Forgiveness is sometimes one of the hardest things we extend to others. As our own harshest critics, you can imagine that forgiving ourselves can be even more challenging.
It's easy to get bogged down in our own mistakes and feel like we can't move on, stuck in a muddy pit of regret. But when we turn away from the forgiveness and compassion we might not feel we deserve, we forgo the opportunity to free ourselves from the chains of guilt and self-blame.
Of course, we know that self-forgiveness is the key, but how do we access it? It's not something we can go looking for anywhere outside of ourselves. No number of apologies to someone we hurt can set us free.
Part of the reason is that self-forgiveness isn't about forgetting and letting go but acknowledging and looking inward — before looking forward. If self-compassion is at the root of our efforts to forgive ourselves, we can finally break free from shame, blame, and regret.
Self-compassion is the key that opens the possibility of healing. Here are five self-compassionate steps to guide you through the process of self-forgiveness:
Acknowledge the Pain
The first step is to acknowledge the pain you're in. Be honest about how much pain you're in and allow yourself to sit with those feelings. You can't start healing until you truly feel pain and see the hurt.
Turn Toward the Pain
The second step is to turn toward the pain rather than away from it. What have you had difficulty forgiving? See if you can pinpoint the pain or sensations in your body when you think about what happened.
Connect with your pain with a few deep breaths. With every inhalation, say to yourself, "I'm here" or "This is painful." Then, on each exhalation, release some of the tightness in your body.
Turning toward your pain doesn't mean wallowing in it or dwelling on it but simply acknowledging that it's there and that you're ready to face it. It can be helpful to imagine yourself holding the pain like a wounded animal or a small child.
Extend Compassion To Yourself
The third step is to give yourself the compassion you deserve. This means being gentle with yourself, speaking kindly to yourself, and treating yourself with care. Just as you would for a friend or loved one, turn toward your pain with gentleness and understanding.
Start by cultivating a more compassionate mindset. For example, it might help to imagine what you would say to someone else in your situation or to think about how you would want to be treated. Loving-kindness meditation and soothing rhythmic breathing for calming your nervous system are also helpful ways to arrive in this headspace.
If you continue with a breathing exercise, now is an excellent time to create space for yourself, your pain, and your mistakes. With every inhalation, imagine that point in your body expanding – or follow your belly or ribcage. With each exhalation, breathe new oxygen into your entire body. Allow that breath to present itself as whatever you need: strength, patience, gentleness, warmth, gentleness, or peace.
The fourth step is to forgive yourself. This doesn't mean forgetting what happened or excusing your behavior but accepting it and letting go of the shame and blame. Again, it's essential to realize that forgiveness is a choice and that it's something you can give to yourself.
You might engage in a forgiveness dialogue with yourself, whether aloud or in a journal. For instance, write a letter to yourself in which you express your pain and explain what happened. Then write a response letter in which you forgive yourself. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and honest, without judgment or self-criticism.
Moving forward doesn't mean forgetting what happened but rather committing to learning from it and doing better in the future. It might help to set an intention for yourself, such as vowing to be more patient or present. It's important to realize that you are not your mistakes and can choose to live in the present moment.
If you're struggling to forgive yourself, it might be helpful to seek professional help. A mental health professional can provide support and guidance as you work through self-forgiveness. You are not alone.
Unlock The Compassionate Key To Self-Forgiveness
Forgiving yourself is not a destination, but it can be an incredibly rewarding, worthwhile journey. And like any journey, it begins with a single step. So, start today by giving yourself the compassion and understanding you deserve.
There may be times when you need to revisit these steps or start again from the beginning. Be patient and remember that you are not your mistakes - you are so much more than that. You are worthy of forgiveness.