We have all done things that we regret. It’s an unfortunate part of the human experience. Most of the time, you can just acknowledge that it was a bad decision, apologize to the people you need to apologize to and move on. Sometimes, though, you can’t let go, can’t get past it – you can’t forgive yourself.
But you need to – and here’s why.
Why should you forgive yourself?
Self-forgiveness brings peace. It is good for both your mental and physical health. When you can’t forgive yourself, it brings torment and suffering. You ruminate on what happened and it erodes your emotional wellbeing.
This affects your relationships, how you function at work, how you sleep, even how well your organs function and how easily your body can fight illness. You may not realize it, but holding on to that thing and refusing to forgive yourself for it is like holding a toxic substance in your body. And like a toxic substance, it will eventually destroy you.
Why is forgiving yourself so hard?
We are our own worst critic. Most people are harder on themselves than they are on others. This can lead to difficulty in self-forgiveness. Often, though, the person carries a skewed sense of responsibility for the event, and they feel shame for it. Often, they believe that:
- They don’t deserve to be happy.
- If they do forgive themselves, then they are condoning what they believe they did.
- By forgiving themselves for this, they open themselves up to repeat the hurtful or harmful act.
- They deserve to suffer.
These things are not true, but they can certainly keep you from giving yourself the gift of forgiveness.
What should you forgive yourself for?
The things you need to forgive yourself for are the things that you can’t seem to put behind you. It’s the thing or things that replay in your mind, that keep you awake at night and cause you to feel shame. That looks different for different people.
Maybe you have a past you’re not proud of and even though you have moved past those things and live a different life, you can’t stop beating yourself up for it. If you have failed relationships in your past, if you have weaknesses, if you’ve made mistakes, those could all be things that you need to forgive yourself for.
If it is eating you up, you need to process it and forgive yourself.
What if you can’t forgive yourself?
The first step in forgiving yourself is to accept responsibility. It’s hard to forgive yourself if you don’t take responsibility both personally and to the person you hurt or wronged. Sometimes it is not possible to talk to the person, but if you can, you need to – even if you just send them a letter. If possible, try to right the wrong.
If the person has passed on or you cannot talk to them for whatever reason, write a letter to them, asking for forgiveness. Just the act can be incredibly healing.
Then it is time to work on you. First, stop ruminating on the past. Focus on now and accept that what is done is done. Be kind to yourself, show yourself empathy, love. When those invasive thoughts try to bring shame, change that thought! Don’t let your mind play and replay what happened. You deserve forgiveness. You deserve peace. You deserve love.
Give it to yourself.