When we know we’ve messed up, why is it that we can’t seem to stop beating ourselves up? Unfortunately, we all know we can’t turn back the clock, erase everyone’s memory, purge our own and pretend it never happened. But the best way to quiet the voice in our head that can’t quit the berating is to work on forgiving ourselves.
Self-forgiveness can be much harder than forgiving someone else. When we’re angry or disappointed in ourselves, we’re stuck inside our own heads, replaying the incident and telling the story of how we messed up over and over.
It might feel impossible to forgive because we believe that whatever we did doesn’t merit forgiveness and we deserve to feel bad. Unfortunately, we’re doing ourselves a disservice by hauling around all that baggage. And if we’re telling ourselves we deserve to feel bad, other people will suffer alongside us. We’ll be crabbier and emotionally shut down. And all the bad feelings can take their toll on us physically – our thinking could get muddled, and our digestion, muscles, and heart could all be negatively affected.
Even though it’s hard, there are ways our can forgive ourselves. According to Buddhist teachings here’s what we should do:
Take responsibility. Even though it seems as though taking responsibility might be a burden, it will actually feel like a relief. Acknowledge the mistake by telling someone. Turn to a trusted friend and confess. Detailing the type of hurt we perpetrated can help us get the story straight in our own heads so that we can stop with the general self-beat-down. Once we’ve got the honest story straight we can catch ourselves when we start replaying it. When we do find ourselves agonizing over the details again and again, we need stop ourselves and turn our thoughts to something more positive.
Say sorry. Sometimes all it takes to make things right is a simple apology or a sincere effort to make it right. If we want to reconcile with the person we harmed, say the hardest word. Sorry. Whether or not they accept is up to them, but we can move forward knowing we did our best to right the wrong. We could also try an act of good will, such as volunteering, to show the person we’ve wronged, and ourselves that we are making an effort.
Tell a new story. We need to give up the image of ourselves as the person who made that huge mistake. It’s not our burden to shoulder any longer. So we’ll tell a new story of ourselves as the person who acts as responsibly as possible. We are the sort of person who makes mistakes. We’re human, we are not perfect. But when we do mess up, we also take responsibility and we do what it takes to make things right. When we realize the inherent good inside ourselves and our willingness to do right by others when we’ve hurt them, the burden disappears and we walk freely down the road toward forgiving ourselves.