Self-forgiveness contributes to a more positive outlook on life and greater overall life satisfaction. So on Global Forgiveness Day, try these tips to forgive yourself.

Forgiveness is a process that involves releasing resentment or anger. It takes time and patience, but is needed for your mental health. It is not just about forgiving others for what they did in the past. There may be times when we need to look at ourselves, our past decisions or behaviour, and forgive ourselves. Self-forgiveness allows people to heal past wounds, break free from negative self-judgments, and cultivate a more loving and accepting relationship with themselves. So, it is best to forgive yourself. After all, concentrating on past mistakes does not change them. Find it challenging to forgive yourself? On Global Forgiveness Day, which is observed on July 7, learn how to forgive yourself.

What is self-forgiveness?

Self-forgiveness is an essential practice that involves releasing the guilt, shame, and self-blame that often accompany mistakes or perceived failures. Self-forgiveness is a critical step towards emotional freedom and personal growth. It requires acknowledging and taking responsibility for one’s actions, understanding the underlying factors that led to them, and extending compassion towards oneself, explains psychotherapist and life coach Dr Chandni Tugnait.

A woman happy after forgiving herself
Forgiving yourself is not easy. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

Interestingly, forgiving oneself isn’t a one-time deal. It’s more like a cycle, so you reflect, accept, and then resolve to do better. This cycle allows you to develop and adapt through time, establishing a bridge between your past and future selves.

What are the mental health benefits of forgiving yourself?

Higher levels of self-forgiveness serve as a shield against depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a research published in the Psychology Research and Behavior Management journal in 2021.

Here’s how it can improve your mental health:

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  • By letting go of self-blame and negative self-talk, people often experience a decrease in stress and anxiety levels.
  • Self-forgiveness lifts your mood. It feels like emptying a heavy bag full of remorse.
  • Self-forgiveness helps rebuild a positive self-image, leading to increased self-worth and confidence.
  • Less mental chatter at night leads to better sleep patterns.
  • It allows for better management of difficult emotions like guilt, shame, and anger.
  • As people become more forgiving of themselves, they often extend this compassion to others, leading to healthier interpersonal relationships.

What are the challenges of forgiving yourself?

Forgiving yourself can be a difficult path, with various obstacles along the way. Here are some of the challenges:

1. Breaking the habit

Self-criticism can become ingrained over time. It can be more like a bad habit. Shifting to self-compassion can seem strange at first. It will be like writing with your non-dominant hand.

2. Guilt as a motivator

You may be afraid that by forgiving yourself, you will make the same mistake again. There is a popular misperception that guilt keeps us on track, notes the expert. It is absolutely not true.

3. Identity crisis

If you have always defined yourself by your faults, self-forgiveness can feel like giving up a piece of your identity. It is unpleasant, like growing out of old but ill-fitting clothes.

4. Perfectionism trap

Accepting imperfection can feel like lowering your expectations. It’s a delicate balance between striving for perfection and allowing for mistakes that we as humans make.

5. Fear of vulnerability

Self-forgiveness means admitting faults and demonstrating vulnerability. This can be unsettling in a world that frequently gives importance to  strength and certainty, says Dr Tugnait.

What are the ways to forgive yourself?

Here are some ways that can help you in your journey towards self-forgiveness –

1. Acknowledge the mistake

Not everyone can acknowledge their mistakes. But to begin your self-forgiveness journey, start by simply confessing what you did wrong. This is not about beating yourself up for the mistake you made, but about confronting the consequences of what you did in the past.

2. Understand the context

Consider the circumstances around your mistake. Recall what was happening in your life at the time, and the pressures you were probably under. This is not about making excuses for what you did, but looking at the overall context of the situation.

3. Learn the lesson

Every event in our life teaches something. Draw useful lessons from your error to help you in the the future. Ask yourself, “What can this teach me?” This can help in transforming your error from a dead end into a stepping-stone toward improvement, says the expert.

4. Practice self-compassion

Treat yourself with the same kindness that you would show a good friend or a loved one. This means replacing harsh self-talk with kinder, and more understandable language. Practicing self-compassion is a must for personal growth and mental health.

Happy woman after forgiving herself
Overcome self-criticism by creating a mantra. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

5. Make corrections if possible

You can change your past or what you did. But if your actions have harmed others, try to set things right. This could include a heartfelt apology or steps to correct the situation. It’s like clearing up a mess you have made. It feels wonderful and is the correct thing to do.

6. Create a personal mantra

Repeat a short, optimistic phrase to overcome self-criticism, says the expert. It can be something like, “I am human, and I am learning.” This serves as a mental reset button when you begin to have negative ideas about yourself and your actions.

7. Engage in symbolic rites

Create a customised ritual to commemorate your forgiveness. This could be writing down your regrets on a piece of paper and then burning it or planting a tree. It may be a little unusual for you, but it important, as it is like setting a mental milestone to your progress.

8. Focus on the present

Redirect your focus from your past regrets to your current actions. Think about what you can do right now to live out your values instead of spending time on thinking about what you could have done. Change the narrative and be mindful of your actions.

9. Practice gratitude

Acknowledge the positive aspects of your life on a daily basis, and be more grateful for what you have. Practicing gratitude helps you maintain a balanced viewpoint and reminds you that you are more than the blunders you made in the past.

Self-forgiveness is a journey, not a single event. Be patient with yourself as you go through these steps. If you feel you are really struggling, don’t be afraid to go to a therapist or counsellor.

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