I know – things were bad and now they are worse. You don’t know how to forgive yourself.
On top of feeling betrayed and abandoned by a toxic person you pledged to let go of, you now have to deal with the disgust of having betrayed and abandoned yourself. And while there is a certain energy that comes with feeling angry at someone else, turning on yourself can, in the words of one of my favorite poems by Emily Dickinson, feel like you are being dropped, “bone by bone.”
But that’s not going to happen, because you have already proven you know how to forgive yourself.
How can I be so sure? No matter how worthless you may feel and no matter how humiliating the fall, if you’ve been dealing with some cocktail of a toxic/emotionally unavailable/narcissistic person, I can absolutely guarantee you that you’ve provided this person with more understanding, empathy, and chances than they deserve.
The prerequisite for how to forgive yourself is to give yourself one fraction of the same empathy you would give to someone else in your life.
You implemented no contact in the first place because you were done with being a powerless victim of the machinations of someone who dishonored or discarded you. And despite your best efforts…
Sh*t hit the fan, you got triggered, and suddenly you felt like you were no longer in charge of yourself. Falling off your white horse doesn’t mean that you now have a new license to become a powerless victim of your own tyranny.
It means that your body is begging to acknowledge what you have already survived.
The first step in how to forgive yourself is to think of your triggers as physiological communications from your body, sent in an effort to help you heal. They are a roadmap back to yourself.
Promising yourself that you will stay away from a toxic person makes all the logical sense in the world until you feel suddenly hijacked, desperate, and hopeless on a regular Tuesday after what seems to be the smallest provocation in smell, sound bite, memory, flashback, toe stub, stomach, errant email, anything. Every time I felt the pull to go back to a toxic person, I would feel like the biggest, most inconsistent, failure, self-sabotaging fraud — so much of my resolve could dissolve so easily.
Until I realized that I wasn’t listening. I started trying to excavate the meaning behind my triggered reactions, with the same diligence I tried to understand why and how other people would hurt me. It sucked, but in my experience, these reactions only tend to get louder, more dramatic, and more painful the more you ignore them.
This is because you are more than your conscious thoughts. You are an emotional, mental, and physiological museum. Your triggers are symptoms of underlying beliefs that you developed in order to protect yourself during a time when you felt the most defenseless.
At some point, convincing yourself that you were unlovable, unworthy, and defective served you.
These beliefs are steadfast because you felt they had to be in order for you to survive.
But things are different now. You promised yourself you would cut anyone out of your life who gives you conditional love, who makes you feel unworthy or defective. This is almost everything. Your fall is an indicator of how far you have come. Without the fall, you would never know that part of letting go, is letting go of past adoptions and beliefs that no longer serve you.
You fell off your white horse because you were never totally on board. You just didn’t know you had more of yourself to recruit. Now you know. Now you can get back on for real.
I’ll try to explain, and since I know you’re probably feeling a little bit sick anyway, here’s a bit of a story:
Maybe it’s bad form to complain about a vacation, but years ago, I went on a truly awful cruise to Cancun.
There were a few good moments, and I remained physically fine, but otherwise: the cabin flooded whenever I took a shower, all of the food was cold & musty, I felt an intuitive sense of doom, and a choking feeling of how the f*ck do you get off a ship that’s in the middle of an endless sea? All the while wondering – isn’t this supposed to be fun?
No one told me it could get way worse when I finally managed to get off-board. I wasn’t seasick at all while on the ship, but I developed a prolonged case of Mal de Debarquement Syndrome (perhaps a distant, seafaring cousin of Post Male Syndrome?) afterward. My brain adapted to the waves while I was on board, but it refused to let go of the adaptation when I got back on land.
There was no way in hell I was going to get back on the ship, but I couldn’t figure out how to restabilize once I disembarked.
I expected to come home to finally relax, but instead, found that being back made me feel dizzy and nauseous. The whole world was swaying and turning upside down, without relief. While it was happening, no amount of breaking this all down logically would convince my body to believe that we were no longer on a boat.
This is, by the way, is an extremely rare physical disorder which I recovered from relatively quickly. I was lucky enough to have a doctor to properly explain to me that I was not actually losing my mind.
Breaking a promise to yourself is completely disorienting – as if, along with your dignity, you’re also losing your mind. You thought that when you finally gathered up the courage to disembark from a toxic relationship, give up on a dream, cut contact, and find a way back home to yourself, to your own power, your own agency — there would be some relief.
