Why is it so easy to forgive the people we love and care about, yet it can be so impossible to forgive ourselves? Why are we able to excuse other people’s mistakes and wrong-doings while we hold onto the burden of our own? We think about our regrets, and we remind ourselves over and over of the things that we wish we would have done differently. We keep ourselves up at night thinking about these things, without ever really giving thought to the idea that everyone in our lives probably has their own set of why’s and what-if’s and if-only’s.
If you’re like me, you try to see the best in people, giving them more chances than you should, and often making excuses for them. At times, you might even be what some would call a “door mat”. You trust easily, and you forgive easily, but you rarely give that same grace to yourself. You blame yourself for things that were out of your control, or that you did with the best intentions. To an outsider, you might have done absolutely nothing to warrant the guilt you are feeling, but somehow, in your own eyes, you are the culprit of everything that went wrong.
Maybe whatever mistakes you’ve made didn’t involve anyone else. Maybe they’ve caused no one any pain but yourself. But more often than not, this is not the case. I think we hold onto our regrets the most when they involve hurting or losing someone/something that was meaningful to us. We all make mistakes, almost every day. But it’s the ones that affect people we care about that are the hardest to forgive. They’re the ones that we beat ourselves up over, and that we let hang over our heads, sometimes for much too long. And we might know that we don’t deserve to hold onto that weight, but somehow we can’t let it go, or even take half of it and give it to another person who is also not perfect. For me, maybe this comes as part of my people-pleasing tendencies, as I would rather hold onto the whole burden and set the other free from any possible guilt.
But holding onto the full weight of the things that have gone wrong is an unfair burden for anyone. While it is important to recognize and learn from the mistakes we make, it is simply not necessary, and most certainly not beneficial to anyone, for you to let them weigh down your soul. There comes a time when you have to realize that you cannot change whatever happened, and that you have to let the negative energy go.
In order to forgive yourself for your mistakes or for the things you’ve been holding onto blame for, there are a few things that you should think about. And in my own experience, turning this into a journal exercise was really helpful. First, think about and write down exactly what the outcome of whatever happened was, and why it sucks, or makes you sad or mad, or how it hurt someone. Now, recognize and write down the role that you did play in whatever happened. Admit your faults where they actually were, but stop there. Do not admit fault where there was none. Do not find ways to blame yourself for someone else’s mistakes or decisions, or for anything that happened that was out of your control.
Now, try to look at your faults with compassion and empathy. Remember why you did or said what you did, and look at your past self with understanding. Stop looking at your mistakes and thinking about how stupid you were, or about how you can’t believe you did that or let that happen. Look at your past self with the same compassion that you would give to someone you love. This is not you making excuses for your mistakes, but it’s you saying, “I had the best intentions, and I never meant to hurt that person” or “I could have done this differently and ended up with a happier outcome, but I had no way of knowing that things would have happened this way”.
Do not let go of responsibility, but simply of the guilt that you have been holding onto. It’s not helping anyone. I’ve never been much of a worrier, because I’ve just always had the mentality that worrying about something bad happening will not change whether it happens or not. It can maybe make you more cautious, but there is also a way to be cautious and smart without allowing fear and worry to control you. I’m realizing that guilt is a similar thing. Sulking in guilt over something that has already happened is kind of wasted energy. Yes, a level of guilt is necessary in order to not want to do the same thing again, not to mention it shows that you at least have a conscience, but there is a way to take your guilt and turn it into a lesson learned. Accept the lesson, be thankful for what the situation taught you, and focus on the ways in which it helped you grow so that you will be better in the future.
Stop being so hard on yourself. Everyone messes up and has regrets and wishes they would’ve done something differently. Give yourself a bit of grace. Remember that you have control over your own actions and reactions, but that most of the time you do not have control over much else. Sometimes we do things with the best intentions, and they just don’t go the way that we thought they would. Sometimes someone you care about will need time to forgive you. Sadly, sometimes our mistakes affect relationships to a point of no return. But eventually, we have to accept and forgive. And yes, I’m talking about yourself.