Are you incredibly hard on yourself about every little mistake? Or maybe you’re generally able to practice self-compassion but there are one or two big things in life that you can’t come to terms with having done? Either way, life is going to be better for everyone if you learn how to forgive yourself.
Self-forgiveness doesn’t mean that you decide it was okay to do something that you truly regret. Instead, it means that you accept what happened. Then you move forward from that experience with compassion for yourself, knowing that doing so allows you to be a better person now and in the future.
If you struggle with how to forgive yourself for small or large things, try these six techniques:
1. Get Clear On What Kind of Failure-to-Forgive-Yourself You Have
You’re coping with one of two situations:
- Either you’re the type of person who can’t forgive yourself for even the tiniest mistake
- Or you’re ashamed of something that feels big and you can’t get past it
Self-knowledge is the first step here, so figure out which one of those things is the case. If you’re always hard on yourself, then you may need to do work around anxiety, perfectionism, and practicing self-compassion.
If, on the other hand, you’re struggling with letting go of one big thing, then it could be that you’re struggling with emotions like guilt, shame, embarrassment, or anger (most likely at yourself.)
Knowing the type of forgiveness that you’re in can help you figure out the next step. Do you need to learn to forgive yourself in a more general way or are you working on self-forgiveness about something specific?
2. Acknowledge that Forgiving is Tough
Regardless of which type of situation you’re in, learning how to forgive yourself can be really tough. It’s good to recognize that, because it will help you stay motivated when the path gets murky.
Why is forgiveness so hard? Here are some of the reasons:
- Our brains are primed to focus on the negative instead of the positive. It’s hard to override that brain chemistry.
- You may mistakenly believe that being hard on yourself will prevent you from making the same mistake again.
- Voices from childhood, media, and culture might influence you without even realizing it. There’s a lot of shaming that gets into our heads and is hard to quiet.
3. Brainstorm a List of Good Reasons to Start Forgiving Yourself
If you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing, then it’s more difficult than it needs to be. So, here are some reasons to start forgiving yourself today:
- Beating yourself up isn’t going to make what happened go away.
- Focusing on the past makes it impossible for you to be your best self now and in the future. You’re not living up to your full potential.
- Whatever you need to forgive yourself for taught you something. You wouldn’t know what you know today without that experience.
- Forgiveness improves relationships.
- Your mental health is suffering under this weight. You have the power to improve your mental health by practicing self-forgiveness.
- Your physical health might also be suffering. Long term failure to forgive yourself can lead to headaches, digestion problems, heart conditions, sleep issues, substance misuse, and more.
4. Imagine That You’re Your Older, Wiser Self
Imagine that you are now ninety years old. You’ve lived so much of life. You’ve learned so much. And you have the opportunity to go back and speak to your younger self at the time that they made the mistake you’re beating yourself up for today.
What would you say? You probably wouldn’t keep beating up on that younger self, right? You’d say things like:
- You did the best you could at the time.
- We all make mistakes. You have so many opportunities ahead to do better.
- Even if you caused harm, you didn’t do so intentionally.
One key thing you can do within this practice is have your older self ask your younger or “now” self to describe the emotions around the issue. Processing your emotions is key to learning how to forgive yourself.
Try having your “now” self write a letter to the older self sharing all of those emotions. And then, as your older self, write a letter back validating all of those emotions while also offering space for forgiveness.
5. Make Amends
If you feel guilty about something that you wish that you hadn’t done, then maybe you need to make amends before you can forgive yourself. This can take many forms and will vary depending on the situation and the people involved. Examples include:
- Making a verbal or written apology to the person or people you harmed. Sometimes “I’m sorry” is truly enough.
- Writing a letter to that person that you don’t send because to do so would be triggering and may cause more harm.
- Paying it forward by helping someone else who was in a similar situation to someone you harmed.
6. Do Something Good for Others
Whether or not you need to make amends, you can start doing better right now by volunteering to help others. Whether you do so through a formal charity or just doing a good deed for a neighbor, it helps you get out of your own head.
Stop thinking about the thing you can’t forgive yourself for and instead do things that make you proud of yourself today.
Do you want some help working on self-forgiveness?
Our therapists can provide the sounding board, support, validating, and tips that you need to learn how to forgive yourself. Contact us for an appointment today.