Note to self: I’m sorry
“Why would anyone ever need to forgive themselves, what’s the point?”, my friend said the other day. The irony was that he was beating himself up for mistakes and decisions he made. This made me realise that a lot of people don’t actually realise the guilt or shame they carry inside themselves, and instead push it away, thereby letting it blow up like a balloon, inside themselves.
Forgiveness is a process of letting go of hatred, anger and resentment. A lot of people find that they are easily able to forgive others (quite a generous ability, in my opinion), but are much harder on themselves. It’s normal to make mistakes. Learning to forgive yourself, letting the anger go, and moving on, is extremely important for your mental well-being. It’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of growth.
I want you to think of the people in your life that you love and respect. How do you treat them? You are open to their feelings and thoughts, support them, and most importantly, you give them space and time to grow. You have to treat yourself the same way. It will not happen overnight, so give yourself all the time it takes. It will not be a joyful ride of sunshine and rainbows, so be prepared for the tough calls you have to make. Forgiving yourself is a long process, much like anything that is worthwhile. Any little step is progress.
Accept Responsibility. Facing the actions you made, or what happened to you is the first step to forgiving yourself. It’s probably the hardest step. But it’s holding you back from so much. So stop the excuses, the rationalisation, and the justification of your actions. You’ll be surprised actually – in most situations, just accepting your mistakes is better, not just for the person you’re saying it to, but also yourself.
Accept the pain and express it. This can happen both before and after accepting responsibility. You don’t have to justify any of it. You don’t have to fight against the emotions. It’s quite normal to feel a wide range of negative emotions, so don’t criticise yourself for it.
Make amends. This is an extremely important part of seeking forgiveness, even if it’s just for yourself. The same way you make it up to someone after making a mistake, you do it with yourself. Remember that it doesn’t end every time with a smiley face. Sometimes, you have to stick around for a while, and build the trust back.
Forgive yourself - for your mistakes, bad decisions and skills you haven’t developed. I’m sure it didn’t happen right after you read that, but you have to work on it now. Stop beating yourself up for things that are in the past. Learn from the mistakes, and move on. Let go of the guilt and shame.
The way self-forgiveness goes isn’t just that. What comes with it is invaluable. You begin renewing yourself. Like the saying goes, you learn from your mistakes. You will start to see yourself with more clarity, and understand yourself- the good and the bad. You will be able to recognize and admit how you have harmed yourself and others. Your relationships with others will change and deepen to become more real. More importantly, your relationship with yourself will improve.
You may question this, saying “Forgiving myself won’t undo the harm I’ve done to others”. It won’t. But if you don’t let it go, and learn from it, you’ll find yourself committing the same actions, if not worse . Additionally, self-forgiveness is not just about your past. It’s about the present. Forgive yourself for not being perfect, for getting burnt out, for not being where you want to be. Self-criticism is only useful to a certain extent. But beating yourself up for every little thing will only push you further away from where you want to be. Perfectionism can manifest itself in many forms- those who are overdriven and hyper ambitious tend to struggle with unrealistic expectations and rumination, while those with limiting beliefs tend to be overly concerned with mistakes and face continuous doubts about their actions. Brené Brown, a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work says, "Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfection is not about healthy achievement and growth". Not only does it stop us from being the best, happiest, and most successful versions of ourselves, but it’s also linked to emotional instability, along with a wide range of clinical issues.
It’s like gardening: if your flower isn’t blooming like you want it to, you don’t rip out its leaves as punishment for failing to satisfy you. You recognize the problem and figure out what’s going wrong with its environment so you can modify it, giving the flower a chance to bloom in its own time. Thank your past self for trying in the first place and then give your future self the love needed to flourish. You can achieve all your goals, and you can do it without going through this hellish, vicious cycle of wanting to be perfect.