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Being merciful to yourself

Connections, Volume 3, No. 2, Summer 2016 (PDF)

Showing mercy does not require you to condone a wrong or minimize the pain you have felt, but it does mean being able to let go and offer forgiveness.

So, why is it so hard for us to forgive ourselves?

“God desires us to be released from our burdens so we may live fully human lives. God desires to lift us up, not beat us down. We need to allow God to transform us,” Carmelite Father Joseph Chalmers says. “We need to work to show mercy to ourselves, as God desires for us.”

“Forgiveness is a process,” says Sr. Jane Becker, OSB, Ph.D., that includes four steps: acknowledging your injured feelings, committing to forgive, relinquishing revenge and thinking differently.

Therapist Martha Keys Barker, with Caritas Counseling Center of Saint Luke Institute, says an important part of acknowledging your feelings and beginning to let go is speaking with others.

For example, a person who loses her temper while caregiving for an elderly community member or a parent may be upset with herself and
find that hard to let go. “Talking with friends or as part of a support group can normalize your experience and be a huge help in beginning to let go,” says Keys Barker.

“You learn that you are not the only one in this situation,” she says.

She notes that we often hold perfectionistic standards for ourselves and are harder on ourselves than others. She recommends thinking about how you would respond to a friend in your situation. “Typically, you would tell a friend, ‘It’s not as bad as you think’ or ‘It’s serious, but you will get through it.’”

“Be as kind to yourself as you are to your friends,” she says.

Keys Barker recommends making amends when possible. Consider how you might repair a hurt relationship or change the situation. “People often feel bad and that there is nothing they can do, but if there is, acting upon that can help you let go.”

Mindfulness is another resource. One of the practices involves “radically accepting yourself as you are and others as they are,” she says. Return to this over and over as a way to remind yourself that you are human and will make mistakes.

It is helpful to “remember that all of the things that form the person I am today have given me certain strengths and weaknesses,” she says.

Finally, slow down. Getting upset over something small such as losing keys (“I’m so stupid. How could I do that?”), left unchecked, can lead to more irritability. Notice the negative thoughts you are having. Instead of beating up on yourself, recognize that you are on overload and take steps to calm down.