We’ve all been in a place where we’ve done things that we aren’t proud of and may feel guilty or ashamed of.
It could be that you missed your child’s sports game when you promised that you would be there. Perhaps you forgot your partner’s birthday. Maybe you had to make a life-changing decision to put one or both of your parents in a nursing home. You possibly did not help someone who was hurt. It may be that you gambled your family’s money. It could be that you intentionally hurt someone with your actions or cheated on your partner.
Whatever the consequences, it has left this gut-wrenching feeling, making you think and feel that you are the worst person on earth.
Inherently you know yourself. You understand that your decision or the course of action you took is not who you are, but yet are struggling to forgive yourself. The actions and choices we make that go against our values and belief systems will result in emotions such as guilt, regret, shame, and ultimately self-loathing.
You need to know that you are not alone in your dilemma. We’ve all made bad judgements calls, but we need to remember that a mistake does not define who we are. In some instances, things may have happened where a situation was out of our control. We, therefore, need to keep things in perspective.
Forgiving yourself does not mean you are letting yourself off the hook or condoning your behaviour. It’s about accepting what you’ve done, having remorse, learning the lessons, and moving on with your life.
Prolonging the process of forgiving yourself and harbouring negative feelings such as shame and guilt will only have a negative impact on your mental and physical health. Symptoms may include high blood pressure, headaches, muscle tension, decreased focus, lack of sleep, depression, and anxiety. It will also impact your close relationships. Therefore, choosing to forgive yourself and consciously do the work to move on will only benefit your future.
Let us start with some steps on how you can try and forgive yourself:
The first step to forgive yourself is by admitting you were wrong and taking responsibility for your actions. We all struggle in revealing what we have done, but making excuses, rationalizing, or justifying our actions to make them seem acceptable, is not correct. You need to take responsibility and face the consequences.
Put things into perspective and recognize unrealistic expectations.
Sometimes circumstances are out of our control. For example, a business meeting that took longer than expected resulted in you missing your child’s game or moving your mom into frail care because her condition worsened.
Not all actions or inactions are your fault. It will help if you put things in perspective. Acknowledge some of the good things that you have done in the past. For example, you picked up a stray dog or helped a stranger in need, or gave your time to a worthy cause. Certain circumstances don’t make us bad people. We are all unique individuals. Therefore be kind to yourself and show yourself the same compassion as you would towards a friend.
Express remorse and apologize if you can.
It is normal and healthy to feel guilt and remorse for your mistakes. These feelings show that you are aware that your actions were wrong and that you need to be more conscious in the future. Where possible, offer a sincere apology to the person that you’ve hurt. Don’t expect or demand forgiveness. You can’t control the other person’s response, but you can try and make amends.
Learn from your mistakes.
Only through our mistakes and failures do we grow. You need to find the lesson in the situation and try not to make the same mistakes in the future. Try to understand why you behaved the way you did and what future actions you should take to improve your behaviour. Find strength in knowing that this mistake does not define you, but it is part of your evolution into becoming a better person.
Take care of yourself and practice patient.
Forgiving yourself doesn’t happen overnight, and you have to be patient with the process. Talking to a trusted friend or therapist is highly recommended – you don’t have to do it on your own. Seek support and guidance to process the overwhelming negative emotions healthily. Also, stop ruminating and telling yourself that you are a terrible person. Try to avoid people who constantly remind you of your mistake.
Get enough sleep, exercise, and do things that make you happy.
Every single one of us makes mistakes; whether they are by accident, bad decisions, out of our control, or deliberate actions, it happens. We are all human, and we will disappoint others and ourselves at some point. It doesn’t mean that you’re a terrible person who needs punishment. Learn to forgive yourself and move on.
Learning how to process feelings of guilt and shame will help you grow and become a better person. Remember that we are all just doing the best we can at any moment, and if we had an option to go back and change it, we would.
If you need assistance in letting go of guilt and shame, please feel free to contact me.
Debbie Hartmann, Life, Relationship and Teen Coach @ My Kinda Life Coaching