One lesson my parents taught me, and that I learned well, in my childhood was that I’m not worthy of forgiveness.  I’m not worthy of anybody forgiving me, even myself.  Part of this was the expectation of perfection.  I was never perfect (who in this world is).  I always made mistakes.  And worse, I was always “getting in trouble.” 

“Getting in trouble” meant not only the initial punishment but after punishments as well.  The initial punishment was always a beating.  Sometimes only by one of them, sometimes by both.  One memorable time had the two of them trading places for about 10 different times.  Finally, on the eleventh time, they asked me who I wanted to “spank” me that time.  I realized at that point that they had been taking turns, and that it was Mom’s turn to “spank” me, so I said, “Mom.”  She asked why, did she not “spank” as hard as her husband?  My response was completely truthful (and almost got me beat again), “No, you actually hit harder than he does, but you’ve been taking turns and he spanked me last, so it’s your turn now.”

Hey, she asked, right?  If she didn’t want the truth (and I would have been beat for a lie if she found out it was a lie) she should never have asked.

Anyway, the after punishments would go on for weeks or months.  One time, I had to write “I will not prevaricate.”  Doesn’t sound to bad, does it?  Except, I had to do it from September until almost Christmas.  At first, I was allowed to sit at the table and write my lines.  Then one day in October he decided to toy with me and asked me if I was tired of sitting at the dining room table all the time writing.  I said I was, thinking I was finally done with the after punishment.  No.  He told me since I was tired of sitting at the dining room table, I could now stand at the dining room table and write.  By the time I was really done with that after punishment, I’d written over 100,000 lines.

Of course, the whole time I was in after punishments, I was told how terrible I was for doing whatever it was that had gotten me punished (and some of the things were as simple as forgetting to take out the garbage or make the milk or not getting straight A’s on my report card).  And when I was finally allowed off of whatever the after punishment was, I was still not forgiven.  

They would let me know just how bad I was, and how I didn’t deserve forgiveness.  And when I got in trouble the next time (not if, but when), I was reminded of all the times before when I’d gotten in trouble.  I was told that since I was constantly in trouble I didn’t deserve forgiveness.  It was a vicious cycle, really.  Get in trouble, get punished, get told how terrible I was and how I didn’t deserve forgiveness, get the after punishment, finally get off trouble, get in trouble again and told how that proved I wasn’t good enough for forgiveness.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

So, as you might expect, one thing that has been really difficult for me is learning to forgive myself.   Forgiveness just wasn’t something that was in my vocabulary for a very long time.  I made a mistake?  I had to suffer for it, and if other people around me didn’t make me suffer, then I would make myself suffer by being miserable, by constantly reminding myself (and others) what scum I was. 

Needless to say, this didn’t help my self esteem, constantly telling myself how terrible I was.

Self forgiveness is something that goes hand in hand with self esteem.  As long as I hold a mistake (small or large) over my own head, I continue to beat myself up for it.  I call myself names like stupid, and scum, and worse.  I reinforce those feeling of inadequacy, of being less than human, of not being worthy of anything good, when I don’t forgive myself.

A few weeks ago, I wrote I was getting back on the horse with self-esteem in my own life.  That my self esteem had taken a bit of a hit recently.  What happened was that I ran a camping event for my local group.  It was a financial success, but not a success by my definition of the term success.  

My definition of a successful event is that when things go wrong (as they always will), if the paying guests don’t see the problems, then the event is a success.  The event I organized had guests seeing some of the things that went wrong.  Actually, just one thing that went wrong, but for me, it was enough.

As the organizer, the buck stops here.  Yes, I had people advising me and some of the advise wasn’t completely on target.  My assistant organizer didn’t do what he was supposed to do, which left me doing his job as well as mine.  There were other problems, places where I made mistakes.  Finally, on the main day of the event, I became deathly ill with heat stroke and had to be rushed to the hospital.

I castigated myself ten ways to Sunday about that whole situation.  I apologized profusely to the leaders of my group for “failing” (and had them tell me that if this was a failure, then they wanted me to fail more).   I’ve refused all opportunities to organize another event since then. 

And all this because I couldn’t forgive myself for the mistakes I made and for being human.  It has been six months since that event.  Everybody else has moved on but me.  I’m miserable, expecting to hear how I’ll never be allowed to organize another event as long as I live (or remain in this group).  I’m expecting the leaders of this group to treat me like the parents did.  To give me the cold shoulder.  To not want to be near me.

They haven’t forgiven me because they see nothing to forgive.  Yes, there were a few problems, but people had a lot of fun, and the event made the money we wanted and needed it to make.  Only I haven’t forgiven myself.

Getting back on the horse isn’t easy. 

Step one was figuring out I’d fallen off.  That I’m okay, just as I am.

Step two is forgiving myself for my mistakes, real or imagined.  If I’m okay, just as I am, then there’s no reason for me to continue to punish myself.  There is no reason for me to be walking on eggshells waiting for people to ridicule me.  There is no reason for me not to forgive myself. 

And if it’s okay to forgive myself, then it’s okay to like myself.  Which helps the self esteem to grow.

Just like self castigation can be a downward spiral, self esteem can be an upward spiral.


