What if You Have to Forgive Yourself?
Sometimes it is easier to forgive the actions of another person than your own transgression or mistake. Your life may have changed because of you doing something or not doing something: If only I had not been so (insert offense). It’s all my fault. They’ll never forgive me. I can never forgive myself. You may be beating yourself up, stuck in self-recrimination, guilt, and shame, because of something you did or did not do. But there is no benefit to self-condemnation. It does not change anything. Only choosing different behaviours or making amends for your actions will make a difference in the future.
For self-forgiveness, you need to extend compassion, or at least understanding, to yourself.
Acknowledge that you did the best you could with the knowledge you had in the circumstances, with the resources available, at the time. Choose self-acceptance instead of a destructive self-assessment.
Creating a state of forgiveness can be done in private or with a trusted person, through writing, artistic expression, imagination, or specific therapeutic approaches. Whatever your way, remember your ultimate aim, which is to lift the emotional clouds within you and free yourself from the negativity that keeps you tied to those past transgressions.
Tell the Story:
Describe what happened. Without embellishment or self-criticism acknowledge your part in it and the harm it caused you and others.
Process the Hurt:
Acknowledge the pain you are feeling. Don’t try to suppress your emotions or disappear into them. Witness your feelings until they subside. Challenge your self-talk. Is it rational or dramatising the situation? Is it making you feel worse or more positive? Remember, like everyone else you are a flawed and fallible human being who deserves to live free from self-imposed negativity.
Collapse the Story:
Instead of judging yourself, try to understand why you did what you did. What were your motives? Your reasons? Why did you behave the way you did? Did you set out to hurt the other person or were you careless? What is it about yourself that contributed to your offense?
Tell the Story Differently:
You are not condoning what you did or neglected to do. Look at your part in the situation with new understanding. Everyone makes mistakes. Some things may have been within your control but not others. What was beyond your control? Your error is not the total sum of who you are. You still have many positive qualities. What happened is one moment in time. You can bounce back from it and start over.
Integrate the Shift:
Give a heartfelt apology to the people you hurt. Make amends if possible. If it is not possible or wise, do something constructive elsewhere. For example, after a war, some soldiers go back into their former enemy countries and build schools or hospitals. You can write a forgiveness letter to yourself or create a ritual that symbolically releases your self-condemnation. Remind yourself of all the times you did not mess up. Allow the idea that forgiveness is a gift available to everyone. It is not based on merit but on the understanding that no one is perfect.
Be grateful that you had the strength and courage to choose self-acceptance instead of a destructive self-assessment. If the experience has changed you and made you a better and wiser person with more compassion for others there will be innumerable opportunities for the new you to contribute your gifts to the world.
What is your experience with self-forgiveness? How have you been able to lift the burden of past transgressions? Please share your experiences in the comments section below!