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Wayward Side :
Why Can't I Forgive Myself

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 Rebuildingman (original poster new member #39861) posted at 7:08 PM on Monday, April 4th, 2022

Not sure if this is the correct forum but here goes. We are coming up on the 9th anniversary of "discovery day". Our marriage is solid and good as far as I can tell - and I have been good and faithful for the entire time since d-day. We had intensive counseling and I have had intensive therapy, although not recently. We vacation, have great times, and family and friends have all but forgotten about what happened. But increasingly over time, I am feeling more and more guilty for all the pain and heartache I put everyone through. I am getting no indications from anyone that they still hold anything against me, but in my quiet times I am in anguish. 9 years is a long time and I'm sure that we are blessed and have way beaten the odds, considering all the things I did.

Am I unusual? Are there any tricks to letting things go and forgiving myself? I am not tempted to ever repeat the behaviors and get almost physically ill when I consider the things I did before discovery but here we are.

Insights would be helpful!

I am a rebuilding man - a work in progress

posts: 6   ·   registered: Jul. 18th, 2013   ·   location: Stow
id 8727980
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Oldwounds ( member #54486) posted at 8:51 PM on Monday, April 4th, 2022

My wife hasn’t forgiven herself — about six years after discovery for us.

I think ultimately, it will help her feel better and help the overall relationship restoration we’re working on.

But, she will get there when she gets there.

In the meanwhile, I tell her to focus on the positive, that it is difficult and rare to truly recover from the tragedy of infidelity.

Beating the odds is something to build on or build with as you go.

I do think my efforts to remind her of the good we’ve had — since working through it — have helped her.

Have you explained where your feelings are about forgiveness with your spouse?

She may be able to help or at least clarify where she is at.

Regaining empathy or gaining it at all for your spouse is always a good thing.

Married 34+ years, together 40+ years
Two awesome adult sons.
Dday 6/16 4-year LTA Survived
Restoration takes time.
"Circumstances don't make the man, they only reveal him to himself." ― Epictetus

posts: 4371   ·   registered: Aug. 4th, 2016   ·   location: PNW. The adventure continues.
id 8728011
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SI Staff ( Moderator #10) posted at 12:07 AM on Tuesday, April 5th, 2022

  Moving to Wayward Side

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denwickdroylsden ( new member #51744) posted at 12:21 PM on Tuesday, April 5th, 2022

It's been 9 years for me also. And I too am unable to forgive myself. There's been no mention of any of this between me and BW in a very long time. Even on the anniversaries. I'd like to think she's moved on but I doubt it. We stay together out of inertia, thanks to the great big rug sweep. I have no desire to repeat the behavior; I recoil from even the thought of it. Still can't help feeling like a POS though.

Me: WH frequent flyer
Now on straight and narrow
"What's the secret of a long term marriage?" Amnesia.

posts: 30   ·   registered: Feb. 9th, 2016
id 8728122
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forgettableDad ( member #72192) posted at 1:04 PM on Tuesday, April 5th, 2022

What do you think your forgiveness should look like?

posts: 301   ·   registered: Dec. 1st, 2019
id 8728125
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DaddyDom ( member #56960) posted at 4:26 PM on Tuesday, April 5th, 2022

I'm in year 6 of R and here is what I can tell you about my experience and opinions on self-forgiveness, and on the shame and regret that usually keeps us there.

Am I unusual? Are there any tricks to letting things go and forgiving myself?

No, you aren't unusual at all, in fact, I'd say most if not all of the WS's I've spoken to over the years feel exactly the same way as you do, and I count myself among them. In fact, I'd be much more worried about you if you DIDN'T feel like a POS. It at least indicates an ability to recognize your own disappointment in yourself, and hold yourself accountable for the things you've done. So take a moment and reflect on that. If you ever take a look at Charles Manson, you'll see "crazy" in his eyes. No regret, no remorse, no sense of "Holy ****, I killed people"... he is a sociopath (well, that's up for debate, but I digress). We cannot change what we cannot acknowledge, so if you are seeking to be a better person, someone you can love and respect more, then you have to start with what you don't love. That's where you are now.

The truth is that the things you did, are frozen in time. We can't go back and undo those things. We can't "make them better". While we can learn lessons from them, there will never be a time when we look back and feel differently about what happened or ourselves at that moment. What we did WAS unforgivable. We need to accept that reality at its face value.

