Forgiving yourself doesn’t mean absolving yourself of any responsibility for past actions but rather allowing yourself to acknowledge errors and the grace to live in peace as an imperfect human moving forward.
Things happen for which you cannot change. And maybe it’s time for you to move forward and learn from errors without punishing yourself for them for the rest of your life. Because that benefits no one. Or maybe it’s time for you to jump-start that process.
Not all of these tips will be relevant to your situation, so take away that which is.
#1- Admit you made a mistake
Are you a superhero? Is the word “God” on your resume? Humans make mistakes. Oftentimes, the difference is rotten luck. One person does the exact same thing and doesn’t have the disastrous results that you did. Other times, you have done something and at the time it was intentional but you now have regrets and recognize your misdeed. Admission is important to getting to a place of forgiveness.
#2- Set the intention
That means making a commitment that you will forgive yourself. It doesn’t have to be today but it opens the door. After my son’s suicide, I struggled for a long time for missing the clues, and not being able to protect him from the enemy in his own head. But I made the pledge that I would one day forgive myself. And months later, I woke up one day and said, “Today is today.”
I can’t tell you what was different about that day versus the one before other than I was just ready and I had set the intention. It doesn’t mean I no longer have a nick of regret but I’m quick to remind myself that I have gone over all of that and it’s no longer on rerun and bringing me down anymore.
#3- Acknowledge all the feelings that go with this process
There’s guilt and embarrassment, disappointment, sadness, and anger. Don’t allow yourself to wallow. After you’ve acknowledged and sat with those feelings, allow yourself to move away from them and do something else. You will experience these feelings in the process of letting them go.
#4- Make a pledge to stop the reruns
Acknowledge the thought. Then interrupt the thought pattern by deep breathing, taking a walk, cooking, or some other activity. You can’t really “stop” the thoughts but over time you can soften them and reframe them. Eventually, the replays will fade if you’ve made a commitment to let them go.
#5- Be patient and accept that it will take time
In a world of instant answers, we often expect instant cures. But it’s a process and that has to be respected. Google can’t make this happen faster. You invest in the process and you will arrive at a place of forgiveness. If you tell yourself it will never work, it won’t. So tell yourself it will.
#6- Understand you have knowledge now that you did not have then
In other words, if you have all the facts and answers now why blame yourself for a time when you didn’t have all this information? Or all the wisdom.
#7- Ask yourself why you’d hold yourself hostage for something that has already happened that can’t be changed
Does this help you in some way? Are you holding onto it because you’ve made it part of your identity? Is it time to let it go?
#8- Apologize or think of ways to give back that can help you move forward
This is called making amends. All you can do is try. Others might not forgive you but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t forgive yourself because there’s nothing you can do about how others feel. But you can do something about the way you feel. And you can give time, money, or your passion to a cause that does help you heal.
For years I was angry over some serious sexual harassment by a co-worker at an ad agency. He came to Richmond for an event decades later and all of us went out. I told him about it and he was crestfallen over his past actions. I knew he had gone into recovery from addiction and had done a lot to make amends. His apology was sincere and I appreciated it. I was able to let it go right then and let him know.
#9- Write yourself a letter of forgiveness.
This is your confession. Think about your circumstances at the time. Consider what your choices were, your state of mind, any extenuating circumstances, how it feels to torture yourself, and then permission to let it go. No one ever has to see this. But then you might want to share it. But writing it all out can get it out of your head and on paper.
#10- Learn from it.
No matter how horrible it is, there is an opportunity to learn and grow from it. We learn a lot more when we fail than when we succeed. The choices are: torture yourself, or learn from it. I choose the latter.
#11- Appreciate your new knowledge and the journey it took to get you where you are now, wherever that is
Widen your lens and appreciate that which you do well or did do well and stop focusing on the one thing or few that you didn’t. Even if it had a catastrophic result. You can’t look back at something and apply the knowledge you have now and pass judgment on your past self.
#12- Tame unrealistic self-directed accusations
Are you holding yourself hostage and not forgiving yourself for something that you really didn’t cause but have held yourself responsible? Are you feeling guilty for standing by as someone else did something unacceptable? Interject a thought like, “Why didn’t I stop that volcano from erupting in Peru?” Make something funny that you couldn’t have possibly caused so you can put it in perspective about how much control and power you really have.
Understand that this process can be very difficult, arduous, and requires faith and patience.