I think it’s fair to say we have all done something we regret or that we are not proud of. We are human, and making mistakes is a part of life. A natural emotion to experience after making a mistake is guilt. This is a tricky emotion though because it comes in many forms. A simpler form of guilt could be stretching the truth on a resume for example. A form of guilt that is more severe may be making a bad decision that impacts your life forever. Although guilt it is a natural feeling that can be helpful for providing lessons and guiding our moral compass, when not dealt with, it can really get in the way. Guilt can be stubborn and can cause inner tension, exhaustion, and depression. In some cases, guilt can even deter people from functioning which deeply impacts their quality of life and overall happiness. This can make people feel stuck, much like a prison. If there is a key that can open the “prison” doors, it is self- forgiveness. Forgiving yourself is not about letting yourself off the hook or should it be seen as a sign of weakness. It’s not about condoning the behaviour, but more about accepting it. Accepting what has happened and developing a willingness to move past it can be challenging but it is vital for our self- esteem, and self-worth. Forgiving yourself can take time, so let’s break it down to better understand the process and what it involves.
Owning up to what you have done, and the consequences of those actions is a good first step, but also a very difficult one. When facing your guilt head on remember that making mistakes you feel guilty about does not make you a bad person or undermine your intrinsic value.
Reflect upon the event and the emotions and feeling you experienced when you made the mistake that you are now feeling guilty for. Try your best to do this compassionately and responsibly. Don’t look for excuses but instead think about what need you were attempting to meet considering your frame of reference at the time. When you understand your frame of reference better is will likely become clear that you were doing what you could or knew best to do at the time. When you become aware of the needs that you were trying to meet you will be better prepared to find more constructive ways to fill the same needs moving forward.
Finding ways to repair any damage that has been done is another important part of forgiveness, even if the person you are forgiving is yourself. We can’t change the past, but we can be understanding and apologetic if necessary. It is said that kindness to self and others often has power to release even the most notorious guilt.
Think about what you have learned and how you are better today than you were before you did what you did. Pay attention to the lessons learned and how they have improved your life and you as a person. Take this learning and actively apply it to what you do in the future. Really be mindful and consider what you can do to ensure you do not make the same mistake again. Finally, to make sure you’re learning really sticks, it’s important to stay alert to your emotions, thoughts, and experiences. Without this mindfulness piece, it can be easy to fall back into an old way of doing things that may result in making the same mistake again.
It might be beneficial to say it out loud to actually hear the words of forgiveness. For example: “I forgive myself for what I have done and give myself permission to move forward to a future where I can live my best possible self.”
Once you are able to use self-forgiveness to open the doors to your prison of guilt, you will begin to experience relief from feeling resentful, angry, and sad. Not only that, but you will notice benefits to your psychological well-being, physical health, and relationships. Take control of what you can and make the choice to forgive yourself. It is one decision that is guaranteed you won’t come to regret!