Hello, I’m Alex and I’ll admit I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes. Sometimes when I think back, my head falls into my hands. What was I thinking, or doing for that matter? My feelings surrounding past errors range from mild embarrassment to full-on guilt, even shame. Mistakes are heavy burdens to carry sometimes, aren’t they!
But here’s the thing, not addressing what weighs us down is detrimental to our well-being. We need to learn to forgive ourselves. I appreciate this can be easier said than done, but it’s no less an important endeavour all the same.
The trouble with guilt…
Guilt and shame are toxic, they forge a negative, unjust self-perception that neither helps you to grow nor move forward. In fact, these feelings are a catalyst for self-neglect, as well as self-destructive, self-sabotaging behaviours.
They lead us to believe that we are somehow unworthy, that we don’t deserve good things. Let me tell you right now, this belief is not true!
If we want to become emotionally healthy we need to unburden ourselves of these beliefs and behaviours. The vehicle for this is self-forgiveness.
Why should you forgive yourself?
Firstly, because it’s OK to make mistakes and it’s also OK to be who we are. We are human after all. Self-forgiveness isn’t about condoning unacceptable behaviours, it’s about acknowledging what happened, learning from it, acting better going forward and letting go.
There are a number of well-being benefits too:
- Increases your feelings of self-worth
- Helps to lower levels of depression and anxiety
- Increases self-compassion which is linked to higher levels of success, productivity, focus and concentration
- Reduces blood pressure and risk of heart attack
- Makes us more empathetic and confident
- Allows us to build more successful relationships with others
As you can see, self-forgiveness is important for personal growth, meaningful change and improved emotional well-being. Plenty of reasons to actively and positively move forward with your life. But how do you go about forgiving yourself?
How to forgive yourself
Speaking as someone who’s been working to forgive herself a lot, it’s not the easiest process. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the effort because it can be done, and boy does letting go feel good!
This involves replaying the situation over in your mind. I appreciate this can be uncomfortable, but it really helps you to understand your guilt. If you’d like to, jot down some notes. Who did you wrong? (remember, you can wrong yourself) What were the circumstances? Why do you feel guilty? How do you believe you could have acted differently?
Really take some time to explore it. Don’t just leave it here though, you still need to work your way through the following steps.
Why did you act in the way you did? There’s generally always a reason (I said reason, not excuse) behind it. Quite often my mistakes were down to me genuinely not knowing any better at that point in my life. Sometimes it’s down to beliefs or values, or experiences from childhood.
Again, this isn’t about blame passing, it’s more about understanding the causes and conditions for unhealthy behaviour patterns. Knowing these helps us to act better going forward.
Accept your ‘humanness’
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we’re all human. We have all made mistakes, we have all harmed others, wrong choices are inevitable. Acknowledge this and allow yourself some compassion.
RELATED READING: How to Start Accepting Yourself More
Accept what took place and your part in it. Don’t pass the blame, own it. Apologise if necessary (tips on how to do this below). You can even apologise to yourself if warranted!
In her book ‘The Power of Apology’, Bev Engel lays out the 3 key components of a meaningful apology:
- Regret – state your regret with empathy
- Responsibility – accept total responsibility for your actions or inactions
- Remedy – show willingness to remedy the situation, offer a resolution.
Commit to positive change
Quite simply, now you know better, do better. There’s no better way to demonstrate meaningful change than to act in a more positive way. This will help to mend bridges and strengthen bonds again. It’s also at this point that you need to move on and let the past go. Forgive yourself!
An extra little tool for self-forgiveness…
My self-forgiveness affirmation is by far the most popular of all my affirmations. Shared by counsellors, coaches and so many people who have reached out to me after using it. I’m happy to learn it’s proved as helpful to others as it has to me, so I’m sharing it here again today.
Personally, I find it particularly useful when I’m addressing something I can no longer do anything about. It’s helpful to say the words and allows me to process it all much quicker.
Just breathe and repeat them to yourself:
- Taking the steps to forgive yourself; Kendra Cherry for Very Well Mind
- The benefits of self-forgiveness on mental health: Evidence from correlational and experimental research; Peterson et al.
- Meta-analytic connections between forgiveness and health: the moderating effects of forgiveness-related distinctions Rasmussen et al.
- Healing Your Shame and Guilt Through Self-Forgiveness; Bev Engel for Psychology Today
How are you with self-forgiveness? Did you know how to forgive yourself? Do you have any other tips to share with us? Whatever you’d like to say, or ask! simply get in touch via the comment box below, I’m happy to help and I always love to hear from you!
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