How to forgive yourself: The road to self-acceptance

Photo of a senior man looking in his mirror

Being wounded and having frustrations in life are universally balanced, as does the need to forgive. When we think of forgiveness, we often focus on the need to forgive the people who harmed us and those who were not available in the ways we hoped it would be. A matter of forgiveness that is often lost in proverbial rebuilding is self-forgiveness.

As we walk into life, it is so easy to remember and record the many ways in which the people around us have misled us. What is often much more difficult (and humiliating) is to remember that we are human beings as well. We are very likely to do things that we are ashamed or harmed another person (even unintentionally).

In the healing process from our wounds and injuries, it is unlikely that we will recover fully if we avoid the very important step of looking at the frustrations and harm that we could have caused to others.

Sometimes in life, even when we are trying to be as perfect and perfect as it may be, we can still neglect the people we love most or fail to meet the patterns that others may have set for us. And even when we tried our best, there are still things in our past and in our stories that need to be addressed. We need to look at these things to move our heads up.

A 3-step process on how to forgive yourself:

1. Say the truth.

You may try to distract yourself from guilt or self-frustration by focusing on other parts of your life. But we know deeply in ourselves when we do something that we are not proud of.

Here's the thing. It is literally impossible to avoid mistakes. As a human, there is absolutely no way to get out of this life without having things you regret having done. When you are ready to become honest with yourself, you can not only see the patterns of your past, but also start your life with pure slate.

Telling the truth about your mistakes may or may not include their participation in another person. Maybe you're going to go out of a notebook and write everything that comes to your mind. Maybe you share your past with a safe friend. Whatever your situation, getting all the secrets and pains from your head is a great first step towards full self-determination.

We can not go anywhere if we do not let go of where we have come. The absolute honesty about your past and the secrets you carry is a very important first step.

Note: There is a tremendous difference between the shame surrounding the abuse you are inflicting as a child or a vulnerable victim, and you feel the genuine guilt of being a friend or leaving the job. The shame of things that was never your fault is not the same as assuming a radical responsibility for your adult choices.

2. Sit with feelings.

When we have a delay of guilt and remorse in our lives, it can be so scary to open these feelings. Slow down. Stand still. Feel the consequences not only of the deeds we regret, but of the emotions we have filled to avoid guilt.

Sitting with your feelings does not mean sitting in a chair and looking out and feeling emotionally all day long. It just means that when sadness, guilt, fear or anger arise to avoid pushing or hiding them again. Even if you can not do it completely, you can practice this action with an unpleasant feeling at a time. Meeting your feelings can be a life-changing opportunity.

Some productive ways to "sit with feelings" can include daily magazines or listen to music that allows emotions to get to the surface. You could also talk to a safe person who can handle your feelings and pain. You can even write a letter (you can give or not) to the person who may have been treated poorly.

3. Do not forget the pain caused by yourself.

Adding yourself to the list of things you forgive yourself for the uncontested sounds, is not it? But in fact, you are the most important name on your list!

This step is to take stock of how much time you spend on yourself to be incomplete.

How many ways have you shown contempt for yourself?

How often do you avoid your feelings by participating in unhealthy behaviors?

How many times have you neglected yourself with malnutrition or under-sleep?

How many times and ways have you not shown to yourself the love and acceptance that your genuineness deserves?

This step is to turn your self-forgiveness even deeper towards yourself. It's about forgiving yourself for all the moments you did not forgive yourself.

Steps 2 and 3 are a lifelong process. It is about learning the art of the meeting with discomfort while at the same time learning to engage in radical acceptance. These are not basic things. These are advanced skills. Long-term practice is developing, but it is never perfection.

If you are ready to dive on a self-forgiving journey, I would recommend you to work with an experienced consultant who can help you cope with some of the really intense feelings that may arise. As with all the things that are hard, it's a good idea to ask for help. Remember, no matter who you are, you never have to make life completely alone.

© Copyright 2018 All rights reserved. The publication authorization was granted by Blythe C. Landry, MEd, LCSW, a therapist at Nashville, Tennessee

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