The Importance of Self-Forgiveness
“Dwelling on past bad decisions you’ve made only allows those decisions to keep defining you. Forgive yourself, and move on.” -Mandy Hale
Many people struggle with forgiving themselves. Even people who are known for their forgiving nature.They hold onto guilt and shame as if their lives depended on it. Why is this?
It’s easier to forgive others than it is yourself. Unless you are a narcissist, you are painfully aware of how imperfect you are. You see your weaknesses, your flaws, and your struggles. To make matters worse, you can’t walk out of a room and leave yourself. Because of this, you tend to be more critical of yourself than others. You hold on to this criticism because “you don’t want yourself to get away with anything”. You want yourself to know what a “horrible person” you really are. It’s become part of your identity.
So why is it important to forgive yourself? It weakens your motivation for change. According to How to Forgive Yourself and Move on From the Past, when you make a mistake we often connect it to a limiting belief. For example if you yelled at your mom when you were having a bad day and felt guilty later you might think, “I’m the worst child ever, I’m not deserving of my parent’s love”. If you feel like a horrible person, chances are you are going to believe you are too far gone to change. You will become depressed and defensive. You will wreak havoc on your mental health. The Healthy Way to Forgive Yourself states research suggests criminal offenders who recognize that doing bad things does not make them bad people are less likely to continue engaging in criminal activity.
If this is not motivation for you enough, multiple studies have shown anger and stress can cause or worsen diseases. If it is not enough to forgive yourself for the mental health benefits, then do it for the physical health benefits.
So how do you forgive yourself?
The first thing you need to do is accept your guilt. Guilt is good. Guilt motivates you to change. What you need to be worried about, however, is shame. Guilt is feeling bad about your behavior. Shame is feeling bad about yourself as a whole person. The goal is to not let guilt become shame, do not attach limiting believes to your guilt.
The second thing you need to do is take responsibility. Realize you made a mistake. Don’t try to run or hide from it. Face up to it and don’t make excuses for yourself.
The third thing you need to do is figure out what needs to happen to help you avoid making the same mistake in the future. Is there something you can do, situations you can avoid, preparations you can make? A great thing about mistakes is they are great teachers.
The fourth thing you need to do is make amends. If you have hurt someone, you need to make it right. Not just for them, but for yourself. The guilt will eat at you until you at least attempt to make things right.
The last thing you need to do is let it go. As much as you wish you could go back in time and prevent yourself from making a mistake, a time machine has not been invented yet. So you can’t take the words, actions, or thoughts you have back. It’s alright to feel angry with yourself when you think about the mistake you made, but when it makes you hate yourself because of it, that is when it becomes a problem.
Forgiving yourself can be a difficult process, but it is absolutely necessary for change and progression.
If you’d like to read more about self forgiveness, here are some articles I looked at:
The Healthy Way to Forgive Yourself
Self-Forgiveness and Making Amends