How to Forgive Yourself: Letting Go of Past Regrets
How to Forgive Yourself? Let it go. Forget about it. Move on. Forgive yourself. It’s easy to say, but so much harder to actually do! We all mess up sometimes, whether it’s lashing out at a friend, engaging in a self-destructive behavior, or cutting corners at work.
And with those mistakes often come overwhelming feelings of guilt. Shame. Self-condemnation. Humiliation. Counselors and life coaches have found that these emotions can lead to stress, depression, anxiety disorders, and even heart disease if ignored. Not exactly the formula for a happy life!
Forgive. We’ve all heard the word before, but what does it mean? And why is it so important?
Dr. Frederick Luskin at Standford University reports that “learning to forgive helps people hurt less, experience less anger, feel less stress and suffer less depression. People who learn to forgive report significantly fewer symptoms of stress such as backache, muscle tension, dizziness, headaches and upset stomachs. In addition people report improvements in appetite, sleep patterns, energy and general well being.”
If self-forgiveness is such a good thing, why is it so hard?
Too often, we punish ourselves for past mistakes, as if we could somehow “make up” the wrong that we’ve done. We walk through each day feeling less-than. We call ourselves losers. No good. We live chained to our past, holding on to hurts and grudges. And though no one else may know about our secret pain, the negative emotions we feel gnaw away at our joy and satisfaction in life.
Counselors and life coaches report that the hardest person to forgive is yourself. Not the friend who backstabbed you. Or the dad that wasn’t there for you. Or even the ex who broke your heart. Why? Because you know yourself and you live with yourself every day. Go figure.
If you feel stuck in the rut of your past failures, try these tips for embracing forgiveness:
Talk about it. When it comes to the past, silence can be deadly. So stop pretending. Free yourself from the bondage of holding it all in. Talk about what’s tearing you apart inside. Express the emotions you feel to a counselor, mentor, or friend you can trust. Forgiveness starts with being honest and vulnerable about who you are…the good and the bad. So say what you need to say.
Be honest with yourself. “If I just pretend it never happened, maybe it will all go away,” we tend to think. Sounds nice…but not true. Choose to break out of denial. Be honest about how you’ve messed up and the consequences of your behavior. Journal out the specific behaviors and actions that are causing you angst.
Accept it for what it is. As an imperfect person, you will make mistakes in life. Face it. You will hurt people sometimes. Youwill have regrets. It’s part of living in a less-than-perfect world. But you have a choice. Either your past will keep you in a rut of guilt and shame…or you will accept it for what it is and experience the freedom to move on and enjoy the now. Self-acceptance is critical to your emotional health…so don’t miss out.
Let go. Don’t hold on to guilt. You don’t need to justify your past actions or try to prove yourself. Letting go of the past means burying it and giving up your right to engage in self-condemnation. Forgiveness is a choice, but also a process. It’s choosing to stop hating yourself and cutting yourself down, but instead, seeing yourself as a valuable human being.
Develop realistic expectations. Evaluate the expectations you (and others) set for you. Are they healthy? Or unrealistic? If you find yourself never being able to measure up—no matter how hard you try—you may just need to change a few things in your approach to life. Healthy expectations are achievable and fulfilling, not draining and overwhelming.
Forgiving yourself is tough. It means striking a deal with yourself…
- to let the past be past and live in the present
- to stop beating yourself up about something that happened two or five or ten years ago
- to banish guilt and shame from controlling your thoughts and behaviors
- to accept and respect yourself as you are…in spite of your screw-ups
Counselors and life coaches tell us that “to forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
Tired of living as a prisoner? Make the choice today to forgive yourself. And set the prisoner of your heart free to really enjoy life.
Dr. Frederick Luskin, Research from Standford University, http://learningtoforgive.com/
Lewis B. Smedes
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