ideas, our definitions of words, etc. A common perception is that whatever happens in our minds is private, and so is harmless – “it doesn’t affect anyone else” – and so it’s apparently okay to give our minds free reign. We focus specifically on our internal reality, because we have come to understand that (1) while no-one else exists in our body and mind, WE do, and so what happens inside of us, does affect someone, it affects us, and can very easily harm us, compromise us and our well-being, and (2) our internal reality ‘sets the stage’ for how we act and behave towards others. We cannot separate ourselves neatly into a ‘inner-me’ and ‘outer-me’ – they are completely interconnected and intertwined. So, what we accept and allow within us, eventually extends to the way we interact with and treat others. If we exist in inner conflict, chances are that we’ll manifest conflict with the people in our lives as well.
More so than redemption, in our view self-forgiveness is a tool of taking responsibility, a statement that: “I accepted and allowed this to be created, to happen, to continue, it was my consent that (wholly or in part) led to the manifestation of these issues, and so I have the power to do something about it.” In other words, it is an act of empowerment. So long as we refuse to take responsibility for what we had a hand in creating – we are powerless to do anything about it, and bound to wait for someone else to come and save us, fix us, or make life better for us. This implies a stance of powerlessness, dependency and victimization, and a dishonoring of the power and potential we all have as human beings.
Taking self-responsibility is reflected in the way we phrase our forgiveness statements, starting with:
I forgive myself for accepting and allowing myself to…
Whenever we want to fight against forgiving ourselves for something, we can ask ourselves: did I in some way – whether explicitly or implicitly – accept and allow this? If the answer is yes, then we know it is ours to take responsibility for. The question is not ‘was I a bad person for doing this?’ or ‘did I intend to do harm?’ – it’s not about guilt or casting judgment, simply about looking at how reality functions, and the influence and power we in fact have in determining the outcomes of who we are in thought word and deed.
Last but not least, we would like to highlight here that we consider each one to be 100% responsible for what exists WITHIN themselves. Because you have the power to accept and allow what goes and what doesn’t inside yourself, you are absolutely responsible for your internal reality. Other people/events/situations can trigger experiences that were ‘dormant’ within you – but they do not in fact have the power to create your thoughts, emotions, feelings, personalities, etc in your mind and your body. Yes, it’s true that we may not have been supported to see exactly how to handle our internal reality, how to use our power for self-determination and self-creation as we were growing up, but… we do have it. Again, it’s not about whose fault it is, but about whose responsibility it is – who is Response-Able? And that is you.
We have been and will continue to share self-forgiveness examples here – so if you want to dip your toes, you can do so by simply reading out loud some of the self-forgiveness writings we have done on topics that you can relate to. If you would like support on how to write your own, you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to assist.
If you have any questions, comments or additions, don’t hesitate to reach out!
Thank you for reading,
Maite & Leila