1. When you’re depressed: A lesson in self-forgiveness

    June 4, 2013

    stop self-blaming

    by Zita Weber, Ph.D.

    Too often, depression results from excessive self-criticisms.  When you’re feeling guilty, it’s easy to get too down on yourself.  Sometimes the guilt feelings are imaginary and even if they feel real, they can be overly intensified and make you feel worthless.    Getting away from this self-blaming approach is key to starting to feel better about yourself.

    Getting away from a self-blaming approach

    Learn to replace self-blame with a constructive and realistic attitude.  It’s always more empowering to look to the future and what you can do to improve your situation.  Don’t linger in the past.  Sometimes we hear what appear to be simplistic expressions such as:  ‘It’s all water under the bridge’ and ‘What’s done is done’.  Learn to embrace these expressions and take them seriously.  Make your peace with the past but resolve to do things in the present and the future that will make you feel better about yourself.  Learn from past mistakes, but don’t hold onto any blame.

    Learn to practice self-forgiveness

    Practicing self-forgiveness might sound challenging, but the devastating effects of not doing so are highlighted in a novel, Ironweed, which was made into a movie starring Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep.  The main character, Francis Phelan, accidentally drops his infant son on the floor and the child dies of complications as a result of the injury.  Although this happened many years before the beginning of the novel, the tragic event is revealed through Francis’s nightmarish flashbacks.  Francis is restless, becomes a wanderer and an alcoholic.  While his wife is prepared to forgive him and have him back at home, Francis can’t forgive himself.  In not being able to forgive himself, he dooms himself to a hellish existence.  If only Francis could learn to forgive himself, he could reclaim his life.  The moral of the story is:  don’t be unforgiving of yourself.

    Begin practicing self-forgiveness by accepting that we all make mistakes and we all have times in our lives when we might feel down and depressed because we believe we haven’t met our own standards of behavior.  Learn from these challenges and make sure that you forgive yourself and move on to a more positive place.

    Keep a journal

    Keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings will help you tremendously when it comes to self-understanding – and self-forgiveness.  Don’t put pressure on yourself by keeping a daily journal if that doesn’t work for you – but make sure that you do write down the important thoughts and feelings that might lead to disorganized, chaotic and self-blaming ideas.

    It’s useful when keeping a journal to dialogue with yourself – ask yourself questions.  It might be difficult asking these questions of yourself, but remember – by asking yourself questions you are clarifying thoughts and feelings and adopting a more problem-solving stance.

    Asking questions – and answering them as honestly as possible – will empower you in your thinking, making matters clearer and imposing a kind of sense and order on them.

    For more skills and strategies in dealing with depression, see Losing the 21st Century Blues (http://zitaweber.com/new-releases/losing-the-21st-century-blues)

    Author Bio: Zita Weber, Ph.D. has worked as a counselor and therapist with individuals, couples and families.  She has researched and written about communication, relationships, sexuality, depression and loss and grief.  More information about her work and books can be found at:  http://zitaweber.com.

    Image Credit: Mark Sebastian