11 Responses

  1. I send you many hugs & positive vibes & self-loving thoughts, because I do wish you happiness & self-esteem & also because I see so much of myself & my childhood in this post. I also have trouble forgiving myself & magnify every flaw, every mistake, & find it easy to fall back into wondering how & why anyone could ever consider me to be a worthwhile, loveable human being. For those of us who grew up with constant, unremitting abuse & daily (hourly) messages that we were worthless, that people would be better off if we were dead or had never been born, with people who sometimes tried to arrange our deaths, coming to a place of loving & valuing ourselves is a long, painful journey & it is often two steps forward, one step back.

    I wish self-love & self-forgiveness for you, for me, for all of us who have wasted too much precious time believing we don’t deserve it. And that includes, for me, such things as buying something I really want & not telling me that I should not spend so much money on myself or wallowing in guilt after I buy it & cooking something I really love, even if no one else around me likes it. It isn’t easy to give yourself permission to do these things, so I guess we need to keep working at it.

    Take care of yourself & remember that you deserve the best of everything. We all do. And we especially deserve to forgive ourselves for being human & making mistakes.

  2. Our parents must have been related. But I know that they were that way because my stepfather was beaten and abused as a child and it was what he thought was right. It’s not an excuse, but an explanation.

    I get so much flak at work for my perfectionism and I can’t understand WHY they don’t expect my perfection or come down on me hard for making a mistake.

  3. “There is no reason for me to be walking on eggshells waiting for people to ridicule me. There is no reason for me not to forgive myself. ”

    A thousand times yes and a million hugs of understanding and sympathy. Many of us have so much to learn about finding our own forgiveness and you just hit the nail on the head for me with this. There is NO REASON not to forgive myself for perceived flaws. May take a lot longer for it to sink in than to type or say but it’s a start and I thank you for that.

    In my house growing up there wasn’t much physical punishment, it was all guilt and verbal insanity (my brother and I used to say that the “alien” was coming out again when the screaming would start up). And the biggest thing was never giving apologies. For anything. So it has been a lifetime of learning for me that I don’t have to over-compensate for that lack all growing up by apologizing for EVERYTHING on this end, expecting to never be forgiven for any perceived slight.

    I’m taking your post as a reminder that no matter how slow it may seem, learning to love myself and forgive IS still a spiral upwards.

  4. Ohhhh I want to give you a big hug. I can’t imagine the self-loathing your parents must have felt to do that to you. You are incredibly strong to be breaking out of that cycle. My parents weren’t perfect, but they gave me unconditional love, and I can promise you that all children deserve that; it enables them to love themselves when they are on there own. So here’s sending you some.

  5. It is so hard to debug your own code. Especially when it’s been put in there by malicious programmers (it’s been hard enough for me, and mine were well-meaning though not good at the parenting).

  6. (hugs you tight)

    Keep spiralling upwards. In the light is a good place to be.

    And I bet if you offerred to organize another event for that group, they would be delighted to take you up on it.

    It isn’t easy to let go of guilt and shame, but it’s worth it, and so are you.

  7. hi, I just wanted to say every time I see one of your posts in the fatosphere digest I completely relate… and I click to see who’s blog and it’s always yours. 🙂 While, that’s unfortunate I so relate to this post… it’s good to know our experiences are NOT unique. Not only the history of unforgiveness but organizing events!! I recently organized an event almost single-handedly and for once I DIDN’T feel disappointed. It was a huge step because I expected much worse but everyone who attended, including the performers, enjoyed it and had a good time so that’s what was important. (Of course my roommate then kept saying over and over ‘i can’t believe you’re not upset, i would feel like such a failure and want to kill myself!’ unbelievable.)

    So just wanted to say hi and that I enjoy your insight. (I seriously need to start blogging again) I like that, self-esteem is an upward spiral. 🙂

  8. I only have *hugs* to offer. I’m in kind of the same boat (but I have a mental disorder to blame, so it’s not quite the same) and I just want to tell you that it’s okay to forgive yourself. I know you know that, but I also know that sometimes, one needs someone else to give permission for such, if nothing more than a symbol.

    just massive *hugs* from a stranger

  9. Oh, my.

    I just had a similar experience.

    I’m on a nonprofit board, and one of the officers was asked to set up a board training. Short version: He didn’t. And we weren’t trainined.

    We were to reschedule for this month. We did. Somehow, the planning and follow up defaulted to me. I took care of everything, including making sure that we had food for the training.

    When a key staff member (the person who insisted we have the training by the team we invited) said she was disappointed in the presentation, I picked up my imaginary bat and began to beat myself up.

    Still thrashing away, and I don’t know why.

  10. I once read in an eating disorders forum that forgiveness is realizing that the past isn’t going to change. It’s over. No amount of self-bashing is going to change it. No amount of going over and over and over it in your head will change it.
    I really relate to your childhood experiences. Sigh. You deserved better and so did I. My parents somehow gave me the idea that their rehashing of guilt and whatever I did somehow changed things. Maybe if I was punished enough, everything would change. Hah. Dunno if this is what is going on with you… but I’m throwing it out there. 🙂
    Question for you… If you had a loved one beating hisself/herself up for this event mistake… what would you tell them? Would you encourage the self-bashing? I’m thinking you definitely wouldn’t. 😉

  11. I always wanted to be perfect when I was a child so that I would avoid the beatings or castigations, though got to say, my parents are quite sane compared to yours. It’s taken a long time but now I see that making mistakes is a good thing. It helps me learn and grow and acknowledge that I’m only human. Now, like J, I can make a mistake and still see the good achieved. It’s a gift I’m very grateful for.

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