But we develop sea legs while out to sea because we have to, in order to live with ourselves in the situation. What they don’t tell you is that shaking your sea legs can be profoundly difficult, shocking, and uncomfortable once you get back to land. At first, you don’t feel more like yourself. You only feel more sick and bereft. Home is worse than when you left it. The adaptations you developed during your toxic relationship were wired to keep you afloat, and without access to them, your world is upside down.
When something triggered your underlying belief that you are unworthy or unloveable, in order to keep afloat, your immediate reaction was to reach OUT, even when reaching out didn’t always (or ever) resolve your feelings. But here’s the missing territory on the roadmap to how to forgive yourself:
You can’t keep a promise to cut contact and stop reaching out when you haven’t yet figured out how to reach IN instead.
Forgive yourself by being empathetic to the fact that no contact is the beginning of a longer process that involves you rewiring your old adaptations to your new world. Give yourself a break because the experience can be agonizing and painful. The catch, and it’s a big one, is that you have to remain in no contact while you work through this.
This is what I wish I knew: it will feel like punishment before it feels like healing, bliss, and freedom. Part and parcel of figuring out how to forgive yourself is understanding that you cannot hate yourself into healing.
You have experienced the fall from your white horse BECAUSE you’ve chosen to move forward. You didn’t know that your desperate attempt at making contact was your own mind, body, and heart calling for you to pay attention to yourself. Forgive yourself for being conditioned to harness all that love and attention toward someone else.
The way to forgive yourself for the fall is to forgive yourself as you would forgive anyone else in your life that you love. By trying to be understanding, empathetic, and encouraging the other person to follow through with their promises through consistent action.
How to forgive yourself Promise #1: Create an environment conducive to intimacy with yourself
In order to access the meaning behind your triggers instead of reacting to them, you have to develop a response: reaching in, instead of reaching out when you are triggered. This is impossible to do when you are in the middle of heartbreak/while you feel a frenetic need to reach out like you need oxygen. Promise yourself you will minimize these moments:
- Promise yourself that when you cannot slow down your thoughts, you will start focusing on your body. Your prior adaptations, trauma, and past hurts live inside your body and exist physiologically as well as emotionally. The way to access them is to work toward finding a way to feel more at home in your body. This will be different for everyone and can look like breath work, yoga, a walk, anything that involves shifting your energy is a non-frenetic way. The key is to implement this on a consistent basis, so you establish a new physiological baseline when you become triggered.
- Promise yourself that every day you will spend having a quiet, still moment with yourself: journaling, meditation, yoga, taking a walk in nature, anything, but every day. Start small, just stop avoiding yourself altogether.
- Promise yourself that you will stay conscious of all of your physiological and emotional triggers. You will treat them as communications from your body and mind, directing you toward what you need to heal.
- Promise yourself that you will minimize any emotional addiction to feeling like you are not good enough, not worthy, or a victim to circumstance. Instead of indulging the addiction or judging yourself for it, you will approach it consciously, with curiosity and empathy, and follow the addiction to its origin, where you can begin to untangle it.
- Promise yourself that you will peace out of any fake friendship or encounter when/where you are made to feel less than or that makes you feel as if you are re-traumatizing yourself. Let go of anyone else who makes you feel that you should be ashamed for how long it takes you to get over heartbreak.
How to forgive yourself Promise #2: Keep no secrets from yourself
Once you have created an environment where you feel more at home, promise to keep no secrets from yourself. You have the support, in yourself, to work through any thought, emotion, or need – good, bad, or ugly. The more you show yourself that you can handle this, the less you will feel a need to reach out to anyone else to center YOUR universe.
- The mind doubles down when you try to shift a conditioned response. Your mind will create all kinds of seemingly perfectly reasonable explanations for why you need to reach out, instead of in. Promise yourself that you will not lie to yourself when this happens. You will recognize this as a trigger, and instead of reacting, you will address something that you are feeling.
- Part of keeping no secrets from yourself is remembering what you have already been through and knowing that ingrained response patterns that once served you no longer do. Promise yourself that you will develop a more conscious awareness of when this occurs so that you can begin to address your feelings in a way that is more authentic to the person who you are today.
Keep these promises consistently, as you would expect from someone you love, who you want to forgive and who you want to be at peace with.
I know –you are sorry for what you said while you were heart lagged. Being heart lagged is something like being jet lagged.
When you come back home from being abroad, you know very well you are home, but your mind makes you feel uncomfortable and keeps you awake as it adapts to being back. You fall off your white horse when your emotions need to catch up to your mental resolve to cut contact. You freely forgive your body for taking time to recalibrate.
You can do the same for your heart.
Written by: Natasha Adamo Team Member, Irena.