Self-forgiveness is about learning how to forgive yourself for mistakes you made or choices you made, at great costs. Often we wonder, how it is possible we messed up so much, how did we come to this?
Things may not always add up. Our actions do not always reflect us. The actions of other people do not always reflect them either, or sometimes they do. We find it easier though to forgive others, than to forgive ourselves. The scrutiny we place upon ourselves can be unrelenting.
“To heal, you have to get to the root of the wound and kiss it all the way up” — Rupi Kaur
Why Is Self-Forgiveness Important?
According to Kendra Cherry, MS, Author and Educational Consultant, with statements reviewed by Steven Gans, MD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, forgiveness can reduce stress, which in turn increases immunity, eases mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and increases physical health due to a reduction in anger and an increase in heart health.
So, as well as aiding in such widespread issues as anxiety and depression, when we practice self-forgiveness, our overall health increases.
If we do not find the key to forgiveness, for ourselves and others, we continue to worry and punish ourselves into a mess.
There are seasons of our life where we can certainly use painful lessons for good, and to learn from. But when it comes to how we treat ourselves, until then, we hurt.
We simply hurt ourselves. It doesn’t have to be in any big way. It can be in the way that we don’t let go of a mistake. It may not have even been an unconscious mistake. We may have known why we did what we did, and made a decision to do it anyway, and that makes it harder.
Self-forgiveness can have many benefits, while self-loathing is not productive at all. The first question to ask yourself is, “Why did I do wrong?”
Making a mistake, making a blunder, has nothing to do with who you are or who you have the potential to become. It is not a reflection of your self-worth.
We are all human; we all make mistakes. We all do things for different reasons; the key is finding your reason. When you discover your why, you will unlock your truth. You will know how you got to this point and make the important decision to decide for yourself whether or not to go down that path again.
Meaning In the Mess
Sometimes, we break down and reveal more vulnerability to the people we love when we acknowledge our own mess. This can lead to greater revelations about ourselves and our life. When we acknowledge that we are not perfect, others can relate to us and find greater strength too.
In simply saying, “I’m sorry,” doors of accountability open and refuge can be found in relating our struggle to our strength. “I’m sorry, but I can try to make this up to you,” is also great for a new start. It doesn’t mean everything will be perfect. But it does mean you can start to salvage the situation.
Finding meaning out of the mess means that you’re done pretending, to yourself and others, that everything is perfect. It means that you will stand up for yourself, for others, and what you believe in. It means that you will start to heal.
The end goal? To finally be able to let go.
Letting go means to forgive yourself for what you didn’t know and what you thought you had to do (or not do). It means to forgive yourself for your shortcomings and your mistakes. But that doesn’t mean excusing yourself from accountability.
Identifying a mistake, deciding not to repeat it, and owning the damage you caused is part of the journey. Don’t keep beating yourself up over it. It’s a hard balance to find at times, but it’s worth it to be able to reap the health benefits, and move on with your life.
YOU are worth it.
Sometimes, self-forgiveness is about finding joy in life instead of sorrow. Once you let go, you learn to live. Remorse does account for some sorrow, but it does not mean you live in sorrow and regret for the rest of your life.
Maybe you didn’t have to forgive yourself for doing something wrong. Maybe you had to forgive yourself for doing something right.
Maybe it was because you knew it would come with a cost. But you were willing to pay it to do that right thing (or maybe simply not do that wrong thing).
How to Practice Self Forgiveness and Move on with Joy
So how do we get there? How do we get to self-forgiveness?
Self-Compassion — A Prerequisite for Self-Forgiveness
Self-Compassion is learning to put empathy in your self-talk; the words you say to yourself, about yourself. It’s part of developing Self-Love, a prerequisite for almost anything.
Megan Hale, therapist and life coach, puts it this way:
“If we can learn to think of ourselves as our best friend, to speak to ourselves with love and kindness, and put ourselves as a priority, it reaffirms that we believe we are worth it.”
