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Maybe you have already apologized to someone for something you said or did but still feel guilty. What happens when the person you need to forgive is yourself? Where do you start?
First, recognize that it is a choice. Self-forgiveness requires you to exercise self-compassion, empathy and understanding. It’s also something you learn over time by acknowledging your wrongdoing, confronting your inner critic and committing to learning from your mistakes.
When you forgive yourself, you also let go of feelings of unworthiness, regret and the fear of failure. You also protect yourself from the anxiety and depression that can come with recurring feelings of shame.
To form successful relationships, you need to forgive yourself for mistakes and repair bonds or make amends when you have made a mistake. Your ability to do this is connected to your compassionate and forgiving attitude towards yourself.
How to Forgive Yourself for Your Mistakes
Here is a step-by-step guide to self-forgiveness.
1. See The possibility of Self-Forgiveness
When repetitive thoughts of the mistake you have made or words you said continue to swirl around in your mind, it can feel like self-forgiveness is miles away. Before you reflect on how you feel and try to let go, ask yourself. ‘Do I believe I can forgive myself?’ ‘Is it possible for me to take accountability for my actions and make amends without beating myself up?’.
Even if the answer is different from what you want to hear, asking yourself these questions can help you escape from the spiral. You will begin to recognize the negative thoughts that you need to confront and challenge, which will help you start the journey of forgiveness.
2. Sit With Your Emotions
On a piece of paper, or in a journal. Write down everything you are feeling. When you identify and label your emotions, it can reduce their intensity and help you move towards self-forgiveness. Once you identify your emotions, try to look at the situation as an outsider. Why are you feeling this way? Are there assumptions that you need to reframe?
3. Acknowledge Your Mistake and Take Accountability
While the goal is to move on and learn from your mistakes eventually, you need first to accept what you have done and show yourself some compassion. This might be the hardest step because it requires you to look into yourself and acknowledge where you were wrong. If it’s been some time since the incident, you may make excuses or try to justify or rationalize your actions to make them seem more acceptable.
Remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes, you are human and sometimes you will say or do the wrong thing. Accept what you have done and the part you played. When you carpet and take responsibility, you lessen the chance of excessive regret and guilt in your mind that could make you feel worse. It’s okay to feel guilty. However, it’s not okay to condemn yourself and sit in shame.
4. Observe and Confront Your Inner Critic
Now that you have acknowledged your actions and how they may have affected someone else, you need to treat yourself with self-compassion. Your inner critic can make you feel like it’s unfixable, but you must remind yourself that you have taken responsibility and are working towards making better choices. This needs to be done with self-compassion.
You can try one of these exercises to help you understand and challenge thoughts from your inner critic that are unhelpful and harsh.
- Write out a conversation between you and your inner critic about the situation. You will begin to see some of the thought patterns you need to work through to forgive yourself fully.
- On one page, write down what your inner critic says about the situation. On the other side, write responses to the statements that are rational and self-compassionate. For example, ‘I’m a bad mom because I always shout at my kids’ could turn into, ‘Yesterday, I was stressed from the meeting I had with a client and I needed to calm down and regulate my emotions before speaking to my kids about putting their clothes in the laundry basket.’
The second statement allows you to be self-compassionate and recognize where you may need to work on your reactions or preventative measures to take to avoid doing the same thing. You would then make a plan to take a 10-minute walk or listen to music after your work day, or to write down your thoughts in your journal about the stressful meeting and how frustrated you feel, before approaching your kids and asking them to put their clothes away.
5. Apologize and Make Amends
Remember, it’s okay to feel guilty but you should do your best to let go of shame. Guilt says, ‘You’re a good person who made a mistake or did something bad’ while shame says, ‘You did a bad thing so you’re a bad person’. Shame can leave you feeling worthless, which leads to other emotional problems when left unchecked.
Your mistake takes nothing away from your intrinsic value. Recognize that you can apologize and make amends, which is a step in the right direction. Forgiving yourself can be easier when you have acknowledged your mistake to the person you hurt and apologized.
6. Learn From It
A mistake or mess-up is an opportunity to improve next time. It will help you to fully forgive if you find a way to learn from this experience. You may need to take some time thinking or journaling to understand why you behaved the way you did and what steps you can take to prevent the behavior in the future.
Another way you can help yourself to learn and move on is to find a statement to repeat to yourself. It could be ‘I did the best with what I had then. Now I will do better’. When you repeat a statement like this to yourself, it challenges your inner critic and reminds you that your worthy of your own forgiveness.
You may struggle to believe it at first, but remind yourself that you will get there and it takes time. It takes 18 to 254 days to form a habit and this includes forming positive and compassionate self-talk.
7. Realize that forgiveness is an ongoing process
Forgiveness is an ongoing affair. In the same way, it might take you a few days to forgive someone when they hurt you, you will need that time to forgive yourself too. It requires repetition and effort. You may even need to seek professional help to guide you through it and help you let go of shame.
Forgiveness is just as crucial as making amends and repairing a relationship. When you forgive yourself, you let go of the shame, sadness and anger you may experience and you are better able to move on.
Remember to be gentle with yourself. When you have acknowledged your mistake and done your best to fix it, it’s okay to let go.
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