Forgiveness can be a hard process to master. If you’ve ever struggled with making peace with someone who’s hurt you in ways big or small, you’re not alone. We might expect that a heartfelt apology or handwritten note will wipe away any residual feelings of pain, betrayal or resentment. But often forgiveness takes time and effort, requiring patience and an open mind.
One of the most challenging components of forgiveness is learning to forgive ourselves. We’re typically much harder on ourselves than on those we care about and are quick to find fault with minor slip-ups, imperfections or our perceived inadequacies.
We’ve all been there
How many times a day might you berate yourself for running late? Saying the wrong thing? Straying from your routine? Forgetting to return a phone call or text message? Snapping at your partner or kids, or failing to live up to the ideal version of yourself that exists in your mind?
While we may feel alone in our shortcomings, we’re each struggling with the same sense of imperfection and self-judgment. When not kept in check, this can lead to our feeling like a colossal failure at the slightest mishap, like spilling on our shirt or getting someone’s name wrong.
Stop the spiral
When it comes to bigger errors in judgment or when our actions don’t align with who we know ourselves to be, we’re susceptible to falling into a never-ending spiral of self-blame, criticism and doubt. This can have negative consequences on our relationships and self-perception, in turn affecting how we show up in the world.
In order to become better at forgiving ourselves, we must first understand that being imperfect is part of being human. This means we’re going to let people down, make mistakes, choose poorly, and allow traits such as selfishness and pride, and even emotions such as fear or anger stand in the way of what we know is best.
Accept the apologies
When we recognize this, we can more easily see that even our greatest faults and failures can be tended to with a bit more kindness and compassion. In fact, the more able we are to forgive ourselves, the better equipped we’ll be to accept our friend’s apology and offer him or her an open heart when it’s most needed.
It’s important to remember that forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning our behavior or that of someone who’s offended us, but offering mercy toward them. It’s an opportunity to draw on our inner wealth of compassion while being mindful of the pain we’re experiencing and where it comes from.
5 steps to take
The next time you notice you’re being hard on yourself because of something you’ve done, failed to do, forgotten, misinterpreted or made worse, practice these steps to show yourself some tenderness and move toward mercy:
- Find ways to honor your imperfections. This might mean laughing at yourself when you make a silly mistake or finding meaning in your failures. Look for alternative ways of interpreting your limitations and use them as an invitation to grow.
- Practice self-compassion with a guided meditation or simply by uttering a few phrases to send yourself loving kindness. You can even write your phrases on a sticky note and put it somewhere you’ll see regularly like the refrigerator or bathroom mirror.
- Let yourself feel your pain, be it guilt, shame, sadness, anger, regret or worry, but don’t dwell on it. It’s easy to cling to our negative emotions, particularly when we’re not feeling very loving toward ourselves, but this only adds to our suffering. Be aware of what’s emerging for you without trying to make it go away or getting caught up in the stories it might tell you. Instead, acknowledge it when it arises and take care to see yourself through it.
- Be aware of changes in eating, sleeping or social habits that suggest you might be punishing yourself. Try to maintain your usual routines and remember that what you’re feeling is natural and not a reason to self-sabotage.
- Maintain a balanced perspective. It’s easy to get carried away by fears about the future or concerns about the past, especially when we might have done something we wish we could undo. Try to keep in mind that what you’re feeling or experiencing isn’t permanent, and its trajectory will change over time. Shift your attention to focus on what you can control and do your best to let go of what you can’t.
I hope these tips help you find peace when you’re struggling with self-judgments or grappling with past mistakes. Forgiveness, especially of ourselves, takes practice. By showing up for yourself each day with understanding and gentleness, you can cultivate a mindset that allows you to honor what it means to be fully human, flaws and all.