I'm sure I've talked about this more than once before, but it was so critical to my recovery that I feel it needs to be re-stated. Again and again.
Being nice to yourself. Letting yourself off the hook. Treating yourself with kindness. Whatever you want to call it, I'm referring to treating yourself in a way that is intentionally positive and uplifting.
Guilt and shame are good things if they bring sin (anything that separates us from God) to our awareness, and if they motivate us to repent (change our ways). However, I believe that beyond that, guilt and shame are no longer useful and that Satan (the devil, the evil one, pick your favorite title) can step in and use them to torment us with thoughts of how "bad" we are. Hey, he's not referred to as the "accuser" in the Bible for nothing! For the majority of my life, I carried guilt and shame around like I was a card carrying member of the "Beat Yourself Up Club." My perfectionism taunted me and convinced me that I absolutely had to be hard on myself, or else I would behave even worse than I thought I was already.
Finally, one day, after discussing this problem for what seemed like the millionth time over a million sessions, my psychologist asked me a question. "OK, so you are hard on yourself now. Does it help you to live and behave the way you want to live, or how you think you should live?" I thought about it for a minute and that's when it hit me. I just knew that the answer was a big, fat NO. I realized that what I was doing was obviously not working. And of course, I also knew that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result. So right then and there, I decided to be nicer to myself. I figured that I had nothing to lose by trying it. It took some practice, but over time I started to talk differently to myself. Whenever I made a mistake, or sinned, I would only say to myself the same types of things that I would say to a friend who was in the same situation. Of course, if I had really done something wrong, I would apologize or make amends to the offended party, but beyond that, I made an effort to speak nicely to, and think nicely about, myself. Whether I felt that I deserved it or not.
Something strange started to happen after that. I actually felt better. Then I found it easier to behave in the ways that I wanted to behave, or how I felt I should behave. And even sweeter? Because I became less critical of myself, I found that I became less critical of others too. It had never occurred to me that the two were related.
This was one of the very best things I learned in therapy. It literally changed my life. Now, I am counting on God's grace and forgiveness like never before. I'm having to trust that He means what He says when He says I'm forgiven. If He can forgive me, then who am I to withhold forgiveness? I have not given myself a license to sin, but I have given myself a license to be the only thing I can be: human.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 ESV