Of all the people we have the most difficult time forgiving, the person who often stands to be the most difficult to forgive is none other than ourselves.
Sometimes we go through experiences that we wish we could take back; circumstances that a restart button could solve immediately. We may even have memories that make us want to have selective amnesia, helping us to block out what we just don’t want to remember anymore.
Don’t get me wrong, shame, regret, and guilt are natural responses to having hurt or offended someone – whether that someone is ourselves or another. However, when we hold onto shame, regret, and guilt and don’t process through them in a healthy manner, they easily evolve into something that eats away at who we are.
I write as someone who understands how it feels to be trapped in a cloud of loneliness, bitterness, and pain while also hating the very person we see in the mirror. Or at the very least, not recognizing who we see in the mirror. It wasn’t too long ago that I didn’t like myself very much. A year ago, actually. But that was then; I’m quite a different person currently and I actually have a very healthy level of self-love. Not to mention, a healthy level of self-esteem, confidence, and drive.
Coming from someone who can turn around and see an undeniable difference in their life, I sincerely say: I want to help you get to that point too; to help you, help yourself. There is a way to begin to love who we are and who we are becoming but it requires hard work; it is not instant and it is not easy. Then again, the most worthwhile things in life require hard work, consistency, and patience. Simply put, the best way to get to that point is by being honest with ourselves. The process can – and often times is – painful but truth be told, it is much less painful than settling and staying where we are currently.
Are we merely alive or are we actually living our lives? When we can’t come to a place where we are able to forgive ourselves and love who we are, we rob ourselves of our life. We become frozen in time; frozen in the past and unable to fully enjoy the right now.
Reader, I want to speak life into you by saying this:
We can’t change what has happened.
As of right now, what has happened is in the past, and you my friend, you are right here in the present. Those are two different locations and we can’t be in both places at once. At least not at the cost of the other.
The past is the past.
So let’s ask ourselves, what is it that we can control right now?
We do and say stupid things that at the time, seemed to be the right thing. Hindsight is 20/20. Sometimes we even get hurt by other people and blame ourselves, living in the toxicity of hateful words and broken hearts. I’ve been there; it’s not easy. Some of us can agree that we have even held onto our self-hatred for such a long time that feelings of guilt, shame, bitterness, and pain are normal.
At what cost do we realize that we are robbing ourselves of our lives by doing this? How many years of our lives are we stealing from love and joy in order to hold onto bitterness and regret?
Do we really stop to think about that?
If you haven’t already heard, Reader, let me remind you: We are allowed to make mistakes. We are also allowed to experience joy, love, and freedom. We are the crumpled piece of paper that can be straightened again. Our scars remain but we can’t experience life when trapped in an unhealthy cycle of self-hate, guilt, and overwhelming shame. The truth is, we hold the key to our freedom but it is up to us to choose whether or not to let go or remain in the past. We have to choose every day to take a step forward, take a step back, or stay still. The decision to love who we are and who we are becoming isn’t something we make once. We have to choose every single day to learn how to forgive and love ourselves.
So how exactly do we forgive ourselves? Here are five helpful tips for moving forward:
1. Observe and acknowledge our emotions
As with many things, knowing where to start and how to start are the most challenging. Let’s start with self-awareness and how we actually feel. Let’s be honest with ourselves. Are we angry or overwhelmed with guilt and shame? What are you actually feeling? Let yourself feel the emotions then name them. Label the emotion or memory we are dealing with – after all, they’re real – either mentally or verbally. The way we think has everything to do with how we react and treat ourselves. If we can label and categorize what we are dealing with, we have already established a sense of control over it. Studies reveal that acknowledging what we are dealing with is much more mentally healthy than repression and ignoring what we feel.
2. Accept our reactions and be present
Once we have labeled our emotions, we redirect our thinking. Now that the emotion has been labeled, come back to the present. How? Label what you feel with a timestamp. For instance, I feel guilty right now. Try it. In this way, we have not just dealt with permitting ourselves to feel the emotion, we are bringing ourselves to the present. Focusing on the time right now changes our perspective. If we can step out of the past and into the future, we develop a stronger sense of control over our situation and outlook.
3. Choose a valued direction and change our outlook
Where do your values and beliefs lie? We need to ask ourselves, are we doing things according to what we value and believe in or are we wasting our time? If we realize we need to make a change in accordance with what is important to us, rather than asking ourselves, “what do we do?”, let’s begin by asking ourselves, “what do we do next?”. Specifics are key to change. When we ask ourselves open-ended questions that are much too vast to answer, we can easily get discouraged and not know where to begin. Once we change the way we think, we are able to change the way we approach our life. Once we are able to change the way we approach life, we are able to change our lives. Forgiveness requires change and knowing how to approach change is crucial to self-love.
4. Take action
We can’t just say we want to forgive ourselves; it takes action. Just like an authentic apology requires change, the act of forgiving of ourselves requires motion. We’re not really forgiving ourselves if we are constantly putting ourselves down, are we? What actions are we taking to show we are serious about getting out of the funk we’re in? Self-love requires consistency. What do we need to be consistent in embracing self-love? Maybe it looks like protecting our “me time”; attending therapy sessions; developing a community of accountability partners; keeping ourselves accountable; allowing ourselves to have fun.
5. Have fun and give yourself credit for progress
Many of us have held onto such a distaste for who we are for so long that we don’t really know what to do with ourselves. Here’s a solution: HAVE FUN. A key to forgiving yourself and leaving the past behind is to enjoy the moment. Laughing is a great way to refocus on mind on the now. Give yourself credit for overcoming regret and guilt. Enjoy the right now.
Let’s not impede the way of our progress of becoming someone we love; someone we are proud to be; someone who has learned to forgive themselves. Let’s take a moment to ask ourselves this:
Are we happy with who and where we are right now? If the answer is no, what can we change right now to become the person we aspire to be? The harsh reality is: if we want to be someone we’ve never been, we’re going to have to do things we’ve never done – including being kind to ourselves.
Let’s get to work.