This letter writer fell into a depression after losing her virginity with an ex; now happily engaged, she fears the same thing happening again. Our elder has some tips on self-forgiveness.
I believe in God, in his justice and mercy. I experienced depression two years ago after I lost my virginity with an ex. It was a nightmare for me. I felt shame and the worst human being. Now I am engaged, happy and deeply in love. I am getting married in two months. Though I promised I would wait for marriage to have sexual intimacy, my current fiancé and I have had it. It felt right but I feel shame with God. I was able to cope with these feelings until today, when my brother-in-law caught us having intimacy. I felt so embarrassed and I don’t want to fall into the same place of depression and ruin my relationship because I am very happy with my current partner. My partner feels shame too, but I feel dirty, I feel the worst. I feel I failed my God, my family, and my relationship.
Thanks for writing to us to clarify the consequences of your behavior. There is a significant difference between guilt and shame. In comparison, they are both judgments; guilt results from a behavioral failure where you have violated an expectation that you deem morally wrong for yourself. For example, I cheated in the game of Monopoly. I expect that I should never cheat. I failed, so I feel guilty. It is a behavioral violation, and I feel inadequate as a result. I am still a fine person. If I were a bad person, cheating wouldn’t bother me.
Shame is quite different, as it is a negative judgment of yourself as a human being. The error in that type of thinking is that people still need to separate in their minds what a person does from who they are. For example, when I consider who I am, I know I am a bright, intelligent, and resourceful man. And I do fail in many things. I can’t dance, I can’t sing, I can’t solve Sudoku puzzles or many other things. But those are things that I cannot do, yet I am not a failure as a human being.
In this case, your gut feeling, or intuition, sent you a message: “Do not have sex outside of marriage as it violates God’s wishes.”
In your case, your expectation (or rule, or law or image) was to refrain from sexual intimacy because good women keep their promises and will wait until marriage. You violated that promise and therefore feel guilty. We must either change our actions or our image to relieve guilt. Since the action already happened, we can only change our image to wipe away the guilty feelings.
The image (expectation, rule, or law) could be like this: “I vow to avoid sexual intimacy until marriage and honor my promises from this day forward.” A guilty feeling proves that you are a good woman, and I say this because bad people don’t feel guilty.
All good people make some mistakes. We learn from our mistakes, and God expects that we humans cannot achieve perfection in our thoughts and actions. Since the dawn of time, we have been programmed to perpetuate our species through sexual conduct. God made sure this continued by making it pleasurable both physically and emotionally. So, the Lord expected that sexual activity would occur. Shame for sexual activities has a moral side to prevent people from engaging in forbidden, harmful actions. Sex with family members, children, those with diminished mental capacity, and rape are examples of immoral behavior. Shame is attached to these types of activities. What you did was not morally wrong.
In all religions, forgiveness is the quality that the Lord planned to allow people to wipe the slate clean. Forgiveness works like stain remover on clothes that have become soiled.
What is most important is self-forgiveness. You have been judging yourself for your actions and continuously punishing yourself for your past deeds. If you were put in jail back then for your behavior, you would be out by now. Isn’t it time to leave the prison you created for yourself? You have the only vote to release yourself. Guilt can be forgiven. Forgiveness is never about the past; it is about your future intentions!
The way that you do it is to forgive all the judgments you placed on yourself for those actions. For example, some of them would be like:
I forgive myself for judging myself as a bad person.
I forgive myself for judging myself as not a good woman
I forgive myself for judging myself as not living up to my standards.
I forgive myself for judging myself as not acting with love toward myself.
I forgive myself for judging myself and putting myself down.
I forgive myself for judging myself as deserving of punishment.
I forgive myself for judging myself as unworthy.
I forgive myself for any other negative thoughts and then list as many more as you can think of.
Remember, you have not failed yourself, your God, or your family, nor have you ruined your relationship. Keep loving yourself and those important to you in your life.
Article #: 492001