Mistakes are inevitable — we’ve all made them. You let out a secret that wasn’t yours to share, or lied to your friend. It may even have been something done intentionally to hurt your loved ones or even yourself, and after the dust settles, you’re left feeling terrible about your actions. Your heart is heavy, you’ve got a gut-wrenching feeling, yet you can’t stop replaying the situation in your mind. We get it, it can be difficult to forgive yourself.
But wallowing in remorse isn’t the best way to cope. In fact, a research done by Dr. Fred Luskin mentioned that “holding onto resentment and being unforgiving increases our stress levels and takes a toll on our well-being.” Being unforgiving results in self-doubt or self-criticism, and that in turn affects your relationship with others negatively as the other party would feel helpless towards your situation. As difficult as it seems, forgiving yourself should be part of your self-care checklist and a necessary step to become a better version of yourself.
So, here’s to finally forgiving yourself, especially when others have.
1. Forgiving yourself means admitting your mistakes
Once you’ve committed a mistake, there’s little use crying over spilt milk. Everyone struggles with admitting they’ve done something wrong, be it a minor or major one. We often use denial as a way to protect ourselves from unwelcoming emotions, like shame. However momentary, by not admitting your mistakes, you tend to push away the shame that comes with it. Yet this creates a barrier between you and your relationships with others. When the nagging shame surfaces, so does your self-criticism, which leads you to expect negative repercussions from your personal relationships.
By admitting your mistakes, you create a stepping stone to forgive yourself. Lay out the facts to give yourself a chance to face it and you’ll find it easier to release the negative emotions of shame and accept that you’ve made the mistake — time to move on.
2. Forgiving yourself means allowing yourself to feel guilty
A licensed clinical social worker, Jenny Scott, mentioned, “Every emotion we have serves a purpose.” Guilt and shame are two very different emotions. With guilt you tend to understand that your actions and behaviour have conflicts with your values.
In other words, guilt shows you the mistakes as the problem while shame points to you as the problem. Once you manage to understand and acknowledge what you’re feeling, you can identify the problem and figure out how to repair the situation and eventually forgive yourself. Once you’ve pulled yourself out of it, you can move on from dwelling in this emotion.
3. Forgiving yourself means letting go
Now that you have come to terms with your mistakes, the next step is to let go of the past. Letting go can be shaky and unfamiliar — you may be ready to take the leap, but you’re unsure of how to do so.
Some ways you can try:
- Apologise to the one you’ve hurt. It is a given that you should, even if they choose not to forgive just yet. Write an apology letter to yourself — by doing so you can pen down your innermost thoughts and emotions. You are able to reflect and set your mind towards letting go of your mistakes.
- Indulge in a little self-care! You can start focusing forward and treating yourself better instead of wallowing in self-criticism. Not sure what to do? Take a read on this self-care checklist.
It may be difficult to start but once you make the decision to move on, you’ll start to feel better about yourself.
4. Forgiving yourself means learning from it
There can be teachable moments in your mistakes, so don’t move on and forget about it completely. Learning from a mistake doesn’t happen right after the mistake is made or resolved. When you are ready, take your time to analyse what went wrong and how you can improve yourself to be better. You can learn to be mindful and take what you’ve learnt for the future.
You’ll definitely make mistakes again, but if you meet with a similar situation in future, that is where you make a decision to break the cycle. Accept that it is okay to not get it right the first time, but learn from this incident and be on your way to make better decisions in future.
5. Forgiving yourself means giving it time
We often want everything to be back to normal as quickly as possible. But letting go or admitting to your mistakes does not mean you’ll feel better instantly. Instead of ruminating on your mistakes and guilt, put an end to your worrying. Expecting immediate recovery from it can be mentally strenuous. So, give yourself ample time to heal and forgive, and eventually you’ll find the strength to get back on your feet once again.
To forgive yourself, is a step-by-step process that requires understanding and willpower — if you’re not ready for that, you won’t be able to truly complete the process. But once you’ve chosen to take these steps, you’ll be able to learn and become a better version of yourself.
Read more on other tough love questions.