Last Sunday, the last day before Lent, Russia marked one of the most unusual holy holidays.
It is known as Forgiveness Sunday. On this day, each person can ask forgiveness from anyone he or she intentionally or accidentally offended or caused harm to, and thus purge his or her soul of guilt.
Forgiveness Sunday was first practised by Christian monks in Egypt. Once a year they were left alone in the desert for the 40 days of Lent in order to abandon all earthly things and strengthen their faith. Before they left, they asked for forgiveness from their relatives and friends, and then went off to contemplate their misdeeds in the wilderness.
I think that we need to learn and have the strength to not only forgive other people but, above all, ourselves. Forgiveness can be the first important step in the path of self-love.
The process of forgiving starts with the process of accepting ourselves with all our mistakes. We must admit our faults and recognise our actions that have wounded other people. We must hold a mirror to our negative thoughts and bad intentions. We can then forgive ourselves for things we should have done but did not do and for those misdeeds for which we are ashamed, and regret.
If we do not know how to forgive ourselves, we are stuck in the negativity of our past. We do not live in the present and aren’t looking to the future. We continue to think about the bad events in our lives, and sometimes we scold ourselves with the harshest words; we criticise and scourge ourselves. We do not give ourselves permission to go forward. For years, we copy destructive behaviours, lost in negative emotions that deplete our time and energy. Not forgiving yourself is, in fact, insult; only in this case, you insult yourself.
How important it is to direct our energy, not to our own self-destruction but, to analysing the errors that we commit and then eliminating their causes.
For many years, American psychologist Fred Laskin, the director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects, has been studying the situations of people who find it difficult to forgive themselves. According to him, the biggest impediment to forgiving ourselves, oddly enough, is that we seek to hide in our own sense of guilt.
“This is not the case when we feel bad because we know that we did something wrong and accept that everybody makes mistakes,” he explains. “But some of us actually wrap ourselves up in these negative feelings like a blanket, cover our heads and refuse to stop sobbing.”
But some people know when to stop crying. My friend shared with me how she forgave herself: “I begged for forgiveness from myself. I used to say the same words over and over, many times. Within about an hour, I started crying. I continued to speak to myself through my tears. I didn’t stop until I felt empty. I will never forget this feeling of cleansing, and that I made it happen. Since then, I can live with myself in peace.”
How should we act when we need to forgive ourselves? I treat myself as if I were my favourite girlfriend, or my mother. I imagine her in my place. If she did something wrong and told me about it, would I scold her and say, “How could you? Why did you do this? It’s terrible!”
Of course, not. I would just hug her. I’d find the words of consolation necessary for that moment and say, “You should forgive yourself.”
After that, we would start thinking together about what could be done to correct the situation, or what conclusions could be drawn so as not to repeat it.
The process of forgiving oneself and others is a great leap forward in the process of personal growth, of changing oneself for the better. It is an important step forward to heal your soul. You may not need 40 days of contemplation in the desert. Sometimes self-forgiveness is like a flower, ready to bloom with just a little merciful rain.
• Nina London is a certified wellness and weight-management coach. Her mission is to support and inspire mature women to make positive changes in their body and mind. Share your inspirational stories with her here: ninalondon.com