Letting Go of Guilt

B hat borderedFr. Peter Siamoo, a priest from Tanzania who studied and worked here in Portland until he was called back to Africa, asked me to edit two of his manuscripts to polish his already masterful English. We are working to get them published, but in the meantime he has given me permission to share with you his writing about self-forgiveness. In Fr. Peter’s work as a counselor in hospitals and prisons, he found the inability to forgive oneself to be both prevalent and destructive. Perhaps we too have trouble letting go of our mistakes, weaknesses, and past sinfulness. Don’t we, in this study of granting mercy in our relationships, also deserve to be merciful to ourselves?

From Fr. Peter (his words are not italicized):

Each person, regardless of what evil he/she has committed, has inert goodness which is permanently engraved down deep in the soul. The image of God is always there. This inert-inner-goodness cannot be destroyed or killed by anybody. However, it can be clouded or covered in such a way that one may live as if it no longer exists.

The healthy approach in dealing with our past wrong mistakes is not to run away from them or pretend they don’t exist or even beat ourselves up. It is to be proactive in addressing those wrong choices and put them to rest in order to allow you to live your life.

This week we will cover Father’s first 4 of 8 steps to granting ourselves Mercy:

  1. Acknowledge what we’ve done.

We cannot do something and at the same time claim that we didn’t do it. Remember, there are two persons you can’t cheat at all: God and yourself!

By acknowledging our wrong doing, we are setting our feet onto the path of truth, empowerment, and freedom. When we name the mistake we have made, we define it and in so doing we begin to diminish its power over us while we are claiming our power back.

By identifying the problem, we begin to separate ourselves from it. We caused it, but we are not that problem, and so we can deal with it since we are not within it.

“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge (confess) our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.…” (1 John 1: 8-9).

2. Talk about it.

Trust between the talker and the listener has to be established before meaningful talk can take place. This trust can be grounded on the personal or professional relationship. The victim has to feel safe that the information given will not bite the person back.

Talking about any problem serves to give room for clarification and reinterpretation or reframing of the concepts around the issue in question. Talking brings healing, that is why in psychotherapy, whether in the group setting or one-on-one, talking is the main task of therapy.

We should be alarmed if a person cannot dare to talk about the problem they are facing. It means that the problem is such a monster to the person that it is overwhelmingly controlling the thought process and controlling the person in an unhealthy way.

Since talking helps to define, clarify, analyze, and possibly refine and reframe the problem, a real solution to the problem is next to impossible without it.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16). The scripture is very clear that whenever we happen to have troubled consciences, we need to talk it over. We need to establish trusting relationships among Christian believers. Each should be ready to lend a non-judgmental ear to his or her fellow brethren and provide a safe outlet for those negative emotions and allow him or her to regain the lost inner peace.


3. Learn from it.

Every mistake can become a great learning opportunity. If we don’t learn, it becomes a double loss! Remember the saying: “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.”

When we choose to learn from our mistake, it is likely that we will grow from it. We become more informed and mature. We are going to make better future decisions if we allow ourselves to be taught by our mistakes.

We change the value of our mistakes and give them some positive value when we turn them into our school. They become a source of knowledge, inform us, and might make us resourceful, not only for ourselves, but for those who are struggling with the same predicament and who do not know the negative side of their potential mistakes.


4. Make peace with it.

Since we can’t disown what we did, we are going to live with it. But no one wants to live with an enemy! It, therefore, make sense that we make peace with what we did so that it does not keep haunting us.

How do we do that? Ask three simple basic questions:

Are you the first one to do it?

Are you the last one to do it?

Does what you did make you the worst person in the world?

The sincere answers to these questions will always be NO! You are just one among many. The message it gives is that you are just a human being who happened to make a wrong turn.

Making peace with your mistakes normalizes the situation which is necessary to allow you to continue with the process of peace restoration. It also helps you accept yourself and prevents the possibility of beating yourself up by discovering that what you did was just a human error despite its severity and magnitude.

This step sets the ground for self-forgiveness (addressed later in the steps) when one discovers that “I am just one among many.” Again,

Some virtues are grown out of our own mistakes if used wisely. Making peace with our own mistakes demands humility that accepts and acknowledges that we are human beings, that we are not Angels, and that we have our flaws but still remain lovely children of God. Making peace with our mistakes presupposes taking responsibility for them. In this way our wrong choices and their outcomes can also make us equipped for ministry to those who are going through the same predicament. In this way we become wounded healers.


Next week we will continue with Father’s final four steps:

  1. Receive forgiveness from God.
  2. Request forgiveness from others.
  3. Forgive ourselves.
  4. Make amends.


Blessings on your week. May you process and release your guilt.

Betty Arrigotti


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