Tisha B'Av is intrinsically connected to addiction recovery in how they both require us to confront our pain as the means to healing.
You’re a growth-oriented person. You look for opportunities to develop skills in all areas of your life – spiritual, emotional, and physical. You’re conscious of making the right choices and showing forgiveness to those around you. When you stop to take stock of your accomplishments and goals, you recognize that you’ve done well and know that you’re not someone who accepts the status quo, you’re always evolving. Except in one area of your life: Your Blind Spot
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year is approaching, and it’s a time for introspection. We contact others to ask for their forgiveness, and we readily offer forgiveness to others who ask us. To be sure we’ve been thorough, many of us have the custom to declare that we forgive all who have hurt us.
Except for one person.
You see them frequently and notice that they are no longer the person they used to be. They’ve changed entirely and they would never behave the way they used to. Yet, you find forgiveness unfathomable. Your heart holds on to the grief and suffering you’ve endured through their actions and you can’t move past it.
That person is you.
The Power of Shame and Guilt on Forgiveness
What makes it so difficult to forgive yourself? Most likely it’s shame. Unlike guilt, which is about a specific behavior, shame is about self-worth. Guilt alerts you that you’ve done something wrong. Shame is the belief that being you is wrong. These are two very different experiences.
While guilt prompts you to do better next time or make amends this time, shame is toxic and has no redemptive qualities. The corrective action you take after feeling guilt provides you with solace and succor. You realize that even though you’ve erred, you’re still a good person. Shame keeps you in a frozen state of toxic self-judgment which prevents you from moving forward. You are stuck and you hate yourself.
Healing From Shame
Discovering how your shame developed will enable you to view yourself from a different angle; one not so skewed. Your perspective will shift dramatically and instead of holding on to negative beliefs about yourself, you will develop deep compassion for the person whose face you see in the mirror every morning. Letting go of the contempt you have for yourself will no longer be necessary because it will slip away on its own without you noticing. The empathy and tenderness you will then feel towards yourself will be vastly different from the self-loathing you currently feel.
How do you begin?
You begin by being willing to start a journey, a journey of self-discovery. The journey begins by reexamining your life story. However, this time you will be a reader instead of being the character in it. As a reader you will be an objective party who will be drawn into the narrative, experiencing events differently. As the story unfolds, you will discover something about yourself that you were previously unaware of.
Ella’s Story: How shame manifests itself…
Here’s how the story might go.
Although an attractive young lady with a sharp mind, sixteen-year-old Ella felt like a misfit. Anyone looking at her would be surprised to know that she was deeply troubled. Ella moved through life feeling alone and apart.
Ella was a gifted artist and her drawings gave her an outlet to outwardly express her inner world. The theme of her art was predominantly dark. Although she never shared it with others (who would be interested?) a discerning eye would have noticed the occasional element of hope in her work. The adults in Ella’s life paid no attention to her wayward behaviors. Ella was functioning, but barely. She found her own ways to cope with her depression and anxiety. These ways were far from desirable, but sixteen-year-old Ella was doing the only thing she knew how to do to numb the acute psychic and emotional suffering she struggled with daily.
What happened to Ella? What forces in her life drove her to engage in activities that were unhealthy for the mind and body? Why was this young lady suffering so much? Ella needed someone to see her and understand her.
But no one had.
Ella was a survivor. She had experienced childhood trauma. Childhood trauma can take various forms such as violence and abuse, emotional neglect, or a chronic feeling of being misunderstood or unimportant. The reason childhood trauma is so harmful is that children naturally seek to bond with their parents. This need is both a biological and emotional one. When the attachment or bond does not develop, what else can the child believe other than question “is there is something wrong with me”? Children cannot view their parents as flawed, so the only conclusion is that the flaw must lie with themselves.
By the time Ella reached adolescence, she couldn’t tolerate the feelings she experienced. These feelings included confusion, numbness, feeling invisible, acute aloneness, inability to regulate emotions, and being tortured by her inner critic. She found ways to cope, to anesthetize the painful feelings the trauma caused. These coping mechanisms served her at the moment, but the lingering residue of these experiences left their own scars.
What happened to Ella when she matured into adulthood? When she was old enough, Ella left home. She was determined to put her old life behind her and start anew. However, she hadn’t really put it behind her. Ella had never processed her feelings – instead, she buried them, but she buried them alive. Buried feelings don’t stay underground, – they always resurface, especially during times of stress. Every time something in her present life triggered a memory of her previous behaviors, Ella felt deep shame.
Healing from Trauma
When your trauma remains unprocessed it leads to deeply rooted negative beliefs about yourself. And that’s exactly what happened to Ella. She believed that she was bad – that’s why she did all those things during her adolescence. She didn’t have the benefit of knowledge or insight that would have helped her understand that she had been suffering and had been trying to numb her feelings.
Is there any part of you that identifies with Ella? When you look back at all the behaviors you regret, do you still feel shame? Do you judge yourself negatively? If you haven’t processed your feelings, even though your behaviors have changed, your negative beliefs about yourself will not disappear. You will continue to believe that these behaviors reflect your true character and worth.
Negative Beliefs Hinder Self-Forgiveness
Negative beliefs keep you chained to the past.
How do you let go of negative beliefs?
When you can process all the feelings associated with the trauma, when you learn to understand the true nature of your experience, and when you confront the negative belief that you are bad (or whatever other negative belief you may have about yourself) then the past will stay in the past and not intrude on the present or the future.
Your shame will fade away.
This year forgive the person who truly deserves to be forgiven. That person is you. Once you’ve forgiven yourself, you’ll experience a year resplendent with personal growth.
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