But imagine this. Imagine that you and another person get into a car accident. The other driver gets out of his car, puts his head in his hands and weeps. He tells you what a horrible person he is for hitting your car, examines the damage done and cries more and more. You ask him for help and he weeps. You ask him for ID and he says he's too overwhelmed to look for it. He says he's sorry, he mourns uncontrollably, he pounds his head against the car door and keeps saying what a loser he is. And while all of those things may or may not be true, the fact is, all of his weeping and shame and hysterics are about as unhelpful as they could possibly be. Should he feel bad? Of course! But it accomplishes nothing. It changes nothing. And it leaves you, the person who was hurt, to pick up all the pieces on your own, except that now, you also have to deal with the weeping baby that just hit you in the first place. It actually makes things WORSE, not better.

Now imagine that the guy who hit you gets out and immediately checks to see if you are okay. Even though he's at fault, he takes photos of everything, calls an ambulance for you, calls the cops to come investigate the scene, and makes sure to send you copies of his insurance and ID to your phone on the scene. He offers to pay for all damages to the car and also to pay any medical bills you might incur as a result. He pays for the car to be towed and fixed. Later on, he takes defensive driving courses and takes up meditation and yoga with the goal of learning to be more present and calm while driving in the future. He calls you every few months just to check in and make sure that you are okay and that you have what you need to get around while the car is being fixed.

Now let me ask you... how do you feel about the guy being a weeping baby who can't get past his own fuckup long enough to even lift a finger or show some empathy or accountability?
How do you feel about the guy who took ownership from the get-go, took steps to correct his actions as best as he could, put your needs front and center ahead of his own, and took additional steps just to make sure it never happened again?

When we get stuck in our shame, we end up being the first guy. We see a LOT of "first guys" here. They cry and tell everyone how sorry they are and what a POS they are, but that's it. They think that feeling bad is somehow what they need to do, all they need to do. It's reasonable to feel overwhelmed by your own bad choices and actions, but feeling bad serves little to no purpose other than to serve as a guide and a motivator for what to do next. We can either do something about it, or do nothing about it. Feeling sorry about it is great for TV and movies, but in real life, you need to either shit or get off the pot.

The way you learn to forgive yourself is by earning back your self-worth. You got into trouble by making poor choices and actions, you reverse that the same way. You make better choices. You take better actions. And you make changes within yourself in order to make better choices moving forward.

I will never, ever, ever be okay with what I did to my wife, my family, and even myself. It's unforgivable, it just is. But I also see it as a "point in time". It is "part of my story", not my entire story, as that story is still being written. I get to decide how that story goes moving forward. I can either be the guy that feels sorry for himself (btw, that was me for about the first 4 years of R, and it did so much more damage to our R than was necessary) or I can be the guy that owns it and does all he CAN do to make things right as best he can. I can't undo what I did, but I can do a whole lot better moving forward. I can't unhurt my wife, but I can treat her with the love and respect she deserves moving forward. I can't forgive my bad actions, but I can offset them with much better actions. I can hate who I was but love who I am. Does that make sense?

Me: WS
BS: ISurvivedSoFar
D-Day Nov '16
Status: Reconciling
"I am floored by the amount of grace and love she has shown me in choosing to stay and fight for our marriage. I took everything from her, and yet she chose to forgive me."

posts: 1300   ·   registered: Jan. 18th, 2017
id 8728154
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foreverlabeled ( member #52070) posted at 8:55 PM on Tuesday, April 5th, 2022

On page 3 you will find a thread with a bullseye 🎯 titled "On The Topic Of Self Forgiveness" (or close to). You might find it helpful to read through.

posts: 2589   ·   registered: Mar. 1st, 2016   ·   location: southeast
id 8728209
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MIgander ( member #71285) posted at 9:56 PM on Tuesday, April 5th, 2022

I will never, ever, ever be okay with what I did to my wife, my family, and even myself. It's unforgivable, it just is. But I also see it as a "point in time". It is "part of my story", not my entire story, as that story is still being written. I get to decide how that story goes moving forward. I can either be the guy that feels sorry for himself (btw, that was me for about the first 4 years of R, and it did so much more damage to our R than was necessary) or I can be the guy that owns it and does all he CAN do to make things right as best he can. I can't undo what I did, but I can do a whole lot better moving forward. I can't unhurt my wife, but I can treat her with the love and respect she deserves moving forward. I can't forgive my bad actions, but I can offset them with much better actions. I can hate who I was but love who I am. Does that make sense?

^^^^^^^THIS 100%.

