By Dana Donahue, LCSW
“Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.”–Maya Angelou
Have you ever found yourself feeling guilty, even when you may not actually be guilty at all? Have you ever blamed yourself for something and cannot let it go? Have you found it hard to move on from your past mistakes and accept whatever has happened? If so, you are not alone. Most people at some point in life find themselves questioning what has happened in the past to guide them as they plan for their future. Not all instances of self blame are harmful and are often just a cue to slow down and pay more attention to your life.
Self-reflection can be a positive and helpful part of life, but it can also quickly spiral to a pattern of self-loathing and criticism. When we don’t forgive ourselves, we experience a constant state of fear and worry about our self-worth. We’re then not able to be the best version of ourself that we’d like to be.
Here are six important steps to learning to forgive yourself:
1. Realize that the past is in the past.
Dwelling on the past will not help you in any way and will only make you feel worse about yourself. Experiencing sadness, anger, shame, and guilt repeatedly won’t recreate what has happened with a different outcome. You instead need to focus on the future, as it is truly the only thing you can work on changing
2. Recognize any unrealistic expectations you may have.
When you set unrealistic goals, they will most likely be unachievable, and the guilt and shame of failure will perpetuate the cycle of self-loathing. Having realistic expectations about your life will allow you to experience more success and feel positive about yourself.
3. Embrace the idea of self-acceptance.
Your inner critic is simply a part of you that is craving more self-love. When you can begin to accept yourself flaws and all, you can begin to face change, improve your outlook, and experience greater intimacy in your relationships with others.
4. Put things into perspective.
Begin to develop a healthy mindset by reflecting on the positive aspects in your life and what you contribute to the lives of others. Write down a list of all the positive things you have done throughout your day, week, or month. Try to explore different aspects of your life including work, interpersonal relationships, and anonymous acts done for the greater good.
5. Don’t be afraid to try something new.
Consider your mistakes as a stepping stone to help you make changes in your life. Growth and change are not always comfortable or easy, but they are possible.
6. Take care of yourself and practice self-compassion.
Remember that everyone makes mistakes, so don’t be so hard on yourself. Treat yourself with the same loving kindness that you would a friend who needs your support.
Forgiving yourself is essential to becoming emotionally healthy and having peace of mind in life. When you can change your inner dialogue, you can begin to experience life in a very different way.