We tend to underestimate the power of self-compassion and self-forgiveness in the healing process. It’s normal to feel uneasy when you reflect on a stressful time, even if the situation is resolved and apologies have been exchanged. But did you forgive yourself for that ‘mistake’ or situation? Did you show yourself the same kindness, care, and love that you gave to others?
Forgiving yourself can be defined as processing, accepting, and letting go of internal feelings that cause shame, doubt, and guilt from a past experience. To forgive yourself doesn’t mean you are excusing your behaviour or that you aren’t remorseful. It’s about learning from your mistakes, changing your behaviour (or shifting your perspective), then letting go of the experiences or emotions that bring you down.
Manages Long-Term Guilt: It’s normal to feel guilty about something we later reflect on as ‘wrong’ or ‘regrettable’. Guilt can help us think about how we want to change this behaviour moving forward. Guilt is a problem, though, when it becomes long-standing and tears down our self-worth or self-perception. Self-forgiveness stops unnecessary guilt in its tracks and banishes that dark cloud looming over our heads.
Increases Self-Compassion and Manages Anxiety: For those of us who manage anxiety or have perfectionist tendencies, it can be even harder to forgive ourselves. ‘I should have known better’, you may think. Ongoing self-forgiveness can increase compassion and kindness towards ourselves and combat the unrealistic standard of never making a mistake.
Strengthens Physical and Emotional Health: Many studies have proven that forgiving ourselves and others reduces anxiety, stress, and physical pain.
Tune into your Emotions: How does this situation or experience make you feel? What physical symptoms arise? Give yourself permission to recognize, accept, and validate your emotions. Identifying your thoughts and feelings can help you make sense of the situation and understand the part you may have played in it.
Call out your Inner Critic: Journalling, speaking to a trusted family member or friend, and therapy are all great ways to work through anxiety or self-punishing thoughts. This step can help you discover harmful thinking patterns that prevent you from forgiving yourself and moving forward.
Learn the Lessons: What can you take away from the experience? How can you use this lesson for self-improvement? Reflecting on our actions and their effects can prepare us for future situations. We can learn to forgive ourselves, knowing we did the best we could at the time, with the knowledge we had.
Plan how to Move Forward: Reflect on the steps you have already taken to reconcile the situation. Have you apologized to someone you hurt? Have you edited the assignment your boss told you to redo? Have you made a study plan for the next test?
If you have taken concrete action to rectify the situation—and have done what you can to avoid repeating the mistake—then forgiving yourself is the next logical step.
We often overlook self-forgiveness in the process of healing and personal growth. Although it can be a difficult and ongoing process, we’re all capable and worthy of giving ourselves this valuable gift!
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