How are you working on you today? What have you done to make yourself a better husband, father, person in general?

How about you list 5 things that you have "worked on" and improved about yourself over these years. Start there, focus on that, and you'll move forward and see yourself as a person who "used to cheat" but now has recovered.

It's like alcoholism. You can't undo the destruction from the addiction, but you can rebuild and regain your self respect.

WW/BW Dday July 2019. BH/WH- multiple EA's. Back at it again- bantering w the younger woman. Lied about blocking phone calls and deleted texts. Carried on with her.

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

posts: 773   ·   registered: Aug. 15th, 2019   ·   location: Michigan
id 8728219
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forgettableDad ( member #72192) posted at 11:14 PM on Tuesday, April 5th, 2022

But increasingly over time, I am feeling more and more guilty for all the pain and heartache I put everyone through.

What are you holding on to and why?

Growing up I was taught forgiveness equals forgetting. I never wanted to forget so I never learnt to forgive. Myself and everyone else. And I made sure that no one would ever forget (forgive) my choices.

Are there any tricks to letting things go and forgiving myself?

There's no trick. Just hard work, lots of digging in and lots of making the better choices now. And understanding that some days are going to be worse than others (and most days can be amazing).

But the question, again, is what you are holding on to and why you aren't able to accept your past.

If you can, maybe going back to therapy for a bit is a good idea? Also, it's ok to express these feelings you have and share with your partner. That's what marriage is.

posts: 301   ·   registered: Dec. 1st, 2019
id 8728232
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Bulcy ( member #74034) posted at 1:49 PM on Wednesday, April 6th, 2022

"Do the next right thing" - I read this recently in a book on emotional abuse.

Think this for every action or reaction. It's hard to remember this and action it, hopefully only because I'm still struggling with shame and head up ass syndrome. I'm working on this. As DD said...

I can either be the guy that feels sorry for himself (btw, that was me for about the first 4 years of R, and it did so much more damage to our R than was necessary) or I can be the guy that owns it and does all he CAN do to make things right as best he can. I can't undo what I did, but I can do a whole lot better moving forward.

This is my current journey. ^^^^^^^^^

WH (40's) Me. Emotional affair (2017), Physical affair (2003) and online affairs, Two physical affairs (2000). D-Day's 2003, August '17, multiple discoveries through 2018,19 and 20, Jan 21 and 2022

posts: 209   ·   registered: Mar. 12th, 2020   ·   location: UK
id 8728289
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hikingout ( member #59504) posted at 7:21 PM on Wednesday, April 6th, 2022

Hi, fellow ws here. 5 years out.

I have a different take on the whole self forgiveness thing. I think what we resist persists. Meaning you can’t force your self forgiveness, you can’t talk yourself into it.

The truth is for those of us who did the work we do often feel worse years out. You are by far not the only one to report this. For some of us it’s the changes have effected what weighs on our conscience and how much. Really learning to love our spouse makes us vulnerable to them and empathetic with them in a way we were not prior to our affair.

I get all that you are saying.

I think it’s more framing it as acceptance. We can not change the past. We did the things we did for the reasons we did them. But add to the pot the good that you have done as well. To accept the bad you also have to learn to accept the good.

I can see that I did some deep damage that I can not erase. But I can also see that I have grown tremendously and am not the exact same person I was back then. I have worked hard, do what I can to atone, and I deserve to go on and celebrate things in life now. Balance your thoughts, accept that you can’t change what happened, and when those feelings come up consider it a good thing that you are the type of person that this hurts your conscience.

I don’t forgive who I was then, but I accept that I have light and darkness and that I keep focusing on the light. Feelings of shame and guilt serve no purpose to anyone, incliding your wife. Instead of trying to bundle it as self forgiveness, simply work to reframe your thoughts when they come up. Be concious of them and add the positives to them. By continually making a habit of reframing and dismissing the thoughts you will teach your brain that those feelings are not dangerous or alarming.

I don’t know if that is forgiveness but it is peace. I think sometimes we traumatize ourselves in the process of having an affair because it leads to a trauma response that becomes a cycle. Change the response day by day, form a new habit. While some of the shame and guilt are sometimes needed to change, It’s not serving you or your wife a purpose any more.

