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The path to self-forgiveness

IMG_3286The book on my nightstand right now is different from what I usually read; my tastes run towards weight loss books and fitness magazines for research, or current bestseller fiction like Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, which I hear is great, but have yet to start.

But the book I just finished was life-changing for me. Written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu, an Anglican priest, the main thrust of The Book of Forgiving is what the authors call a fourfold path to forgiveness. While this discussion was fascinating, what I found most meaningful was the examination at the very end about self-forgiveness.

What I read struck me to my core.

It hit me that for so many years I carried the burdens of guilt and shame and because of that I was stuck in an endless loop. I referred to this before in “Trapped in the Vicious Cycle,” but upon reading this book that evaluation took on a broader meaning.

The guilt I felt over making poor food choices and not exercising made me feel bad. I deemed my actions (or inactions) as failures. Eventually I came to see myself as a failure because of this. These powerful negative emotions are crushing, and made it impossible for me to stick to any sort of healthy eating or exercise plan.

This pattern persisted for more than two decades.

The only way I found my way out of this cycle was to surrender. Not in a religious sense, but in the sense that I was self-sufficient and could therefore “do it alone.”

Nobody does anything alone.

I had to forgive my past failures and accept myself: the good and the bad.

Self-forgiveness, the authors rightly point out, does not mean letting yourself off the hook. It requires humility and hard work. It requires a sincere desire to change. It requires that you stop repeating those behaviors that make you loathe yourself and your actions.

I know that I am not alone in my tendency to berate and punish myself when I make poor choices. I hear this sentiment echoed all the time by those who seek to transform themselves.

Rather than unleashing vengeance on yourself the next time you make a food or exercise choice that you’re unhappy about, allow yourself the opportunity to explore why you made that choice.

It’s in asking that question, and answering it honestly, that you begin to heal.

Self-forgiveness isn’t the answer to everybody’s weight problem. But we’re emotionally complex beings, and better understanding those emotions can help us recognize why we turn to food as a way to cope.

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