Forgiving yourself is hard. Even after you’ve been forgiven by the person you have wronged, it is difficult to forgive yourself for the past. Especially if the actions of the past do not align with your current morals and values, and judging from the fact that you feel guilty, that is likely the case.
Guilt is natural, but if we let it consume our lives then we will not be able to improve upon ourselves to ensure we do not repeat the same mistakes. So how can we forgive ourselves?
1. FIGURE OUT THE WHAT
For the sake of this blog post, I’m going to use an example of an insult, although, usually when we feel guilty, we actually need to forgive ourselves for many past behaviours and mistakes, not just the one. You see, if you are trying to forgive yourself for bullying another person or saying a lot of things you didn’t mean in a moment of anger, then it’s likely that you made many mistakes before you’ve come to terms with the fact that you were in the wrong. You might have gotten defensive right after it happened and continued acting in the way you were knowing it was hurting someone else. Someone you care about or maybe even love.
Name it so you can grow from it.
2. FIGURE OUT THE WHY
The second step is to figure out why you feel guilty and try to figure out why you were acting that way. This isn’t you brainstorming a list of excuses, but genuinely try to consider why you were insulting the other person. An example of this could be, perhaps you insulted someone else’s job because you are envious of their position and you feel as if you aren’t good enough to work at a position like that. Figure out why you said it. Figure out why you felt the need to put the other person down in the first place. How did you feel entitled over them in that moment? Why did you regard your opinion as more important than theirs? Get to the “why” of your behavior.
3. FIGURE OUT THE HOW
So now you know WHAT you feel guilty about, and it most likely will be more than one thing. Then you figured out the WHY of your behavior, so what next? Figure out the how.
HOW are you going to modify your behavior to change for next time? Let’s say the WHAT is insulting someone, the WHY is because of mismanaged anger issues and insecurities. So HOW are you going to change your behavior? Well, address the insecurities first. Figure out what you can do to manage your insecurities and be more confident in yourself. Being insecure about your job position is something that can be changed. You can either change your perspective on your job title and acknowledge that your work does not define you, or anyone. OR you can change your job title. Maybe you can take this insecurity as an opportunity to look for new positions, try to ask for a promotion, a raise…
Maybe you are jealous of your friends “perfect relationship” and so you made fun of the couple and put them down. So what can you learn from that? Maybe you need to be more comfortable with yourself as a single person. Maybe you need to work on your relationship OR find a partner who can meet your needs.
Basically this step is determining what is it that you need to do to better yourself in the future?
But the work doesn’t stop there. You also have to think of a few more HOWS…
HOW- did my behavior impact my friend negatively
HOW- can I improve myself for the future to ensure I do not act like this again and…
HOW- can I make this up to my friend?
All difficult questions without a clear-cut answer. But these are the things to consider.
If you said something ignorant, maybe a solution could be educating yourself more on the topic. Making that topic a priority in your life.
If you did something mean, maybe showing yourself a little more love and making an effort to be kinder to those around you can be your priority for the next little while.
If you feel like you lashed out in anger, maybe learning how to manage that anger through counselling is your next step.
Changed behavior is the best apology… but it doesn’t replace an apology…
4. INITIATE AN APOLOGY
So you might have apologized before, maybe several times. BUT that might not have been enough. Likely what happened was the other person was angry and told you why they were upset and you got defensive OR you started begging for forgiveness, promising changed behavior and hit them with, “I’m sorry :(”
So before you were responding out of shame and desperation OR worse, out of just getting it over with.
But now we need to genuinely consider everything that happened. We need to use an apology that identifies the WHAT, WHY, HOW & REMORSE.
We need to tell the person WHAT we are sorry for, WHY we acted that way, HOW we are making changes to our behavior, and then we have to show remorse for our actions. Drop the “I’m sorry.” BUT then we have to do the MOST CRUCIAL STEP.
So we took the time to figure out what we needed to do to change our behavior, and that is an important step because the victim should not have to brainstorm ways to tell you how to improve. That’s your job. But now we have to listen to their side of things.
Is there anything you can do to make up for your behavior? Ask them. What do they want to see you do to change?
Maybe you embarrassed them in front of a group of people and they would rather you own up to the mistake in front of them.
Maybe they just want to talk to you and tell you their pain and the negative impact your actions have had on their lives.
Maybe they want space from you.
Talk to them. Figure out what they want, and do your best to accommodate them. Perhaps in the past you didn’t, but you have grown since then, and you have to believe that.
Everyday is a new opportunity to grow.
If you want to explore a friendship or relationship or resume the connection you once had, ask the person you have wronged. Then respect their decision. Maybe you can offer them time and space to decide, if they ask for this then you can use this time and space as an opportunity to grow and get better.
Remember the person doesn’t owe you anything, but making it clear that you want to rebuild a friendship, relationship, or connection with them in the future is ok. As long as you are making it clear that it is still their decision and you don’t have a timeline.
People are allowed to ask for distance from you, and you have to do your best to respect their decisions, even when they are hard.
The victim, after all of this, will likely forgive you BUT they might not. Either way, you have to make the decision to forgive yourself. But do so because you know you are making changes and not because you think the victim is being “dramatic” or “too sensitive”. That isn’t the case. They are exercising their right to not forgive. But if you want your guilt to go away, you need to continuously make changes to improve everyday.
5. CONTINUE IMPROVING
There comes a point where guilt actually interferes with out growth. If we are so fixated on the past that we don’t believe we can change the present then we will stay stuck. We need to accept what happened and heal from it. Even though you were not the one wronged, you still have to heal too.
Forgive yourself and be a little proud. Yes, you did something wrong, but NO ONE is perfect. All we can do it grow and you are in the process of doing that. That’s all you can really do and you should be proud of yourself.
Taking the time to help others who have been hurt by similar actions to what you did is an example of how to improve.
Also, alongside guilt, you might feel sadness. Maybe you miss the person you hurt and you want them to reconnect with you. These are all valid feelings that you will have to work through. Take time and be kind to yourself. Yes, you made a mistake, but you can’t live in the past. Acknowledging it and growing is all you can do.
Change the behaviours and thoughts/ ideas that made you act this way in the first place. Get to the root of the problem. Is the problem ignorance? If so, get informed. Is the problem attitude? If so work on yourself. You are not stuck to what you were yesterday. Just do your best to grow today so you can be a better person tomorrow.