[This message edited by hikingout at 7:23 PM, Wednesday, April 6th]

5 years of hard work
Reconciled
WS & BS

posts: 6135   ·   registered: Jul. 5th, 2017   ·   location: Arizona
id 8728344
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gmc94 ( Guide #62810) posted at 11:36 PM on Wednesday, June 29th, 2022

bump

M >25yrs/grown kids
DD1 1994 ONS prostitute
DD2 2018 exGF1 10+yrEA & 10yrPA... + exGF2 EA forever & "made out" 2017
9/18 WH hung himself- died but revived

It's rude to say "I love you" with a mouthful of lies

posts: 3824   ·   registered: Feb. 22nd, 2018
id 8742596
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Neanderthal ( member #71141) posted at 4:34 PM on Thursday, June 30th, 2022

Thanks for the bump gmc94. Forgiveness has been on my mind for sometime and this thread seemed very relevant.

I've been working with my IC and want to be able to forgive those that hurt or traumatized me (Not just infidelity related trauma, mostly FOO related). I want to put down that pain. But I've hit a major road block. I cant seem to forgive others, when I haven't forgiven myself.
This feels very selfish and wayward thinking of me. I shouldn't need to forgive myself before I can forgive others. I can't really make heads or tails of it. My IC believes this is normal and not wayward. More like I never learned to forgive. It's a skill/tool I just don't have....yet.

We did an exercise (or at least tried) in our last session. My IC has been trying to get me to do this for months on my own, but I just stare at the blank paper. IC asked me to name things I'd need forgiveness for. I got very emotional. Once I collected myself, I started rapid firing misdeeds. Within minutes we filled up a sheet of paper (I probably have a library worth of things that I could list). Many of them were things I have been holding onto since I was less than 10 years old! I have never forgiven my childhood self. Some were things like hikingout pointed out, aren't necessarily forgivable (acceptance sounds more realistic).

After the list was written, my IC asked if I'm ready to ask for forgiveness by god and if I'm ready to forgive myself. I broke down again and kept shaking my head no. IC then asked if I could pick one thing from the list. Something small and ask for forgiveness. Again I shook my head no.

Before she could even ask me why I couldn't do it, I blurted out "I'm not worth forgiving". Needless to say we still have a lot of work to do. Honestly, I thought I had started seeing value in me again a couple years back. Logically/mentally I know I'm worth it, but I just don't feel it. I don't believe it.

Anyone else incapable of forgiving the actions of themselves as a child?
WS's struggling with self forgiveness....Do you feel you are worth forgiving?

Me: WS/BS

posts: 439   ·   registered: Jul. 30th, 2019   ·   location: OK
id 8742680
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DaddyDom ( member #56960) posted at 5:59 PM on Thursday, June 30th, 2022

Neanderthal

May I suggest an alternate exercise? Rather than listing what you should be forgiven for, can you list what you do really well or like about yourself?

It can be anything, from "I always let other drivers into my lane when they need to" or "I always donate to the Red Cross" or "I make sure to buy cards and presents for every holiday" to even "I get my exercise in daily" or "I know how to shut up and listen when someone needs a shoulder to cry on".

Focusing on the negative seems like a poor starting point if the goal is to love yourself. You learn to love yourself in much the same way that others do. You make yourself likeable to yourself. You do small things for yourself. You surprise yourself now and then. You give yourself a break when no one else will. You learn something new you'd like to see yourself do. Honestly, it's like dating yourself. You learn to love yourself by giving yourself reasons to do so.

Me: WS
BS: ISurvivedSoFar
D-Day Nov '16
Status: Reconciling
"I am floored by the amount of grace and love she has shown me in choosing to stay and fight for our marriage. I took everything from her, and yet she chose to forgive me."

posts: 1300   ·   registered: Jan. 18th, 2017
id 8742704
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Neanderthal ( member #71141) posted at 7:09 PM on Thursday, June 30th, 2022

May I suggest an alternate exercise?

DaddyDom,
I do those exercises already. I have been "dating" myself so to speak. I think my IC and I were both caught off guard that I am still thinking that way at an unconscious level. I thought I was at least to some degree past that part. And I was looking forward to the forgiveness aspect of healing. I know none of this is linear, so maybe it's not that surprising after all.

It's still good feedback, and I will continue to work on the positives.

Me: WS/BS

posts: 439   ·   registered: Jul. 30th, 2019   ·   location: OK
id 8742717
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ChamomileTea ( Guide #53574) posted at 10:21 PM on Thursday, June 30th, 2022

@Neanderthal...
This is a weird question, and you don't have to answer it here. It's more rhetorical. But it's interesting to me that you brought this issue here, to SI, the place where you came to in the thick of your infidelity trauma. Do you think that it's possible that your ex-wife has something to do with it?.. like maybe it's too hard to forgive yourself until/unless you've forgiven everyone else in your life?

