Self-hatred is not productive in the pursuit of change. Self-forgiveness (as hard for abuse victims to accept as moderation) actually shortens the recovery time from what we may view as “failures” and backsliding.
But self-forgiveness is not a skill abuse victims are taught as children. We must acquire it on our own.
Here are a few suggestions :
1. Define the infraction, and identify the injured party.
In the context of attempts to move beyond our abusive past, victims are, for the most part, the injured parties . We fail ourselves, and experience overwhelming shame.
The inner dialog goes something like this:
“How stupid of me not to speak up. That saleswoman must have thought I was an idiot. I’m sure she could tell I didn’t want the sweater. I already have a nice sweater. Besides, the new one is hideous. If I wasn’t able to speak up in a department store, how am I ever going to speak up in class? It’s too late for me anyhow. It was ridiculous to think I could go back to school at my age.”
2. Put things in perspective.
Have you started World War III? No. Have you abused any children? Again, the answer is no. You have bought a sweater which can be returned, given as a gift, worn to an “ugly sweater” party, donated, or discarded outright.
3. Tease out the negative feelings.
You have, in a single instance, been less assertive than desired. That can be remedied the next time. You can visualize returning the sweater; can even memorize and practice a script. You can buy sweaters to your heart’s content, and return them all.
And if a saleswoman is unimpressed with your taste, your demeanor, or your credit, what on earth does it matter? The episode has nothing do with your school performance. You simply projected your fears forward.
4. Be kind to yourself.
Ask yourself whether you would hold anyone else to the high standards you hold yourself, or criticize anyone else as harshly. Chances are you are kinder to others than to yourself.
If you don’t feel “deserving” of kindness, try it anyway. Encouragement produces far better results with abuse victims than rebuke.
5. Decide what it is you want, and make a plan.
You will generally have a range of options.
- Do you want your money back? For that, you’ll have to return the sweater. Be sure to adhere to store policy governing returns.
- Do you want to give the store negative feedback? Complete a survey and express your dissatisfaction with the quality of merchandise, and pressure tactics of staff. Many surveys are anonymous, making confrontation unnecessary.
- Do you want an apology from the store? Consider registering a complaint against the saleswoman who strong-armed you.
If you do need to make amends to someone, come up with a plan for that. Again, you will likely have a range of options. Harikari should not be among them.
6. Let go of the past.
This is far more demanding than it sounds. For abuse victims and others suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the past keeps intruding on the present. But we can only operate in the present. Insofar as possible, stop beating yourself up for past mistakes.
7. Change the narrative.
Focus on the things that you do right. For someone struggling with depression, just getting out of bed may be an accomplishment. Showering, getting dressed, and taking out the garbage are worthy of applause.
Don’t overlook your qualities as a human being. Those count, too. Are you honest? Loyal? A good listener? A good friend?
Does your dog or cat love you? You get extra points for that.
Scripture, also, speaks to the difficulties of change. The Apostle Paul, you may remember, asked the Lord for relief from a weakness or “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12: 7-9).
Whatever that thorn may have been, Paul never did get the relief. Instead, the Lord’s response was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”
His power is made perfect in our weakness. That is not a taunt or a bad joke. God heals some abuse victims fully. Others He sustains despite our pain, despite our scars.
To have survived abuse at all is an enormous achievement. To have retained the capacity to love, yet more so. That is success by any definition…even if we do have as many layers as onions.
 Psychology Today, “How to Forgive Yourself and Move on From the Past” by Matt James PhD, 10/22/14, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/focus-forgiveness/201410/how-forgive-yourself-and-move-the-past.
 Prevention, “12 Ways to Forgive Yourself No Matter What You’ve Done” by Ellen Michaud, 8/31/15, http://www.prevention.com/mind-body/how-to-forgive-yourself-no-matter-what.
 WebMD, “Learning to Forgive Yourself” by Jean Lawrence, http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/learning-to-forgive-yourself#1.
 It is true that the choices victims make, as the result of an abusive past, may impact their children. A psychologist can be helpful, in this regard.
The difficulties of change, unrealistic expectations, and moderation were discussed last week in Part 1
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