Originally Posted on April 1, 2012 by Dr. Gail Feldman
Most of us have done things at one time or another that we regret. Guilt and self-judgment as bad, not good enough, smart enough or attractive enough are pretty common carry-overs from childhood. Self-forgiveness practices can clear old thought patterns of condemnation and self-doubt, allowing for the true self- the person of value and purpose- to step up and give their gifts to the world. What most of us have to forgive ourselves for, thankfully, is simply being human. But, what if we’ve committed crimes? What if we’ve killed someone? How is self-forgiveness possible or even warranted in such cases?
At a violence-impact high school program in San Diego, I listened along with 400 students, as a young woman told her story of driving drunk when she was fifteen years old. She’d wanted to go to a party and her mother had said no. Without a driver’s license, she stole her mother’s car and drove to the party anyway. That night she got high on drugs and alcohol. On her way home, she fell unconscious behind the wheel, crashed into another car and killed three people, one a young mother. She nearly died herself of multiple injures requiring numerous surgeries on her body and on her face. She was so physically fragile she couldn’t be told about the consequences of the crash for several months. She still looked fragile, wisps of hair falling onto her face, as she stood at the podium reading from her prepared talk, her voice cracking and wavering.
We in the audience were weeping for her, for the unsuspecting people who lost their lives, and for the families who lost their loved ones. How could this girl ever forgive herself for such a devastating act? How could the guilt, the shame and the anguish ever be dispelled? Is it even right to forgive one’s self after destroying the lives of so many? I don’t know if this girl has forgiven herself, but sharing her story in efforts to prevent another tragedy is certainly a start by making amends.
Without forgiveness and redemption, another life is lost, the self-hate murdering her spirit and her potential. The silence in that auditorium spoke a thousand words about the courage in confession, accountability and the powerful plea for responsible action. Only from a forgiving and self-accepting heart can we re-create our lives and be of value and service to others. Holding ourselves hostage in blame holds us back from contributing in some way to our community. This young woman found the key to unlock the prison door- to speak her experience so that other teens might make choices that preserve life.