Surviving shame: Learning to forgive yourself

Surviving shame: Learning to forgive yourself

How do you survive shame?

Forgive yourself.

To gather research for my book I’ve been interviewing young men and asking, “Do you practice self-forgiveness?”

After 62 interviews, 59 men interview said, “No.”

When I asked why not, the most common two answers were:

  1. they were ashamed to
  2. they had never forgave themselves before

Everyday I’m at war with my brain. One moment my brain is fine, the next my brain is spinning. Controlling my movements, even the subtle ones, brushing my teeth or turning the pages of a book, can be taxing work.

And everyday cerebellar ataxia makes me embarrassed of myself.

I’m a prideful guy. A happy guy. A patient guy. But each day there are quite moments– walking up stairs, climbing in the car– when I feel bad for myself. When I can feel the stew of anger and bitterness and pity boil under my skin.

When I question, for the umteenth time, why has this happened to me.

When I’m ashamed of my illness.

The truth is–the thought of being damaged terrifies me. I’m too young, too proud, too busy, too promising, too much of a man to have a brain disease that rocks my balance and zaps my energy.

There are many moments when I think, “It’s not suppose to be this way.”

But it is this way.

Now deal with it.

Accept it.

Forgive and move on.

We are brittle. We fall. We are all ashamed of some thing we said, actions haven taken, or failed to take.

I have learned shame is quelled when you forgive yourself. Self-forgiveness, not self-sympathy, is the first step toward repair. Toward releasing negative emotions. Toward finding happiness.

By refusing to forgive yourself, shame manifests into something ugly, violence, addiction, until your flaws pile so high that asking yourself for forgiveness becomes overwhelming request. You are, as they say, in too deep.

And when this occurs, when you feel hopelessness and hostility and cynicism rising,you lose control. You struggle to be hopeful and feel love.  You lose the powerful ability to, as they say, see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

It’s funny, if Cindy were to do something wrong (which almost never happens) I hope I would have the courage to forgive her.  I mean– it’s easier to forgive someone you love than hold a grudge, right?  Because you can’t work on a relationship if you’re harboring negative emotions.

So if you can forgive your spouse–why can’t we forgive ourselves?

We are much more critical and harder on ourselves than on others. And when we refuse to exercise the manly art of forgiveness, we create a deep internal strain that prohibits us from not only loving ourselves, but loving others as well.

I want you to remember:

Life is short.

We all want to be happy.

We’re all struggling.

It takes courage to forgive yourself.

Forgive yourself.

Be well,


Here’s an excerpt from Monday’s post: My wife (and Bill Belichick) taught me something this week

This is not news–teachers are not paid like football players. But to be an effective teacher or football player, you must be willing to work when no one is watching.

For me–a teacher, a writer, and a man living with my broken brain I know this truth all too well. Action, hard work, dedication to your personal betterment is how you make the best of the opportunities life gives you.

For better or worse, things will change. Life will transition. We will earn new jobs, acquire new relationships, discover new passions.

Whatever your circumstance– you owe it to yourself to do your job well.

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