When’s the last time you told someone you forgave them? Better yet, when’s the last time you forgave yourself? We spend so much time trying to figure out how to forgive and forget the actions of others, we’ve lost the ability to forgive ourselves. When we learn to forgive ourselves we begin to recognize that happiness is a state of mind, thus reclaiming control of our mindset and response to the actions of others.
No one is gaining anything from your walking around with guilt from poor decisions or actions. Doing so doesn’t allow you to be your best, most authentic self, especially when these feelings are shielded from the public. Furthermore, forgiveness from others is essentially useless if you haven’t found a way to forgive yourself. This ultimately means that forgiveness begins with oneself.
If you’ve been struggling to forgive yourself for something, I recommend that you try the three steps below to guide you through self-forgiveness. Remember that self-forgiveness is about self-kindness and extending grace to yourself so be patient with yourself.
- Create a Written Statement: Begin by writing the offense you are seeking forgiveness for. I recommend that you only write one down at a time. If you haven’t taken the time to think through the entire situation, it might be best for you to approach this as if you were writing a letter to someone else. Be candid, be angry, be anything you want, but be sure to fully express yourself. Simply start with “Dear self”.
- List the Lessons Learned: On a separate sheet write the lessons that you learned through the process and the strategies you’ve put in place, or would like to put in place, to minimize the likelihood of the offense recurring. Since this process is typically done in private, you can also be pretty candid about the lessons you’ve learned. Every lesson matters no matter the size, so make sure you included everything you can think of. It may also help to think about how these lessons can contribute to helping you move closer to becoming the best version of yourself.
- Trash the Offense: The final step in the process is to trash the written statement and hold on to the lessons. It may sound crazy, but there is something very powerful about physically removing something from your life. Whether you ball the paper up, rip it, burn it, or simply throw it in the trash, the visual representation is important. This step allows you to physically let go of the offense and hold on to the lessons. The goal isn’t to forget what happened, but instead allow you to own it, learn what you can, and take the next step.
Once you’ve completed this process, try it again. There’s no real external measure of effectiveness with this approach, so remember that you can only get out of this process what you put into it. If you know you’re not ready to fully engage in the process above, try these simple tips to help you begin the process of self-forgiveness.
- Realize the past is the past
- Recognize unrealistic expectations
- Identify the root cause
- Put things into perspective
- Own it and take the next step