Face it, forgiveness is hard.
I once went out and randomly interviewed 15 strangers on the street and asked them “Is it easier to forgive yourself or someone else?” 14 people immediately responded with some variation of it’s easier to forgive others.
Only ONE person, after pausing a few seconds, said he found it easier to forgive himself. While it was by no means an exhaustive research study, my work has allowed me to hear hundreds of people report it is harder to forgive themselves than it is to forgive others.
Yet, it is forgiving yourself that can truly set YOU free. Think about it: the relationship we have with ourselves is our primary relationship. Wherever we go, no matter who we are with, WE are our own constant companions.
Doesn’t it make sense to cut that person some slack and forgive them?
Here are 5 common things for forgiving yourself for:
1) The opportunities in life you did not take.
If there is one area of life that gets the most revisionist history, it is looking back at ourselves and believing that we should have known better. If you knew then what you know now, of course, you would have taken advantage of every opportunity.
Life is the biggest classroom of all. Don’t chastise yourself for not knowing what you weren’t ready to know yet. Monday morning quarterbacking is a loser’s game.
2) How you treated your parents when you were a young “know-it-all.”
Whether that was when you were a teenager, in your 20s, or just yesterday. Chances are, your parents love you and accept the good with the bad. If they don’t demonstrate that to be true, this one point is especially for you.
The relationship you have with your parents is one of the most intimate ones you will ever have in your life. There is a level of security, as well as lots of opportunity for mistakes. When you are young and finding your way in the world and deciding who you want to be, rebelling against your parents and seeing them as “stupid” can be part of the process.
You are a grown up when you can recognize that you are sorry for the pain you have caused. It’s never too late to say “I’m sorry.” If you are someone who has a lot to be sorry for, think about ways to make amends.
For example: a letter or a face-to-face meeting where you take full responsibility and don’t try to place any of the blame on them. Ask for their forgiveness. If you do these things in a heartfelt way and they don’t forgive you, you then know everything you need to know about them.
Also, you know that you have done your best. No one can change the past. Eventually, everyone has to make their own choices. Please make the choice of forgiving yourself.
3) Forgive yourself for all the ways you perceive yourself as not enough.
It doesn’t matter how smart, talented, hard-working, or committed you are. We all have things that simply aren’t in our genetic makeup! Honor yourself for all the talents, abilities, and accomplishments you DO have.
As you shift your focus to all the things that are great about you, you will begin to see greater things. So do it now!
4) The ways in which you negatively compensated to cope with your life.
Maybe it was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol because the pain was overwhelming. Maybe it was being angry and nasty, lashing out at others because you were feeling bad about yourself due to the choices you made out of fear.
Just the fact that you recognize this now demonstrates how far you have come. Make amends by forgiving yourself.
5) Having someone in your life you just weren’t able to love the way they deserved to be loved.
He or she might have been a romantic partner, a child, or a family member growing up. We can’t give what we don’t have. Recognize at least part of the problem was YOU didn’t love yourself enough.
Remember: self-love should NEVER be confused with arrogance or self-absorption. Sometimes, we truly don’t understand how important someone is to us until we have some distance, or lose them. While this is never easy, forgiving yourself is important. This is so that you can do better with them now, or the next time.
Honor that person and yourself by learning from the past, so that you can do better now and into the future.
I believe that a lot of “bad” behavior actually happens because we don’t love ourselves. When we love and accept who we are, we are happier and more confident.
When this happens, we want others to be happy. Thus, hurting them becomes less likely.