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How To Forgive Yourself ?

forgive on Articles - Okay, you did it. You spent half the month's food budget on a new coat, didn't get to your son's soccer match before the second half, put your mom in a nursing home, and, when the cat's yowling got on your nerves, you—you awful person!—let him outside where he was promptly hit by a car.

Yikes! It's tough to forgive yourself. Your family and friends would never forgive you if they knew half of what you do. Unfortunately, you know the whole. And the sheer awfulness of it rocks you with guilt and sinks you with shame. God may forgive you. But how on earth are you ever going to forgive yourself?

Probably one of the few people who can tell you is psychologist Fred Luskin, PhD, director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project. Dr. Luskin has been conducting studies and workshops on forgiveness up and down the California coast for years. From Berkeley to Big Sur, he's worked with men who've cheated on their wives, wives who've cheated on their husbands, kids who've dumped their parents, parents who've dumped their kids, and a whole lot worse.

Amazingly, the biggest obstacle he's found to self-forgiveness may be the tendency we have to wallow in our own guilt. "It's not just that we feel bad because we know we've done wrong," he explains. Everybody does that. But some of us actually draw those bad feelings around ourselves like a blanket, cover our heads, and refuse to stop the wailing.

If that sounds nuts to you, you're not alone. Wailing should be reserved for the victim, not the perpetrator, right? But some of us try to use those bad feelings like a talisman to ward off the consequences of our actions, says Dr. Luskin. We curl up in a ball and say, "Hey! Look how bad I feel! See how I'm suffering! I'm pitiful! I'm pathetic! I can't be punished any more than this; it wouldn't be fair!"

"It's a crazy form of penance," adds Dr. Luskin with a shake of his head. Instead of taking responsibility for what we've done by trying to repair the damage or make things right, many of us unconsciously decide—mea culpa—to punish ourselves by feeling miserable for the rest of our lives.

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It's not just about you

Unfortunately, the decision to feel miserable for the rest of your life can have tragic consequences. And not always in obvious ways.

For one thing, misery loves company. "If you keep beating yourself up, then the person who tries to love you is going to get beat up too," explains Dr. Luskin. It's inevitable. Anyone who's wallowing in guilt is going to be more withdrawn, more critical, and less open than they normally would. So whoever's around—your spouse, your children, your parents, your friends, even your dog—is going to suffer right along with you.

Nor does the suffering stop with those around you. Mind affects body in a zillion interconnecting ways, and those guilty feelings you're nurturing are generating chemicals that are headed straight for your vital organs. They increase your heart rate, raise your blood pressure, disrupt your digestion, tense your muscles, dump cholesterol into your bloodstream, and reduce your ability to think straight. And every time you remember what you did and wince, those bad feelings give you a fresh hit of corrosive chemicals.

It's no wonder that studies on forgiveness have led scientists to suspect that those who have difficulty forgiving are more likely to experience heart attacks, high blood pressure, depression, and other ills

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