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. Continue reading