It’s very easy to carry around regret, guilt, or shame, and yet forgiving yourself is often such a challenge. In fact, the ability to forgive yourself is the fundamental step that most people miss, and they can’t move forward without it. A 2017 study, for example, found that the ability to forgive is associated with greater life satisfaction, and that spanned all age groups.
What Is Self-Forgiveness?
The researchers behind a 2018 study defined self-forgiveness as a positive attitudinal shift in the feelings, actions, and beliefs about the self. This feeling followed a self-perceived transgression or wrongdoing. Forgiving yourself may help restore a positive sense of self and help protect you from the toxic effects of shame, guilt, and regret. The antithesis of self-forgiveness, then, is self-loathing or berating the self, according to therapists.
People have a tendency to think that they need to be perfect at all times. This frame of mind is a self-protective mechanism because there are consequences when you are not perfect. The beauty of human beings is that they are imperfect, but the thought of being imperfect is quite scary. Forgiving yourself ultimately comes down to exploring what happened and processing feelings associated with negativity. The following tips should help you on your path to self-forgiveness.
Reframe How You Think About Your Mistakes
If you want to forgive yourself, you have to reframe the way you think about your mistakes. The average person thinks in polarities, i.e. successes versus failures, strengths versus weaknesses. These polarities can coexist, but you have to figure out how to make that happen. Swirl your brokenness with beauty and shift away from that polarized way of thinking. Ultimately, you’ll have a richer understanding of the self.
Don’t “Should” Yourself
It is easier to berate yourself than to forgive yourself. Another common practice is “shoulding” yourself, meaning that you focus on what you should do or should have done. When you think in that way, you judge yourself unnecessarily and limit the potential and work you can do to think openly. Don’t judge or should yourself; rather, take the time to learn from past mistakes and use those experiences as tools for positive change.
Take Responsibility For Your Actions
When you start to reframe how you think about your mistakes or actions, you can embark on the journey of the four R’s of forgiveness. The first R is responsibility, because in order to forgive, you have to first take responsibility for your part in the story. This can be very difficult and scary, but it is quite heroic to take responsibility for yourself. Unfortunately, taking responsibility also opens up the doors to remorse and regret, which brings us to the next point.
Don’t Deny Remorse Or Regret
The second R of forgiveness is remorse because feeling remorse is very natural after taking responsibility. Remorse is actually how you move toward handling the situation in a healthy way. It’s how you “build the muscle of self-forgiveness,” because you allow yourself to feel the pain. You cannot simply let go and forget because it is healthier to sit with your feelings and process them. When you encounter remorse, don’t shy away; rather, allow the pain to move through you to come to a resolution, which can ultimately reduce the chance of that mistake happening again.
Rectify Your Wrongdoings
When you take responsibility and embrace remorse, you can reach the third R, which is restoration. Restoration is about apologizing to yourself and making amends. That can occasionally mean asking friends for forgiveness, but also supporting your remorse with a change in behavior. Part of forgiving yourself may involve righting your wrongs with others. Even if your forgiveness doesn’t have to do with anyone else, the relationship with yourself often needs restoration. This is an important step on the road to self-forgiveness because you ultimately shift the narrative from a broken place to one of evolution. Nothing can change if you just leave it the way it is!
Find The Lesson
The final R of forgiveness is renewal, a process during which you can grow having learned valuable lessons about yourself. Self-compassion experts state that renewal is about understanding what led to your mistake and making the conscious effort to prevent it from happening again. Take the time to consider if environmental factors influenced you at the time. Were you under a lot of stress or did you act out in an irrational way? Look beyond yourself and how you interpret the situation. Sometimes, you realize that you didn’t make a mistake at all. You were just trying to live the only way you knew how at the time. Now that you know better, you can act differently moving forward.
If you find that you still need assistance after these steps, consider speaking with a mental health professional. Nobody needs to struggle alone, so reach out to someone and talk about your difficulty or inability to forgive yourself. There are countless resources that can help you move forward in this life, so use them if you need to!