Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
“And now it is time for you to make amends to yourself,” my Twelve Step sponsor said, but I didn’t have a clue what she meant. After all, I had been brought up in a religious culture that put service to others as a top priority.
Self-centeredness was to be avoided at all cost. Selfishness was considered a sin, and narcissism was the ultimate sin. Self-indulgence perpetuated an on-going sense of shame that finally led to self-sabotage. I learned early to put others first. Would making amends make me too self-absorbed? Would I cause injury to myself or others if I gave myself too much time, too much attention?
What I was to learn, mercifully, over many years were the necessary practices of self-care and boundary-setting, and with those practices I also learned self-respect.
“You have the best boundaries of any preacher’s wife I’ve ever known,” a woman said to me, and I thanked her warmly. I made a mental note to call my sponsor and report what was said to me.
“That wasn’t a compliment,” she said, and I felt the sting all over my body.
Making amends to oneself is often a complicated and difficult process because by the time we get to adulthood, our habits are so ingrained and unconscious that we see the behaviors, thought processes and attitudes that motivate them as “natural”. Furthermore, when we start taking actions that interrupt our habitual responses, those around us may not like our new behavior. Those healthier behaviors likely upset the status quo of the relationship.
Recovery isn’t easy. Change is difficult. People remain enslaved because slavery is easy and freedom is hard — and costly. And making amends to oneself doesn’t get much press, does it? Where does one even start?
But, if you can’t forgive to yourself, how can you extend forgiveness to anyone else?
We often treat other people better than we treat ourselves, although some persons treat others worse than they treat themselves. “It just depends…,” we say, meaning what?
Look at the command from the Great Commandment of Jesus, recorded in Matthew 22;37-39: Love the Lord your God with all our heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Not more than yourself. Not less than yourself, but as yourself. What does loving yourself have to do with making amends?
I didn’t have a clue what that meant. I’m not sure I knew what it meant to love myself. I knew what it was to respect myself, but what did loving myself mean?
Making amends to oneself may seem silly and feel awkward, but it is an important step in recovering from any self-sabotaging behavior or an addiction. In my experience, making amends to myself has involved serious self-reflection to help me discern the difference between excusing myself by shrugging my shoulders either as an “Oh, well, that’s who I am” or “It’s OK, I didn’t mean to do it” and learning to forgive myself for the things I left undone and the things I had done. Making amends to myself required me to wake up to self-defeating habits, and it made me take a hard, difficult look at the flaws in my self-concept that kept me in a perpetual cycle of uneasiness and insecurity. Making amends to myself forced me to face a lifetime habit of shyness, which I learned was actually self-centeredness, and learn how to get over myself and start reaching out others.
Making amends has led me to differentiate my attitudes about myself and those that others may have about me. Learning to value my own self-image and to understand what I have taken on from others’ treatment of me, for the good or for the ill, has helped me make vital changes in my behavior and my habits. In dialogue with my sponsor, my spiritual director and an analyst, I have come to what Paul the Apostle calls a “sober (realistic) estimate of myself”, an estimate that is constantly changing and evolving.
Those changes began as I did my moral inventory in Step 4, making a list of my strengths, gifts, abilities and personal resources along with the inventory of my failures and flaws, my character defects and the ways I had inflicted injury on others. With this new understanding of making amends, I was able to take a sober look at the ways in which I had inflicted injury on myself. Thankfully my sponsor helped me see and understand I had put myself down, hurt myself or actually neglected to care for my life. She kept me from falling into the ditch of beating myself up and kept steering me toward taking my place in the place of grace and mercy. Just because I made a mistake didn’t mean that I was a mistake!
With attitude changes I noticed that my behavior began to change. It didn’t happen all at once, but over time and is still on-going. I stumbled around, making new choices about behavior, but then I began to notice that the more conscious I was and te more I gave myself the same kind of grace and mercy that I was willing to give to others, the better I felt. The more I opened up to allow my sponsor, my spiritual director and my analyst to know how I had punished myself through the years, the more I began to accept myself as a human being who had make mistakes. The more acceptance I experienced from those helpers, extraordinary instruments of God’s love and self-described wounded healers, the more I was able to accept the grace and mercy of God.
