How to forgive yourself and steps to self-forgiveness?

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Let’s say you were assigned a task with four other people. All of you work hard. Finally, the day to present your task comes, and you start presenting only to find out that you embarrassed yourself and your teammates by misinterpreting the task.

A few days pass and all of the other people get on with their lives while you are still concerned with what happened a few days ago and still haven’t forgiven yourself. Why? Because you don’t know how to forgive yourself. Misinterpreting a task is still a small mistake in comparison to something universally unforgivable like being responsible for someone’s death, cheating on a spouse etc. But people who are guilt-prone may struggle to forgive themselves for something as minor as making a mistake while presenting.

Alternatively, sometimes we may not be able to forgive ourselves because we refuse to even accept our wrongdoing. This is because forgiving yourself is the action of letting go of the bitter feelings you have towards yourself because of something you did in the past. Forgiving yourself means accepting what you have done wrong.

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Factors that play a role in how easy we find it to forgive ourselves

Parenting plays an important role in a child’s ability to trust, form, and develop relationships. Critical parenting – over strict, authoritarian parents who control their children’s lifestyle choices and place very high expectations on them – causes anxiety, social awkwardness, inability to speak up, self-guilt, and obsequiousness. Narcissistic parents also cause people to feel extremely lonely as often their parents are ignorant, selfish and play the victim making their children feel apologetic. 

It’s seen that some people have trust issues not only with other people but also with themselves, the degree to which they trust and love themselves is not enough. For eg: A man and a woman are in a relationship but the woman is manipulative and emotionally abusive, she plays the victim and makes the man feel apologetic to her, but he still decides to stay by her side, this is because the man does not have a good image of himself and believes that he is in the wrong, he may also believe that he is unforgivable and cannot leave her. 

Not being able to think about the situation objectively. When someone is claiming you did them wrong you need to actually think about the fact if anything you did was actually wrong and some people are not able to do that. They should ask their friends who wish well for them or seek advice from someone else for a different perspective.

When you are told by someone that you did something wrong sometimes you get defensive about it and try to defend your actions with invalid reasons. This may happen because you may find that certain topic extremely sensitive leading you to get defensive. This happens because you want to avoid accepting your fault and want to avoid feeling ashamed which is in turn just a cycle of not being able to forgive yourself.

How To Forgive Yourself?

  • Reparent inner child if parenting was toxic, critical etc. Be your own parent, hold your hands, and love yourself more than if you weren’t shown affection as a child. These actions will heal your inner child in turn bettering your mental health. If you cannot do this alone, seek help. 
  • Objectively assess yourself to see how much was truly your fault – seek help from friends, therapists – some neutral authority and be honest with them and not try to show a better picture etc. Sometimes, it could be survivor’s guilt or narcissistic abuse which leads to guilt even when not your fault. 
  • The four R’s of forgiveness: The first thing after you realise you’ve done something wrong is to make yourself understand that it’s okay to feel regret for your actions. A regret is a form of guilt which shows you are apologetic for your actions. The next step after feeling regret is to release those bitter feelings you have towards yourself so that you can move forward and restore whatever went wrong. If it is something that is not restorable then move to the next step and relieve yourself from the weight of those actions.
  • Start appreciating and loving yourself: It can be often observed that people are forgiving towards the ones they love. Our brains tend to compare while making a decision whether or not some person is worth forgiving them. That’s why it’s often easier to forgive your parents for something they said whereas you wouldn’t do the same for a stranger. What I am trying to imply is that you aren’t able to love yourself enough just yet, and that’s alright. People tend to have very high expectations for themselves and love themselves after they can’t live up to their own expectations. That must be hard. Once you start appreciating and loving the little things you do you will be able to forgive yourself for the small mistakes that you make.

The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely. -Carl Jung

  • Mindfulness: Accepting, letting go and trusting are prime for mindfulness. It will help you heal your inner child, reduce anxiety and help you become more socially aware. It is the act of being aware of your actions. 
  • Journalling: Writing each night about what were the events will not only help you reflect on your actions but will in turn make you more aware of the things you do, you will feel grateful and forgive more. Journaling has countless pros but the most important one is that it will keep you grounded. Write your own story.

The reason for evil in the world is because people cannot tell their storiesCarl Jung 

  • Letting go: Activities that help one be more spontaneous eg: dance, karaoke, and art can help us let go of our anger in a more easy way. Sometimes when we struggle to forgive ourselves consciously we can try and understand our subconscious motivations with the help of creative arts, body-centred therapies etc.
  • Be responsible: What this step means is you need to be liable to yourself. Every good thing you do, make sure you appreciate it. For every mistake you make, make sure you fix it and accept it. Give yourself some credit for the wins and forgive yourself for the losses.

Carl Jung once said We cannot change anything unless we accept it. The biggest and most important step in this journey to forgiveness is acceptance. Even if you cannot get to the point of forgiveness right away, know that as long as you accept yourself and take responsibility for your life, time will heal your wound and grant you the forgiveness that you seek.


How do you forgive yourself for the unforgivable?

You can seek therapy or try on your level to follow the steps mentioned above. Despite that, it’s possible that you just aren’t able to forgive. Some things are really hard to let go of and, sometimes no matter what happens you just can’t let yourself down the hook because of something you’ve done. In these cases, you try to let go and accept life for what it is. From a functional standpoint, you can try to end that chapter and start a new one. Even if true forgiveness is hard, you can still take the steps to forgive yourself. Over time, through your own suffering, you may realize that you have learnt your lessons and that you have suffered enough. Your body and your mind may then feel better equipped to finally forgive yourself. In short, time and the journey of life can bring healing in cases where all else fails.

How do I let go of guilt?

Find out ‘who’ it is that is making you feel this way and confront them. Find out ‘what’ it is that is causing you this guilt. Find out ‘where’ the roots of your guilt lie. Understand if your guilt is persecutory guilt or reparative guilt. Persecutory guilt is a lose-lose type of guilt where you don’t take enough steps to fix the wrongdoing but at the same time subconsciously punish yourself by self-sabotage eg: not moving on if you cheated on a partner etc. Here, you lose as well as the other person. Reparative guilt is when you actively take steps to address the wrongdoing and are also not focussed on self-punishment. Eg: You accept your fault, come out clean, seek forgiveness, get therapy for infidelity issues etc. Here, it’s a win-win scenario. Try to focus on reparative guilt because this kind of guilt will usually subside while the persecutory guilt will remain in your mind and body for a long time.

“We all make mistakes, don’t we? But if you can’t forgive yourself you’ll always be an exile in your own life.” -Curtis Sittenfelf


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