Self-forgiveness is the process by which we release ourselves for the judgments that we hold against ourselves, because when we accept that we are the ones holding the judgment, we also see that we are the ones who can release it, and we are the ones who can set ourselves free.” — Joe Koelzer, Co-Founder, The Clearing
We all have things that we regret in life and wish we had done things differently. We’re only human, after all right?!
However, If you find it hard to forgive yourself for things that have happened in the past, chances are you are building strong resentment towards yourself creating an array of debilitating health problems such as depression, autoimmune conditions, heart disease and even cancer. You become stuck in a constant debilitating, draining cycle of self blame.
While you can’t go back and redo your past, you can change it in the sense that your present self can offer compassion and insight to your past self…the self that made the mistake, paving the way for a better future.
Here are some steps to let go of the past and start the journey towards acceptance.
Accept that you’re not perfect
None of us are perfect and we all make mistakes. When you didn’t intentionally set out to hurt someone through your actions, holding onto shame and letting it affect how you see yourself can be hugely damaging.
How can you abuse yourself for not having known something before you knew it? That’s so unfair to yourself. It doesn’t allow you to see mistakes as an opportunity for growth.
Your mistakes aren’t ‘proof’ of your failings and they don’t make you a bad person. If you can see mistakes as an opportunity to learn and grow, it opens up a whole different mindset.
It’s okay to let the memory go
Are you still holding onto what happened in your mind and not able to put it aside? This could be one of the big reasons why you’re struggling to forgive yourself. It is actually a perfectly natural response given that our brains are hardwired to use past experiences to try to protect us.
That doesn’t make it helpful though! Reliving the situation in your mind fools your brain into believing that it is happening again and that sets off the stress response. It can also mean that you define yourself through the situation, rather than accepting that it happened and trying to learn from it.
It’s not about forgetting what happened. Instead, you want to acknowledge that your actions may have had repercussions but that this doesn’t need to extend to self destructive emotions.
Flip the situation around
If you were told about the situation you can’t forgive yourself for, what would you tell the other person? Chances are, you’d push them to forgive themselves and point out some of the reasons why. And there’s no reason why that shouldn’t apply to you too! This is a great habit to get into whenever things don’t quite go to plan.
Get a different perspective
Talking about the situation with a trusted friend can give you a different take on things. Because they’re not living in your head and aren’t affected by the same thoughts and emotions as you, they have enough distance to see things that you probably can’t, especially around why you should forgive yourself.
Learn from what happened
Spending some time thinking about what you could have done differently can be very powerful for opening your eyes to the fact that you may not have been in the best position to do the ‘right’ thing then. For most people, there is a really good chance that you have gained new skills or insights since it happened and you can use those to learn from the situation so it doesn’t happen again.
Work on self love
Love is often a strong factor in our ability to forgive. The opposite can be true too – if you don’t love yourself all that much, you’re probably going to have a much tougher time forgiving yourself. You’re probably a lot harsher on yourself than you are with other people, right? This is a sign that it’s time to work on accepting yourself more and learning to love who you are. Once you’ve started to have success with this, it’s a lot easier to avoid beating yourself up for every mistake.
Release negative emotions
When you’re holding onto strong negative emotions, it’s almost impossible to truly forgive yourself unless you’re able to release them. Whether you’re feeling guilt, shame or just generally hate yourself, you won’t be able to move forwards until you’ve dealt with the underlying emotions that you’re feeling.
It’s often the case that your reactions to even the mere thought of what you did are what is making you feel so bad and by releasing them, they won’t hold the same power. This makes it a whole lot easier to start the process of forgiving yourself!
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