I recently wrote an article about how to be kinder to yourself and in the piece, the idea of forgiving yourself was briefly mentioned. However, if you’re angry or upset with something that you did, didn’t do, or said (even if you’re not fully aware of it) being kind to yourself is an extremely difficult thing to do.
The first step to becoming a better and more self-aware person, someone who is able to treat themselves well, is being able to forgive yourself.
You may not even know that you are angry, but when you stop and think about it, you may realize that you have some issues you need to deal with, issues that are stopping you from living your best life.
If you yell at yourself when you mess up or even when you don’t, if you call yourself names or use mean words like “stupid,” “fool,” or “loser” when you’re describing yourself, if you cut yourself off (even if on the surface you have a reasonable excuse such as you have to work) from people who love you, or if you neglect your physical or emotional needs, then you’re demonstrating that you have some problems with who you are. And, it’s time to start forgiving yourself.
There are many reasons you aren’t treating yourself well. Perhaps you’re holding on to something that you did or said in the past that causes you to feel vulnerable in a way that makes you uncomfortable. You may be self-punishing because of feelings like embarrassment, lack of control in a situation you were sure you could handle, loss, grief, stress, or kicking yourself for a mistake you made. It could be that you can’t get angry at another person so you’ve turned your negative emotions inward.
As humans, we’re able to find all kinds of things to beat ourselves up about. We forget that we’re worthy, valuable, and lovable. In order to get to a place of self-love and acceptance, we must forgive ourselves—even if the situation was never, or could never, be resolved.
When we forgive ourselves, we create an opportunity not only to grow but to heal. Life Coach and author Vironika Tugaleva says, “Forgiveness is a natural outcome of understanding. Once we come to peace with what happened in the past, we can let go of the judgments we have about it. Once we start to let go of judgments, we start to weaken the patterns of negative emotions we experience each time we remember the thing we’ve had trouble forgiving.”
With self-forgiveness, we create not only a space for understanding, but we become more compassionate, tolerant, and patient with ourselves. So often, we are empathetic with other people but then when we’re going through trauma, we have no sympathy.
“Forgiving yourself is not an easy thing. You see what you did wrong and it can be hard to look past those moments, those actions,” says Mabel Yiu, MFT, and founder of the Women’s Therapy Institute. “It could be something small or it could be something huge, life-changing, but in order to go on and live a productive, happy, fulfilled life you have to forgive yourself.”
The power of forgiveness to create positive change should not be underestimated because when you forgive yourself or someone else, amazing things will happen.
Forgiving yourself doesn’t mean you have to formally apologize to yourself. It’s healthy to release all the pent-up negative feelings you have and replace them with happier and more positive emotions and associations.
How to forgive yourself without apology.
Sit with your feelings.
Too often we rush to feel better so that we don’t give ourselves time to process what it is we’re actually feeling. Awareness that there’s something you need to forgive yourself for is a necessary first step to forgiving yourself.
Stop holding that grudge against yourself.
If you don’t think it’s possible to hold a grudge against yourself, let me tell you it’s easier than you think. You might reference a specific memory to use as evidence of failure.
Sometimes being self-deprecating is an indication of a grudge you’re holding such as not joining the choir because you can’t sing when everyone who ever karoak-ed with you knows you can, or not applying for a job because even though you’re qualified, saying you probably couldn’t handle it.
It may be a cliché, but every day is a new beginning, a new chance to start forgiving yourself. Let go of that grudge, forgive yourself, and you will be surprised at good you’ll feel.
Curb that negative self-talk.
Our inner voices have a lot to say—not all of it good. It may be impossible to negate every negative thing we tell ourselves, but we can make an effort to control the narrative.
Practice self-forgiveness by catching that inner voice saying something hurtful or not helpful, dismiss it and put something positive in its place. For every “I can’t do that” substitute an “I can try.”
Stop holding yourself up to impossible standards.
No one is perfect and trying to be will lead to frustration, anxiety, and feelings of failure. Forgive yourself for holding yourself to impossible standards. Perfectionism is overrated, aggravating, and boring. Let it go and focus on something that is challenging but that you can still realistically achieve.
Remind yourself you’re doing the best you can.
At any point, we are all living our lives to the best of our abilities. We all have challenges, stumbling blocks, and issues we must deal with, and without a lot of help, if any. Try not to compare yourself to others because it won’t serve you well nor will it help you to accept who you are right now.
Make peace with your mistakes.
Making mistakes and failing are part of life. No matter how careful or perfect you try to be, you’re always going to make mistakes. The best thing you can do is to learn from them. Self-forgiveness is figuring out what the lesson was that you needed to learn and move forward.
Sometimes a failure is really a success. Embrace your failure and realize it was a gift, not something that was supposed to prevent you from achieving your goals.
Work to keep the past in the past.
Living in the past makes forgiving yourself difficult, and impedes being present and having hope for the future. Whatever happened in the past is done, and it’s your mission to get whatever message from it that you needed to get and move on.
Mabel Yiu says, “Say to yourself you cannot change the past, it is over, what is done is done. Accept it. Look to the future, set positive goals for yourself, strive to not make the same mistake again.”
Allow yourself a restart.
You’ve come to a place of greater understanding as far as your mistakes, missteps, and failures go. Now, through forgiving yourself, you get the opportunity of a do-over. Right now, your eyes are open to all the possibilities you missed before and you can try again with less fear.
You already know the worst-case scenario, so self-forgiveness is really getting out of your comfort zone and try something you might have avoided before.
Be kind to yourself.
Self-forgiveness is about making amends to the most important person in your life … YOU. You’ve got to forgive yourself for all the mean things you said and did to yourself.
Now is the time for some self-care, self-love, and self-compassion. Treat yourself like you would a loved one because that’s who you are. Time to love-bomb yourself.
Do what you need do to create a more positive sense of self.
Make a list of all your positive qualities, ask your loved ones what they love about you, or put sticky-notes of affirmations on your mirrors, computer screens, or refrigerator. Anything that reminds you of how amazing you are and reinforces that you’re awesome is practicing self-forgiveness.
If you have people in your life who are downers, it’s okay to scale back off on any interactions with them. You want people who appreciate how brightly you shine, not those who want to dim your light.
Pay it forward.
One thing that can help you feel better and get to a place of self-forgiveness is to do something nice for someone else. “You may not be able to fix what happened in the past, but you do have control of the now,” says Mabel Yiu.
“Make an effort to do something kind for someone else. It will help to boost your self-esteem and show you that you are nowhere near as bad and horrible as you feel like you are.”
Remember that you are lovable, valuable, and appreciated.
If someone asked for your forgiveness, you’d probably give it to them, so if you need self-forgiveness and compassion it’s more than okay to give them to yourself. Self-love is an essential part of forgiving yourself, so love on you as much as you can.
Forgiveness may not come easily for you, especially when it’s your own self you need to forgive, but it’s so so worth it. Forgiving yourself is like being able to breathe after a particularly nasty cold—sure you could function but when you’re no longer congested, coughing, and sneezing, you appreciate the simple act of breathing so much more.
In order to forgive yourself, focus on letting go of the negative and being grateful for all the good in your life.