Before I simplify the process involved in self-forgiveness, let’s take a short mind journey.
Imagine this… It is the end of a long day, and you’re ready to have a well deserved night rest. As soon as you close your eyes, unpleasant memories rush to the front of your mind. “It was all your fault”, that annoying inner voice whispered.
It’s talking about the time you hurt someone you care about. Maybe you stole or damaged something and watched someone else get punished for it. Perhaps you didn’t speak up to defend your mom when a stranger cursed at her in the market years ago. Even more severe, you were drunk driving with two of your friends, you crashed, but one of them didn’t survive…
Maybe none of these scenarios speak exactly to you, but there’s a reason you’re in search of ways to forgive yourself. There is something that makes you feel so guilty that you can’t shake the feeling. Be ready to get rid of that feeling as long as you follow the 4A’s of self-forgiveness.
Why It’s Difficult to Forgive Yourself
Your refusal to forgive yourself for past mistakes often depends on how much you believe the disaster could have been avoided. You can’t help but dwell on what happened and how easily you could have avoided it. There are jabs of mental pain from the outcome of your actions.
You lament and ask questions like, “Why didn’t I know better?”, “Why didn’t I listen more closely?”. You start to believe that it all happened because of your greed, shallowness, incompetence and/or vanity.
Sometimes, the mind goes as far as suggesting that people would be better off if you were dead.
To save yourself from eternal self-loathing, unending trauma, baseless guilt and suicidal thoughts, you need to forgive yourself. And for this reason, I’ve put together a few steps that can help you on the path to self-forgiveness.
4 Simple Steps to Help You Achieve Self Forgiveness
The very first step to self-forgiveness is an apology. Genuine apology to those you have wronged. An apology does three things. First, it shows that you respect the person. Second, it shows that you value the relationship you have with that person. And third, it gives you a level of peace of mind. To properly apologize, I do some of these 8 things:
- I Express sorrow by saying, “I’m sorry”
- Own guilt by admitting that I was wrong
- Name specific wrongs to let the person know that I’m not saying sorry for saying sake
- Name impact like saying, “I hurt you”
- Avoid using “if’s” such as, “sorry if I…”
- Don’t shift blame or get defensive with words like, “but you”
- I don’t use passive voice. E.g. “sorry you were offended…”
- Attempt to make amends by asking, “what can I do to…”
A genuine apology isn’t an automatic pass to their good graces, so remember that you are doing this for you and not them. When you sincerely apologize, try to effect any necessary changes in your behaviour, and you will feel lighter and more optimistic about your self-forgiveness journey
This is the second step on your path to self-forgiveness.
You have to realize that you mess up because you are human. This means that by default, you are compelled to steer through life somewhat in the dark. You lack the knowledge and experience required to ensure that you only do positive things in your journey on earth.
There will be a few regrets on your journey, but you’re not alone. We are all fundamentally steering blind and are bound to hit bumps and slip up with varying amounts of consequences.
Indeed, you cannot be sure what the future holds despite the efforts to make intelligent guesses. That’s what makes us human. Acknowledging and accepting this will be a huge leap out of our unending guilt and self-loathing.
Read also: How to value yourself
The third step in our journey to self-forgiveness is Advancement.
Many of the thoughts that haunt us are things that happened a long time ago. The parties we faulted might not even remember it anymore. It can be a dangerous thing to get stuck inside your head because it prevents advancement. Rather than focusing on what you could’ve done, focus on what you’re doing to move forward.
You want to change, and you want that guilt to stop. That’s progress already. Normally, the mind draws you back sometimes but you can’t let it be in control. Your energy goes where your attention is and if your attention is in the past, that is where your focus will be. It is where you’re going to spend your time. You would find it difficult to move forward and this can create real mental stress which can lead to anxiety and depression and even suicide in severe cases.
Once you’ve passed through the first two steps, advancement becomes a possibility for you. You start to believe you can move on, and you make conscious moves to let go of your guilt.
Read also: Stress management tips for Nigerians
This is my favourite step of all.
Having a redemption arc is the final step on the path to self-forgiveness. Another feature of being human is the desire to make things even or balanced. When a person commits a crime, a sentence is given and we have this sense of justice and contentment in the verdict. It’s the same way our mind works.
If you have a shameful memory that has been haunting you, you should do something that counteracts the wrong. Go get your redemption arc. Are you having nightmares because you embarrassed yourself at a party due to shyness and awkwardness? Good, go out there and work on your confidence and public speaking.
Are you haunted because you lost your family’s money at a time when they needed it most? Then go out there, work hard and smart, and make that bread. No matter how long it takes.
Read also: How to cultivate the habit of saving money
Are you terrorized by memories of cheating on a person you loved and breaking their heart? Good. Admit it and stay faithful to your new partner. Are you losing sleep because of a time you got drunk and drove some of your friends into a curve and hurt them seriously? Then, quit or control your alcohol intake and stay away from the wheel when drunk.
You better believe that when you get your redemption arc, the horrible memories will cease to bother you. You have paid your debt. And you have apologized accepted, advanced and gotten your arc. If you keep wallowing in the past, you will get consumed. However, if you take action and forgive yourself, you will thrive.
Good luck on your journey of self-forgiveness, my friend.