Sometimes the person you need to forgive the most in life is...you.
We all make mistakes, questionable decisions, and poor calls. It's an occupational hazard of life that sometimes, things go sideways and we are at fault. While it's never easy to ride the wave of challenging emotions that come with making mistakes, we usually emerge on the other side a bit wiser, and maybe even a little better for it.
What happens when we can't let it go though? Ruminating about your actions and stewing in remorse is not healthy. While guilt and shame are CLINGY emotions (more on this below), letting go of them is important because it helps us live in less fear of making new mistakes.
And growth? Growth exists on the other side of our mistakes. So mistakes are something we need to be making!
What Is Forgiveness?
Forgiveness is a deliberate decision and a conscious choice. It involves choosing to let go of anger, resentment, and bitter feelings towards someone who has wronged us.
Forgiveness does not mean that everything goes back to normal and the slate is clean.
Let's emphasize this. Forgiveness is not the same as:
- Condoning the behaviour
- Changing the person
- Justice being served
Forgiving someone represents that you are choosing to loosen the hold and influence of another's person's actions on your own life. If that sounds like a difficult process, it's because it truly is! Forgiveness is not easy. Sometimes we forgive other people for the sake of our own mental health and ability to move on, without an actually apology from their end.
We can cross those enormous emotional hurdles to forgive others, and YET many people find it the most challenging to extend themselves that same forgiveness.
How Do You Know You Might Need To Forgive Yourself?
Do you find that you hold on tightly to intense emotions long after the events have passed?
The other people involved may have moved on long ago. Apologies were exchanged. Forgiveness was offered and accepted. Yet, you still experience intrusive thoughts about the events, and strong feelings of guilt and shame.
This might be an indicator that you need to forgive yourself already 💛
Why We Need To Forgive Ourselves
Our mistakes hold power over us when we cannot forgive ourselves and move on. This affects everything from our relationships to our general sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
Moreover, we NEED to make mistakes to grow. If we can't move on from past mistakes and errors in judgement, we are depriving ourselves of life's most powerful source of personal growth.
In order to learn from our mistakes, we must practice self-forgiveness. Most of us know this- so what gets in the way?
Guilt And Shame Are CLINGY (and shame is worse)
The intense, all-consuming emotions of guilt, shame, and regret are often why we struggle to forgive ourselves.
Every emotion serves a purpose. Guilt can guide us towards understanding and admitting we were wrong. It shows us we are acting in ways that do not reflect our values and core beliefs. All of this can nudge us to seek forgiveness and repair the damage.
Shame, however, is not nearly as useful. The experience of being ashamed can leave us feeling we are unworthy, unloveable, and not deserving of forgiveness. Being caught in a spiral of shame is often the biggest obstacle to self-forgiveness!
Below are a few tips to help ease yourself out of shame and into a space of forgiveness.
Tips To Forgive Yourself
1. Write A Letter Of Apology To Yourself
Sometimes it's easier to face ourselves in writing.
In your letter, try admitting that you are disappointed in yourself and ALSO that this one mistake does not define who are as a person. Write your apology letter with kindness. Try to avoid berating yourself or dwelling on painful details.
Instead, focus on what you did not know back then and how the mistake has helped you evolve. Be soothing, be compassionate. And also, be loving.
2. Remind Yourself That You Are Worthy Of Forgiveness
Shame can make us feel like we do not deserve forgiveness. Remind yourself that you are human being! If you are conscious of a higher being or power, remember that you were created whole and worthy. No one (not even YOU) should be allowed to convince you that you do not deserve to be forgiven.
3. Pay Attention To Memories That Make You Feel Ashamed
Sometimes we don't even know we need self-forgiveness. Our bodies and nervous system does though! Do you feel panic or shame when an old memory is stirred up? How does your body feel (ie. does it constrict, tense up, feel cold) when you are around certain people you have unpleasant memories with?
These things may indicate that we need to foster self-forgiveness around those events.
4. Be Patient With Yourself
This is a tough one! When we feel embarassed, ashamed, or guilty, it's normal to want to skip those challenging emotions and have everything go back to normal. Especially if we have hurt other people!
We can't rush feelings though, as much as we want to.
It's important to be as patient with yourself as YOU are with others when asking for their forgiveness. You wouldn't rush your friend into forgiving you. Practice this same patience with your own self-forgiveness!
Forgiving yourself may just be the hardest (and most important) thing you can do for your own healing. So many traumatic experiences leave us drowning in thoughts and feelings of self-blame.
Learning to forgive yourself and have unconditional self-compassion can heal many, many wounds 💛
I want to hear from you: What makes self-forgiveness feel unachievable for you?
Until next time!
Mental Health Content Specialist