Most recently, the work of Kristin Neff, University of Texas researcher and professor in human development and the author of the bestselling book Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, has been a powerful force in helping me know how to give empathy to myself. The more I can hear my disappointments, fears and self-recrimination, the more I can also give compassion to myself. The more I can forgive myself, the better I am at extending grace and mercy to others. Learning to give to myself what I have given to others has made me feel more at home in my own skin.
Our culture is one of rampant narcissism that seems to be accepted as a norm, which it is not. Instead of living with the understanding that we are all in this together, particularly during the current pandemic, the long-held value of individualism has prevented us from embracing the idea of behaving for the common good.
When I first began telling people about self-compassion and using some of the methods I’d learn in workshops, some responses indicated attitudes in others I had found in myself. “Is self compassion “letting yourself off the hook” when you really need to be a little tough on yourself?”And “What is self-compassion, anyway? It sounds like self-indulgence to me.” Self-care and self-nurture are good and healthy practices, but self-compassion goes beyond either in feeling with, having empathy with the part of ourselves that is frightened, wounded or weary. It is the part of our adult self that can give understanding and solace to the wounded child within us. Self-compassion motivates us to forgive ourselves for the thing we think we can ever forgive; it is abundant love that heals.
I have been in two workshops with Dr. Neff and an 8-week group process of learning Mindfulness Based Self-Compassion, all of which have been game-changers for me. In one of the workshops, Dr. Neff facilitated with her colleague, Harvard professor Dr. Christopher Germer. Their work and who they are as persons and teachers is filled with compassion, grace and mercy.
In a class at the Jung Center in Houston, Dr. James Hollis once commented after 9/11, “What if each of those persons who did this heinous thing had taken care of the violence in his own life? What if every citizen could take responsibility for his or her own inner violence instead of projecting it out on others or inflicting it on other innocent beings?”
Indeed. What if?
I took Dr. Hollis seriously. And in this moment of conflict in our country and our world, I am taking seriously tending to my own biases, prejudices, anger and resentment. I want to be a part of the solution to the multiple and terrible problems we, as a human family, are facing. When anger or hate spring up in me in this hate-mongering society, I understand that it comes from fear, but instead of censuring myself, I practice the Steps over and over. I take responsibility for my own inner turmoil. I own my own reactions, and then I make amends to myself in whatever way feels appropriate. And then, I start over, surrendering the chaos within to the One we call Prince of Peace. I comfort myself as I would a frightened child, and then, I begin again to walk the way I believe I am meant to walk.
It’s always morning somewhere on this planet. Starting over with a new day can happen any time of the day.
And when it comes to starting over, we each get as many chances as we need. God’s mercies are new every morning.
Grace to you — Jeanie
Making it Practical
Make a list of the ways you have hurt, discounted, neglected or abused your body, your mind, your soul or your self-esteem.
Make a list of the ways you have allowed others to use or abuse you.
List the result of each habit or incident and how you felt about each.
Write the specific feeling you may have about each, such as anger, hate, shame, guilt, resentment, feel.
Surrender the incident and the feelings you may harbor about yourself or any other person to God. Ask God to fill the void with love.
Imagine what you might do to make amends to yourself.
Consider these actions:
Write a letter of forgiveness to yourself or to the person whom you allowed to use or abuse you. (If you do not feel ready to forgive, can you say that you are willing to be willing to forgive?)
In some way that is meaningful to you, mark this moment as a turning-point. If necessary, repeat this step until it feels that you are ready to let the behavior and the residual feeling go. Be as patient with yourself as God is with you.
Make a new list of behaviors that indicate a new beginning. Ask God to give you the persistence and stamina you need to carry out your new decision.
Consider and begin one new behavior that reflects your decision to be free of the behaviors of self-injury or allowing others to injury, insult or use you.
Mark the moment with an object that symbolizes your new way of being in the world.
Repeat the process until the new way of being in the world becomes a habit.