In one of the personal transformation workshops that I conducted, one of the participants asked, “How do you forgive yourself?”Such a simple and straightforward question, yet the ramifications are immense. The question does not just say, “Teach me how to forgive myself” but also suggests that “I do not know how to forgive myself” or “I do not know how to love myself”.
Truly, it seems that loving one self is one of the hardest things to do in life. To me, not to be able to love one self is symptomatic of several issues, namely, self blame, not being able to accept one’s own imperfections, not knowing how to be compassionate towards one self and ironically, not willing to take responsibility for one’s own happiness.
Self forgiving is essential for healing our wounds – spiritual, mental, emotional and physical. However, in order to forgive one self, one has to learn these few things:
1. End the Blame Game
Our mind has a habit of looking for someone to blame for all the unpleasant things in life. Therefore, by extension, if it is not someone else’s faults, then it must be our own fault. Thus the self blame begins. People who blame themselves are often also critical of others. They have the habit of finding faults in this and that, in this person or that person, in the government, in mother nature and in just about any other things. It is this very mental habit of criticizing that is harmful – to ourselves, to our relationships with others and to our society as a whole.
Thus, if you truly want to learn to forgive yourself, learn to stop this blame game.
Accept that people are not perfect. This is a fact. The sooner you accept that you are not perfect, the easier it is for you to start forgiving yourself. Our goal in life is to do the best we can despite our imperfections. It is also to learn of our imperfections and to see if we can and would like to transform those imperfections to something better. In this way, life becomes a constantly growing process of self improvement.
In the same way that you accept the fact that you are not perfect, please also remember that others are also not perfect. So, do not expect perfection from them. To do so only set yourself up for unnecessary disappointments. Be forgiving towards their mistakes. As you become more forgiving towards their mistakes, you will learn also to be forgiving towards yourself. If you find that you are habitually hard on others, you will discover that you are also hard on yourself.
2. Be Compassionate towards Yourself
As you learn to end the blame game, your level of compassion will rise. Indeed, compassion flows naturally out of your being when you stop blaming. This is because when you stop the blame game, your perspective will shift. Instead of seeing and jumping on the mistakes, you see the sufferings in the person. You will see that he or she is just like you, vulnerable and fearful, and acting out of those fears instead of out of the wisdom of love. Again, as you become more genuinely compassionate towards others, you will learn to be more compassionate towards yourself too.
3. Take Responsibility for your own Happiness
By this, I mean that no one can make you unhappy without your co-operation. This is a lesson that I learned from Bruce di Marsico, an American psychologist who introduced the Option Method. According to Bruce, we all have the option to choose whether to be happy or not, regardless of the circumstances. If we choose not to be happy, it is only because we believe we have to be unhappy, and this belief is wrong. The Option Method is a simple method that helps you see the error of this sort of thinking.
Truly, we create our own happiness or unhappiness through the way we think. People who are optimistic have a mental habit of seeing the positive side of things. Conversely, pessimists habitually see only the negative. So, if you are seeking for happiness, make sure that your mental habits are suited for this purpose. If not, you take responsibility for them and transform them.
Ironically, some people actually indulge in self pity and self blame as a way to avoid taking responsibility for their own life and happiness. This is usually done unconsciously, meaning that they are not aware that they are doing this to themselves. Thus the first step to re-claiming yourself in this instance is to become aware of this unhealthy mental habit.
In fact, self awareness is the first step to a lot of healing processes, including forgiving ourselves.
4. Learn the Lessons and Move On
Making mistakes is inevitable in life. The important thing is to be able to learn the lessons we need to improve ourselves from those mistakes and move on. There is no need to brood long and hard over the mistakes. In fact, it is unhealthy to do so. Grieve and feel remorse, if you must, but there is no point in beating yourself up over and over again. What is done is done. You cannot turn back time. Just learn the lessons and make sure you do not repeat those mistakes in future. In this way, you will benefit as you become a better person. In addition, the people around you will benefit as well.
If you learn all these 4 things well, you will be able to forgive yourself.