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Forgiving yourself for the mistakes you’ve made

forgiving yourself
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

It’s likely you’ve thought more about forgiving others than forgiving yourself. That’s because forgiving ourselves means admitting our mistakes, some that hurt other people.

When we’ve experienced pain or abuse at the hands of others, we might turn around and inflict pain on others. This is why generational trauma is so pervasive and we hear the adage: “hurt people hurt people”.

When we’ve vowed never to be like our parents, we are shocked to hear their words flying out of our mouths. It can seem like the harder you try not to do something, the more likely it is to happen.

When we make vows not to do certain things, we’re tying ourselves to those things. We’re bound by our vows against them, instead of free to do what we want.

The shame that comes with making mistakes that impact others, especially loved ones, only causes us to act out again. That’s because shame never works, but forgiveness does.

The shame that comes with making mistakes that impact others, especially loved ones, only causes us to act out again. That's because shame never works, but forgiveness does. Click To Tweet

Before I went into recovery for my alcohol addiction, I used to justify my bad behavior. The people around me did the same. I grew up in a culture that promoted finger-pointing and excuse-making.

In contrast, one of the first tenets of recovery is to take responsibility for your part in any conflict. That does not mean absolving the other person, but focusing on what you can control, which is yourself.

One of the ladies in my recovery group engraved “I forgive myself” on her medallion when she achieved one year of sobriety. She knew the importance of forgiving yourself in moving forward and forging a new way of life.

Here are 3 steps to forgiving yourself:

forgiving yourself

1. Accept responsibility.

Often when we’ve done wrong, our impulse is to find someone or something else to blame.

That’s because the shame is too painful and we need a way to discharge that pain. But if we refuse to face what we’ve done, we are doomed to repeat the same mistake and never learn from it.

Even people who’ve caused grievous harm to others will blame their victim for inciting them. That’s why domestic abuse gets repeated over and over. Until the abuser admits wrongdoing, the cycle will never break.

2. Make amends.

That means going beyond saying sorry to changing your behavior. You learn from the mistake and do things differently next time.

Many marriages fail because a partner is unwilling to go further than an apology and make a commitment to change and accountability.

Many marriages fail because a partner is unwilling to go further than an apology and make a commitment to change and accountability. Click To Tweet

For instance, a cheating spouse fails to understand why his wife won’t forgive and forget so they can go back to the way things were.

But the whole point of forgiveness is that things change going forward. Many people fear change so much they throw away relationships rather than experience this type of growth.

3. Let go of guilt and shame.

Forgiving yourself will become an ongoing practice for things big and small. Develop a new mindset of treating yourself with kindness when you fall short.

Most often, abusers have been abused themselves. And while this is not an excuse, it is a fact that shaming never acts as a deterrent against further abuse.

For example, if your mother yelled at you, you might yell at your kids, even when it’s the last thing you want to do. What if instead of self-blame and criticism, you offered yourself sympathy?

It makes sense that you would find it harder to have patience with your children when no one had patience with you. Forgiving yourself will help break the cycle.

Then you can go through the steps of accepting responsibility and making amends. This models how we deal with shortcomings, and shows children they are worthy of our love, care and attention.

When you start forgiving yourself and releasing shame, you will find the benefits affect not only yourself but everyone around you.

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