Carrying the weight of a terrible mistake can be a heavy burden that impacts every aspect of one’s life. But self-forgiveness is the key to moving forward, even though it’s often easier said than done.
According to a study by the American Psychological Association, self-forgiveness is linked to lower levels of anxiety, depression, and stress.
That’s why unlearning the act of brutally beating up oneself is a critical step in personal growth and emotional well-being.
While that’s true, you may be asking yourself, “How do I learn how to forgive myself for a terrible thing I did in the past?” Whether as a child, young teenager, or adult.
If that’s your situation, calm down. In this article, you’ll discover the importance of self-forgiveness. Not only that, you’ll learn practical steps to help you forgive yourself of something terrible, so you can let go of the past and move forward with peace of mind.
Why is Self-forgiveness so hard?
You may find it very funny. But did you know that forgiving yourself can sometimes be tougher than forgiving others?
Perhaps, that’s because we tend to set high expectations for ourselves. Not only that, we also feel ashamed or guilty when we make mistakes.
In any case, psychological experts believe that practicing self-compassion and mindfulness can make it easier to forgive ourselves. No wonder Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield believes that forgiveness means letting go of the idea that the past could have been different.
In other words, if you can accept your past and move forward, you’ll learn to forgive yourself and find inner peace.
But to do that, you need to read and digest this:
5 Practical Steps to Forgive Yourself for Something terrible You Did
Step One: Gain appreciation of Self-Forgiveness
Forgiving yourself is not just a nice-to-have; it’s essential for moving forward from mistakes or wrongdoings.
Essentially, it means taking ownership of your actions, recognizing the damage they caused, and then choosing to free yourself from self-blame and punishment.
That said, note that self-forgiveness is different from self-acceptance. The latter is about embracing your current self. But the former is a conscious effort to deal with and overcome what you did wrong in the past and the feelings that come with them. Yet, they usually go hand in hand.
As author Lewis B. Smedes put it, “Forgiving yourself assumes you’ve done wrong. Excusing yourself assumes you’ve done nothing wrong. Forgiveness is for what you have done.”
Benefit of Self-forgiveness
Having said all that, the advantages of self-forgiveness are enormous. But they include the following:
- When you forgive yourself for something terrible, you allow yourself to release negative emotions, like guilt and shame. And that, in turn, impact your mental and physical health.
- It also offers an opportunity for growth (and transformation) as you learn from your mistakes and make amends.
Above all, self-forgiveness is an act of self-love and empathy. Spiritual teacher Jack Kornfield said it best: “Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past.”
Step Two: Identify the Cause
Identifying the cause of your mistakes is crucial when trying to forgive yourself for something terrible you did. But after acknowledging the wrongdoing, you need to dig deeper to find the root of the error.
And that involves reflecting on your actions that led to it and understanding the underlying issues that played a role.
For instance, if you hurt someone’s feelings because you lashed out in anger, you may need to examine why you were feeling so upset in the first place. (Read Joe’s story down there!)
That’s because, through such reflection, you gain insight into your behavior. And that leads to personal growth and positive change that could last you all through your lifetime.
Step Three: Self-Compassion and Acceptance
Forgiving yourself for a terrible mistake can feel like an impossible feat. But self-compassion and acceptance are like magic potions that can make it happen.
You can think of self-compassion as a warm hug you give yourself without beating yourself up with harsh criticism. But acceptance means facing the mistake head-on without sugar-coating or denying the harm caused.
So, you need an active approach to letting go of negative feelings or guilt from the incident. Even as you commit yourself to learning from the experience.
For instance, after a friendship breakdown, you can show yourself kindness and understanding, apologize and take responsibility for your actions. But also make a sincere commitment to being a better friend moving forward.
Step Four: Making Amends
While forgiveness is like a complex dance, making amends is a crucial step in that dance. It’s like acknowledging that you’ve made a misstep and then gracefully twirling back into harmony with the other person.
Of course, it’s not about groveling for forgiveness. Instead, it’s about showing taking responsibility for your actions.
Imagine you’ve accidentally stepped on your friend’s toe during a tango. You’ll agree that you don’t just shrug it off; instead, you apologize sincerely and commit to improving your footwork.
And that may mean taking a few lessons or practicing at home, and then you surprise your friend with a perfectly executed turn. The bottom: it’s like saying, “I’m sorry, and I’m willing to put in the work to make things right.”
Step Five: Moving Forward
As said earlier, forgiving yourself for a terrible mistake can be difficult. But moving forward is the fourth step to making it happen. You can think of it like peeling off the layers of guilt and shame to reveal a fresh start.
Of course, you begin by letting go of the past, acknowledging it, and then determining to focus on the present moment.
After all, the present is a gift! Interestingly, with that gift, you start building a future that’s different from the one before. But to realize this, you must set goals, take action, and plan for a better outcome.
For instance, let’s say you lost a lot of money due to a mistake at work. Of course, in such a case, to move forward, you need to take responsibility and prevent a repeat by seeking advice or training. After all, it’s never too late to start anew!
Story of Joe, A Stay-at-Home Dad
As a stay-at-home dad, Joe loves spending time with his young son.
They would go to the park together, look at the trees, lay on blankets, and explore the world together.
But one day, things took a turn for the worse. Joe lost his temper and yelled at his two-year-old son for touching the spice rack.
Little Sam was devastated, and it broke Joe’s heart.. seeing him like that.
So he apologized, and they hugged it out. But the memory of that moment still haunts him to this day.
Now, while that story is short, it’s a powerful reminder to keep our emotions in check, especially when our little ones are involved.
Of course, Joe as a dad, loves his son so much. Yet he struggles to forgive himself for that one outburst. But you know what? He used it as a learning experience and strived to be a better dad afterward.
But what does that suggest? It shows you always have room for growth and improvement, even in the toughest moments.
In the words of Maya Angelou, “Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.”
What a great quote! But, while it is crucial for your mental and emotional well-being, forgiving yourself for something terrible may not be easy.
As we explored in this article, there are five steps you can take to achieve self-forgiveness. And they include:
- Acknowledge your mistake,
- Take responsibility,
- Make amends,
- Move forward, and
- Practice self-compassion.
Again, don’t forget that forgiveness does not mean forgetting what happened but using it as a lesson to grow and evolve. So be kind to yourself, allow yourself time to heal, and keep moving forward.
Your mistakes do not define you, but your ability to learn and grow from them does. With that, what is still holding you down from going ahead and forgiving yourself and living a fulfilling life?