[This message edited by ChamomileTea at 12:05 AM, Friday, July 1st]

BW: 2004(online EAs), 2014 (multiple PAs)Married 38 years; in R with fWH for 7

No one can make you into a liar but you.

posts: 5750   ·   registered: Jun. 8th, 2016   ·   location: U.S.
id 8742766
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Neanderthal ( member #71141) posted at 1:02 AM on Friday, July 1st, 2022

ChamomileTea,
I found it interesting that I ended up back here too. I experienced a minor trauma recently that was very triggering. My normal coping mechanisms and support system weren't cutting it. So I think I came back looking for anything comforting. Which at one time, SI was very comforting to me. There's also a chance I came back to pain shop.

I don't mind answering your question (it's not weird). Yes. It's extremely likely this is related to my XW. Initially the goal was to forgive others (including XW). But I couldn't forgive her or anyone else for that matter. So my IC and I shifted the work towards forgiving myself. Still no luck.

It's kind of a chicken vs egg situation for me. Which comes first? Forgive self or others? Currently I'd be happy accomplishing either or.

Me: WS/BS

posts: 439   ·   registered: Jul. 30th, 2019   ·   location: OK
id 8742798
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ChamomileTea ( Guide #53574) posted at 1:17 AM on Friday, July 1st, 2022

It's not unusual during trauma for our brains to connect two or more disparate events. I'm not a therapist, but if you read through a copy of The Body Keeps Score, brains are weird like that. I think really the commonality is the feelings. The infidelity caused all these different painful sensations: sadness, anger, inadequacy, embarrassment, this list goes on. And say, you have a pretty nasty setback at work or with a family member and experience those feelings again, your brain lands on the familiarity of it all. Like if a certain smell makes you salivate with anticipation, your brain remembers the pleasure of that food. I think sometimes emotions can do the same sort of thing. We feel a familiar feeling and albeit it's in a different context, that trigger brings it all back.

That's my theory anyway. It might be worth digging into the emotional similarities of those two traumas.

BW: 2004(online EAs), 2014 (multiple PAs)Married 38 years; in R with fWH for 7

No one can make you into a liar but you.

posts: 5750   ·   registered: Jun. 8th, 2016   ·   location: U.S.
id 8742800
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BraveSirRobin ( Guide #69242) posted at 2:52 AM on Friday, July 1st, 2022

WS's struggling with self forgiveness....Do you feel you are worth forgiving?

I do now, but when BH said he forgave me, somewhere short of the two year mark, my first gut reaction was NO. Both his statement and my response shocked me, because two years before that, forgiveness was all I wanted on this earth. But by the time he said it, I knew I wasn't there yet. I was reassembled in a fragile state, but the glue was nowhere near hardened.

It's not that I was worried I would cheat again. Cheating was decades in the rear view mirror. Lying was what worried me; lying had become deeply engrained in my personality. My memory of the A is a swiss cheese, and I was so scared of remembering something damning and then finding an excuse to hide it. There was no way to test this, because I really had told BH everything that I could remember, so both of us were waiting, with breath held, to see whether the test would come and whether, if it did, I'd fuck it up.

Being forgiven felt like being an intern who walks in one morning and is told they've been promoted to CEO. In one way, it was a dream come true, and in another, the sheer weight of responsibility was utterly terrifying. There's an ironic safety in being an acknowledged POS. When you accept someone's trust, even your own, that armor falls away.

WW/BW

posts: 2835   ·   registered: Dec. 27th, 2018
id 8742821
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sundance ( member #72129) posted at 2:04 PM on Friday, July 1st, 2022

There's an ironic safety in being an acknowledged POS. When you accept someone's trust, even your own, that armor falls away.

re: safety in being an acknowledged POS: yes, the familiarity (dare i say comfort?) of knowing you can't possibly hurt anyone any more than you've already hurt them (and even if you did/do, they'd accept it as typical behavior from you).

part of forgiveness is giving up the comfort of that costume-- being a clean, vulnerable, and accountable human being (naked) can be scary. but it's also the place you can learn to soar!

keep working! i have faith in you that you can figure this thing out! sunny

Rusty: You scared?Linus: You suicidal?Rusty: Only in the morning.

posts: 142   ·   registered: Nov. 21st, 2019
id 8742900
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