Forgiveness is a virtue, which is why we are taught and encouraged to forgive others. Forgiveness allows us to be free of bitterness and resentment. It helps us feel better and move forward in life. Despite the many lessons and encouragements to forgive, for some, it is hard to forgive others. Whereas for others, it is much more difficult for them to forgive themselves.
So, why is it difficult to forgive oneself? Forgiving oneself requires courage and compassion. It is a process that needs patience and willingness to be vulnerable. Many people resist to forgive themselves because they have built their identity on that hurt and pain. Yet, with a little practice, patience, and compassion forgiving yourself and moving past old mistakes can be achievable.
- Acknowledge the mistake.
Interestingly enough, your brain is wired to remember your mistakes. It is part of executive functioning. Your nervous system registers anything you might have done wrong, stores it as information to use in the future, and learns from it. However, when we tag emotions to a regrettable moment, it no longer becomes information for future use but a personal attack. Society teaches us to feel ashamed about our mistakes, but this only brings about guilt and shame. Thus, making it difficult for you to forgive yourself.
To forgive yourself, you need to let go of shame and guilt. You first need to find the underlying causes of these emotions or ideas. For example, if you always beat yourself about arriving late, figure out why you are late and why does being late bother you. You might find that your fear of being late has something to do with perfectionism. When we are incapable of self-forgiveness, it might be because we have expectations or reservations about who we are supposed to be.
Remember, you are human. You are bound to make mistakes and fall flat on your face. It’s fine. Acknowledge that you feel and maybe scrapped your knees, but get up and move forward. That’s all that matters.
- Study the mistake.
Many chess grandmasters study their games after a match. If you are a chess fan or have watched The Queen’s Gambit lately, I’m sure you can vouch for this statement. The reason chess players go over their games is to learn from them. When they study the board, they look at it objectively. Do the same with your past mistakes. Study them and the situation surrounding them with objectivity. It can help you grow as a person. Objectivity is key. When you are trying to forgive yourself, the goal is to move past something that feels like a part of you. Without objectivity, you may end up getting stuck in the past and beating yourself up about that mistake. Be compassionate to yourself and remember that you are doing the best you can given the circumstances. Hold onto what you discover about yourself and let go of the rest.
- Learn to forgive.
Once you have learned and studied your mistake, it is time to let go. Though it sounds simple, it can be very difficult to let go. There may be many reasons why you are holding on to that mistake and all the emotions attached to them. One reason you may be hesitant to let go is that you have built an entire narrative or even parts of your identity around that mistake. For example, someone who is a perfectionist and overly critical of themselves may be unwilling to let go of their past mistakes. Hence, pushing them to be more critical. Sometimes, you can get comfortable with the shame and guilt that accompany regret.
Letting go requires you to confront parts of yourself you consciously ignored. It also urges you to accept all of you, even the less flattering parts. Remember, letting go is not the same as a pardon. It does not absolve you of accountability, but it helps you acknowledge the mistake and learn to move forward.
- Allow love to take place.
Love is patient. Love is kind. Love forgives and understands all. On your journey towards self-forgiveness, you need to replace shame and guilt with love. I will not guarantee that this step is easy because it is not. But, I hope and urge you to persevere. Love helps you treat yourself with compassion, which helps you to learn and grow.
- Move forward.
Our inability to move forward from a mistake typically stems from fear of failure. Failure that we might make the same mistake again. However, there is nothing to fear. In your life, you will make countless mistakes. Some, you might make twice. It’s fine. Eventually, one day you’ll learn what you will need to learn from that mistake and move past it. It all begins when you start to forgive yourself.
Self-forgiveness is not about absolving yourself from guilt or about never making a mistake ever again. It is a journey towards acceptance where you learn to treat yourself with compassion and allow yourself to grow. It is life’s way of teaching you something vital.
Also, not all mistakes are mistakes. Though they may bring regret and insecurity, some mistakes are just a change of direction.
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Brandt, Andrea. When Forgiving Yourself Is the Hardest Kind of Forgiveness. 2 Oct. 2017, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindful-anger/201710/when-forgiving-yourself-is-the-hardest-kind-forgiveness.
George, Cylon. “Let Go of Past Mistakes: 6 Steps To Forgiving Yourself.” Tiny Buddha, Tiny Buddha, 9 Mar. 2020, tinybuddha.com/blog/let-go-past-mistakes-6-steps-forgiving/.
James, Matt. “How to Forgive Yourself and Move on From the Past.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 22 Oct. 2014, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/focus-forgiveness/201410/how-forgive-yourself-and-move-the-past.
Kress, Lauren. “What Brené Brown Taught Me About Failure.” The Business Scientist, 2 Jan. 2020, www.laurenkress.com/post/what-brene-brown-taught-me-about-failure.