You only need to talk to yourself more kindly, with empathy and compassion. We are often nicer to others than we are to ourselves. If your self-talk is beating you up over something, ask yourself, “What would I think about this, say to someone else, if they found themselves in this same situation?” Practice the same compassion on yourself, that you practice on others.
The shame you feel is part of your healing. It brings awareness to what needs to be done better in the future, or helps you accept outcomes when you make hard decisions. But you don’t have to live in shame or fear in order to make powerful changes; and in fact, you can’t.
Leaving Guilt Behind
Rather than helping us to make a situation right, or improve ourselves, guilt breaks our spirits. For a moment, it may help to feel guilt after some self-reflection, but ultimately, you are human and in need of compassion.
Guilt is an okay place to visit, to help us identify changes we need to make, but it is not a good place to stay.
Guilt may make you feel like you are not enough, or worthy of forgiveness or love. But it prevents you from moving on with your life, and becoming the best person you can be.
When you choose love, you need to choose love for yourself too. You need to consider yourself worthy even when you’re broken, especially when you’re broken, because everyone is worthy of love, and you are too.
Don’t let guilt smother your goodness. Don’t let guilt eat your energy and enthusiasm for life. Don’t let guilt destroy your joy.
Use your scars as reasons and reminders to do more good, even if you can’t make everything right. Let them be the lessons you hold onto as you move forward.
You can self-forgive and help others at the same time. It’s not just about charity. It’s about choices. You can make better choices when you’ve had time to reflect on your own situation.
Shine a light on those in need. Volunteer where help is needed. Walk with someone who feels like they are alone. Listen to another human being’s troubles. You’ll find yourself helping them to do what you also are trying to do: Self-forgive.
You’ll find that in helping someone else through an uncomfortable or bad situation, you’ll find your way through yours too. It’s a funny fact that we often give to others in the ways we should give to ourselves. We give the mercy, the love, the attention, the comfort, the compassion to others upon listening to their faults and failures, more than we would ever give to ourselves.
So we know what to do, and how to do it, we just have to apply the same kind of kindness and mercy we apply to others, to ourselves.
To get back your own life, give back to others. It’s almost as though we find the path for ourselves, by showing it to others. You’ll find it makes everything easier.
To bring yourself some peace, share your vulnerabilities with others. Share the flaws and insights from your story that actually make your story significant. Like something from an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting where one says to the rest of the people there,
“My name is____ and I’m an alcoholic.”
In your own case, you fill in the blanks. What do you really want people to know about you? This will help them understand you and it will help you to understand yourself. And with that understanding, you learn to release your inner demons and realize your inner strengths.
You don’t have to shout it from the rooftops. Instead, have a few people in your life know what is going on and how you feel. Opening up takes courage and strength, and while it may not fix everything, accountability reveals it is a start. Others can also point out to us the flaws in our thinking. Maybe the self-blame was necessary, maybe it was not, but either way we cannot continue to live productively there.
According to Beverly Engel, psychotherapist,
“You can resolve your behavior and forgive yourself at the same time.”
This means that you can change your actions, your state of being, your handling of others and more, while practicing self-forgiveness.
This is huge! It means you can be accountable and still move forward.
In moving forward, you will find that others may not always move with you. They may not be ready to, but as you continue to make amends, you can choose a better way to be. You can even, dare I say, choose joy.
Final Thoughts — Just Joy
Moving onward requires strength, as does all things, but it is worth it not to wallow in one’s pain. You can move on with joy by looking within and realizing you are still worth it.
At the end of this, you’ll still have moments of darkness and doubt, but the more you let yourself love yourself, you will find yourself in moments of joy. You will catch yourself laughing. You will catch yourself allowing the light to touch your wounds. The light of love. You will find peace in surrendering. You will find that love, even in the loss.
You find yourself in self-forgiveness when you realize you are human, and that in itself makes you whole, makes you more than your deeds or actions, makes you enough.
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