You’ve said it to others:
“No one is perfect.”
“Try to let it go.”
“When are you going to forgive yourself?”
The inability to send forgiveness inward can be torturous. When you see someone you care about suffering in this way, you do what you can to be helpful. But when the tables are turned, you may have a hard time taking your own advice. Feeling good about yourself can be very difficult when:
you feel guilty because you think you’ve done something wrong, or when
you feel ashamed because you think there’s something wrong with you.
You may get stuck in that torturous place because you:
- have no role model or road map for self-forgiveness
- have conflicted feelings about what you did
- don’t feel deserving of forgiveness
- lack sufficient coping skills to deal with the discomfort of the process of self-forgiveness
Everyone makes mistakes and wishes they could go back and undo uncalled for words or actions that caused someone else hurt, pain, or loss. But we can’t. To move forward, we need to learn how to forgive ourselves and to “make things right” as best we can.
As with many things worth mastering, self-forgiveness takes courage and practice. Here’s an approach that will help you to turn forgiveness inward when you need to:
- Instead of spinning your wheels by avoiding, minimizing, justifying your actions, or beating yourself up, consider your values, the person you want to be, and then take responsibility for what you did, and the consequences thereof. It has to start here.
- Remind yourself that everything you do is intended to fulfill some need. Everything. In other words, there was a reason behind what you did. Go there. Ask yourself what need you were trying to satisfy that prompted your need for self-forgiveness. Don’t judge the need; just accept what was really going on with you and take responsibility for your actions and their consequences.
- Think about the person you want to be. Let’s say that you took a good look at your words or actions and realized that you tried to show someone up or compete with them in a nasty way. Why? Because you were tired of feeling unappreciated. Instead of doing the same thing next time, stay attuned to your thoughts and feelings when they arise. Work on “checking” that response and, for the longer term, turning your attention to what you can do to feel appreciated in healthy ways.
- Mend the bridge. Say, “I am sorry for what I did.” Or “My comment was very insensitive. I apologize.” Or “How I acted was uncalled for. I hope you can forgive me.” If the person you have hurt or harmed is no longer alive or no longer in your life, ask yourself how you can take the lesson you learned and help someone else. Remember that many of us are struggling with similar self-forgiveness challenges.
- Send your forgiveness inward. Say something like: “I forgive myself for hurting Susan. I am working on how I satisfy my needs and how I interact with others.”
- Let it go. If you find this difficult, it may be an indication that your self-forgiveness is incomplete. So, forgive yourself for not having an On-Off switch and remind yourself that every day you work on self-forgiveness, you are also working on being the best version of you.