Many people are struggling with letting go of anger, guilt and bitterness over time lost to anxiety. Learning to “forgive yourself” can be difficult. While struggling with an anxiety disorder is certainly impactful in a big way, it is possible to learn how to change the habit of blaming yourself and revisiting guilt, anger, or regret over those struggles. It is possible to learn how to leave the past behind us.
If You Are Still Stuck In The Disorder (00:00 – 12:40)
Understand that no matter how many days have gone by with no progress, those days do not dictate what happens today or tomorrow. It is within your power to make today and tomorrow different. The past can inform our choices, but it simply cannot dictate the future. Accept that you have the ability to make today and tomorrow better than yesterday was. This is true no matter how many yesterdays you have lived “trapped” by anxiety.
This is an important concept that you must accept because it’s very difficult to let go of the past if you are still living it. If today and tomorrow look the same as all the days up to this point, then dropping guilt, regret and anger will be very difficult. It’s likely unreasonable – and unfair to yourself – to expect that you can simply decide to forget everything that’s happened because you want to. Be careful about what expect from yourself on an emotional level.
Before you can truly begin to leave the past behind and head toward forgiving yourself for time lost and opportunity lost, you must start taking steps forward toward recovery. It doesn’t matter how small those steps may be. They all count. I know how scary and difficult this is, but taking tiny steps forward consistently builds a better future. You must arrive in a better future before you can leave the past behind.
If You Have Made Progress Toward Recovery Or Are Nearly Recovered (12:40 – 23:19)
If you’ve already started down the road to recovery, or if you’re nearly recovered, you may still find yourself gripped by feelings of guilt and anger about the way things used to be. I believe that full recovery from an anxiety disorder does involve letting go of the past, so this may be holding you back and hindering your continued progress. This is quite common. There are a couple of key concepts to be aware of here:
- You are likely looking at “what should have been” through a distorted lens. You are comparing the past with an idealized, unrealistic view of what you think the past should have been. Nobody lives a perfect life. Nobody signs up for that or expects that. Anxiety or not, people struggle, people make mistakes, and people stumble. It happens every day. The idea that you were going to be a perfect human in whatever roles you filled isn’t accurate. You would not have achieved that standard even without an anxiety disorder so why be guilty over that? Be aware of over-estimating the negative aspects and impacts of “how you used to be”. I see people doing it every day.
- You are likely completely ignoring the positive aspects of your past experiences. We learn from our struggles. We grow during times of struggle. The lessons we learn along the way all matter. Especially in the case of recovery from an anxiety disorder, these lessons make us better and we carry them forward into a better life for ourselves and the people we impact. The people in your life that have seen you rise above a struggle have witnessed something amazing and inspiring. Nobody loves the dark times in our lives, but dark times lead to light. Often, people stuck with guilt and anger are simply overlooking the positive aspects of past experience.
In General (23:19 – end)
Seeking “forgiveness” for yourself over the past is likely not even an actual thing. One does not have to forgive oneself for getting sick. While I do not see an anxiety disorder as a disease or illness, it’s still not an intentionally self inflicted wound either. You simply fell prey to some bad thinking habits that many millions of others have fallen prey to. You did nothing wrong. You didn’t mess up. And when things went wrong, you fixed them over time, or have the power to begin fixing them. Maybe it took you longer to start moving in the right direction toward recovery. So what? Everybody learns according to their particular learning style. Some learn these recovery methods quickly, some do not. Some learn to play guitar very quickly, others do not. Some learn advanced math and calculus quickly. Others do not. No engineering student needs to forgive herself for taking two months to understand differential equations. Consider that.
Finally, at some point letting go of the past is a choice. This is sometimes difficult to hear. We process the past, we accept our mistakes, and we take responsibility for them. Then we acknowledge what we did to make things better, and one day we consciously decide that the bad habit of hanging on to guilt and anger is no longer serving any purpose at all. Sometimes we have to recognize that the habit of forever blaming ourselves and claiming victim status is just a form self-soothing. It feeds the self-centered nature of the disorder you’ve worked (or are working) so hard to overcome. When we come to that realization, we see the value in letting go and engaging with the present and the future.
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