How to Forgive Yourself
This post is a follow-up to my previous one on Becoming Your Own Best Friend. Maya Angelou said it so well: "...if you live, you will make mistakes - it is inevitable. But once you do, and you see the mistake, then you forgive yourself and say 'Well, if I'd known better, I'd have done better,' that's all."
I've heard clients say that it is easier to forgive someone else than yourself. Why is that the case? Why do we allow our regrets to fester and poison our minds, sometimes for years? Why can't we let ourselves off the hook? Let's take a look at why it is so difficult to make allowances for our own lapses, failures and hurtful mistakes. I will focus on 7 steps we can take to begin the journey of self-forgiveness.
1. Understand your emotions
Beating ourselves up about past mistakes, is laden with a lot of heavy emotions and self-judgement. Acknowledging and naming the emotions that are associated with
carrying this burden is a key first step.
Feelings of regret are probably the most significant emotion you will identify. How you wish you could roll back time and get a second chance to undo whatever it was that happened.
Another emotion that is often experienced is guilt. How could I have done something so careless/stupid/selfish? Guilt in itself can be a motivating emotion, galvanizing you into action to avoid making the same mistake in the future. Shame, on the other hand, is a response that is often paralyzing. You become frozen into inaction and self-loathing.
2. Accept Responsibility for what happened
Part of forgiving yourself involves accepting the reality of what happened. Whatever it was, you must become willing to move past it and move on with your life without allowing yourself to become stuck in past regrets. You cannot change the past. What you can do, is to be courageous enough to admit your part in the events and accept responsibility. Stop rationalizing your behaviour and be willing to admit that you have caused harm or pain to others. Self-forgiveness cannot happen without this important step.
3. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion
Accepting responsibility for past actions can be a painful step and may cause you to
blame and judge yourself harshly. At this point, self-kindness and compassion become crucial. Try to be gentle and loving with yourself and treat yourself the way you would treat a good friend or a young child. If you cannot be kind to yourself at this step, you may become entangled in the debilitating emotion of shame.
4. Express Remorse for your mistakes
Expressing remorse for actions you regret does not mean getting wrapped up in self-blame. Remorse is simply saying "I'm sorry." These simple words become a springboard for positive actions that lead you in a forward direction. Remorse means that you acknowledge that you did something you regret (guilt) and not that you are a bad person (shame).
5. Make Amends
Take action to rectify your mistakes if it's possible. Look for ways to make it up to whoever was hurt by your behaviour. In some cases, the amends cannot be made directly to the person who was involved. In this case, consider doing something symbolic, such as donating money to a charity or helping out someone else who is in need. Taking some form of action is important, because it is easier to forgive ourselves if we feel we have done something to deserve it.
6. Learn from the experience
No experience is wasted if we learn something from it. Everyone makes mistakes. Forgiving ourselves involves finding a way to learn from what has happened. Mistakes are our greatest teachers, perhaps because they are so painful and catch our undivided attention.
7. Try to do better
Perhaps the best way to tell if we have learned from our past mistakes is if we try to do better in the future. If we have ever watched a toddler taking his or her first steps, we are reminded that sometimes we have to keep trying again and again before we are successful. We need to be willing to forgive ourselves over and over if necessary until we get it right.
"Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do." - Brené Brown The Gifts of Imperfection.
Forgiving ourselves is, perhaps the greatest way in which we can demonstrate our love for ourselves.