There are many skills that are learned during treatment and recovery for substance use disorders like addiction. Similarly, every treatment center offers unique programs and therapies to help clients to achieve these skills. One popular treatment modality is the 12 Steps, which acknowledges recovery as an ongoing and continuous process.
The 12-Step philosophy helps clients learn skills such as accepting a loss of control (specifically over substance use) and enhancing individual responsibility and maturity, which are essential skills to learn from any treatment program. However, 12-Step programs are unique in that they provide a direct framework for individuals to go through stages in their own recovery. These programs also emphasize the value that group support has on recovery.
Another essential skill that 12-Step programs teach clients is the importance of self-forgiveness. Addiction often causes feelings of guilt and shame that are difficult to avoid. During treatment, it is vital that individuals learn how to forgive themselves for their past mistakes and live their lives as much in the present as possible.
What Is Self-Forgiveness?
Self-forgiveness is the ability to let go of past feelings, emotions, and behaviors. It is a positive skill that has the power to shift an individual’s attitude and beliefs about themself in a compassionate and understanding way. Higher levels of self-forgiveness are related to greater overall well-being.
Self-forgiveness helps people to let go of expectations of how people should behave, and instead teaches individuals that everyone needs to accept others for who they are. Specifically, it teaches people in recovery how to focus on the positives while letting go of the past. The more a person can focus on the positives in their healing, the more likely they can willingly commit to long-term recovery.
Why Is Self-Forgiveness Essential in Recovery?
During active addiction, a person tends to prioritize substance use and associated behaviors above all else. Oftentimes, substance use creates emotional turmoil in interpersonal relationships and can develop into verbally and emotionally abusive situations, both while an individual is under the influence of substances or during the times that they are sober. They may wrong the people they love the most without even realizing it or intending to.
Friends, family, and other loved ones may bring to attention the consequences of their loved one’s substance use, but their loved one may not be ready to come to terms with their unhealthy behavior. During recovery, an individual will be required to revisit some of these experiences. Until a person learns to acknowledge and accept their wrongdoings, they will not be able to successfully achieve recovery.
Self-Forgiveness in the 12-Steps
Self-forgiveness is not explicitly stated in any of the 12 Steps; however, it is an overarching lesson that can be taken away from several of the 12 Steps. It is important to recognize where self-forgiveness can be identified in the steps as well as how to achieve optimal levels of self-forgiveness through 12-Step programs.
Steps 4 and 5: Searching and Admitting Wrongdoings
The first notable connection to self-forgiveness can be made in steps 4 and 5. These steps require an individual to turn inward, identify their mistakes, and admit their mistakes.
“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”
Step 4 requires soul-searching. It involves taking an honest assessment of personal mistakes, wrongdoings, and substance use consequences to help an individual better understand what underlying problem(s) needs to be solved. An individual must not only take inventory of their behaviors, but they must also recognize how their behaviors have impacted those around them.
“Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
Step 5 requires admitting mistakes and wrongdoings. As mentioned previously, there is a major difference between acknowledging wrongdoings and accepting them. This step encourages individuals to take responsibility for their past to better ensure that they will not make the same mistakes again in the future.
Without self-forgiveness in mind during these steps, an individual can fall victim to chronic feelings of guilt and shame. It is important to keep in mind that emotions such as guilt and shame perpetuate addiction. For an individual to truly recover, they must come to terms with the fact that everyone makes mistakes.
The 12 Steps help individuals to recognize that they must forgive themselves just as they would forgive others. A person must own up to their faults to preserve beyond them. In many cases, people need to make mistakes to realize their need for growth. Although these Steps are difficult, they can remind individuals that they must accept themselves for who they were and for the things that they weren’t able to control. If anything, accepting the past can help individuals not make the same mistakes in the future.
Self-forgiveness is an essential element of a successful recovery journey. Addiction often wreaks havoc on an individual’s sense of self-worth and can cause them to make mistakes, especially toward the people that they love. Self-forgiveness can help individuals to make peace with their mistakes and wrongdoings so that they can move forward with peace. 12-Step programs highlight the importance of self-forgiveness in several steps, but especially in steps 4 and 5. Spero Recovery is a residential treatment center that uses a 12-Step model of recovery. We work with clients to help them come to terms with their past so they can willingly move forward in their healing journey. Our 12-Step models can help you understand that recovery is not a linear process, but a gradual one. To learn more about our recovery programs, give us a call today at (303) 351-7888.