A few years ago I read an article about forgiveness and there was a piece of it that resonated with me:
“Anger, bitterness, resentment and vengeance can rob our very existence of any semblance of contentment”
It made me reflect on my personal ability to forgive. I must admit, I tend to hold onto resentment a bit too long sometimes. I believe many of us do. It doesn’t make us a bad person; it makes us human.
Lack of forgiveness can lead to many emotions. Studies have indicated that those who have a difficult time forgiving have higher blood pressure, higher levels of stress and higher levels of anger. These can all lead to a weakened immune system, which of course increases our risk of illness. MRI’s have been conducted and show that those who are able to forgive have higher functioning of the frontal lobe; the area of our brain that is responsible for problem-solving and complex thought.
While I don’t want to get into forgiving others in this article, I do want to point out that when we forgive someone, we are not condoning or forgetting about their actions. We are allowing ourselves to move on from the incident and make peace internally.
What I prefer to discuss in this article is self-forgiveness. Self-forgiveness is something I talk about often. It is the key to learning from our mistakes and moving forward. When we are unable to forgive ourselves, we risk turning to self-sabotaging behaviors. But how do we self-forgive?
Forgiving ourselves is typically much more challenging than forgiving others. There was a night this week when my boys were hyper and not listening to me. I had one of my, what I call “psycho-mommy” moments, where I yelled at them and sent them to their rooms. If I had been at a friend’s house and witnessed this, I would have thought, “the poor mom, I don’t blame her!” Instead, I sat there feeling extremely guilty for my behavior. I am still feeling guilty for it today, in fact.
So what steps can I take to forgive myself for this situation? And what steps can you take the next time you’re feeling guilt, anger, sadness, or other emotions toward yourself?
- Take ownership of the mistake. The fact that I’m admitting this here is a big step. Admitting that you’re not perfect, that you made the mistake and that there is likely a better way to address this moment the next time it occurs (and it will happen again!) leads to self-forgiveness.
- Acknowledge and accept that making mistakes, being embarrassed by your actions, and that even failure is natural and makes us human!!
- Take some time to evaluate the situation you were in and decide how you can address it differently next time. Be prepared for when it happens again. This is a baby step and you will likely learn something new the next time you find yourself in this situation.
- Consider this: if someone you loved behaved in the manner you did, would you forgive him or her? If not, then how would you prefer they behave?
- Do you remember the SNL skit with “Stuart Smiley” that goes something like this:
“You’re Good Enough, You’re Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like You”
While it was entertaining to watch, it is also works. Repeating positive affirmations to yourself daily helps remind yourself why you are a good person and allows self-forgiveness to occur more easily and naturally.
Guilt can lead to self-sabotaging behaviors and in turn restricts you from reaching goals you set for yourself. So you can see the importance of learning to forgive yourself and of moving forward. If you have set a goal for yourself to quit eating in the evening, for example, and do well for a couple of weeks only to mess up one night; it is so important to forgive yourself! If you do not, you are much more likely to say “forget it” and resume those old behaviors.
Another tip: don’t keep it a secret. Let someone you trust know what you are ashamed of. By keeping it in, you are only prolonging the guilt and shame that you are feeling.
So the next time you mess up in life, take some time to reflect on your behavior and decide how you can make change next time. It will lead you in the right direction of self-compassion, which in turn will allow you to be successful in other areas of your life. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it.