To be old and wise, you must first be young and stupid. Forgiving yourself for your past is the bridge between the two.
Lie and you eventually face the consequences. ~ You decide not to be a liar.
Selfish acts don’t feel all that great. ~ You learn to support others.
Laziness feeds depression like sugar feeds bacteria. ~ You begin to motivate yourself.
The hard truth about self discovery is that it most often comes on the heels of what looks like bad behavior. You find yourself by losing yourself. The problem is, once you commit to healthy characteristics like honesty, integrity and hard work you’ve arrived on the trail built on the broken hearts of people who knew you “when.”
You know you’re a different person today…or at least you’re working toward it. But they have their own doubts and fears to overcome. They’re not in your head. They need a mountain of proof before they can let that past go. Sometimes they have already decided they won’t.
You feel bad. You want to make it right. But how can you do that without their forgiveness? How do you forgive yourself when the people involved won’t even talk to you?
Here’s what you need to know about forgiving yourself for your past regardless of others’ forgiveness.
1. Forgiveness is NOT absolution
The most important thing to understand in the steps to forgiving yourself and others is that it has absolutely nothing to do with saying, “it’s ok.”
Whatever you did was definitively not “ok” or you wouldn’t feel the need to change it.
Instead, view forgiveness as a practice in letting go. You want to perpetuate anything, “good” or “bad,” in your life you give it your attention. When you want something to wither on the vine you remove your attention. Old hurts, self criticism and doubt are all propped up by the attention you give them. The same holds true for new beginnings, self love and courage.
You’ll feel the gut wrenching blow from your past fouls from time to time. You’ll be tempted to replay all the proof of your 100% loser-ness, incapable of learning life’s hardest lessons. When that happens remember how necessary it was to go through that phase in order to arrive at this one. Lovingly shift your focus to the change you’re making in yourself. Find and catalog detailed proof of your successes until you feel the truth of your magnificence as strongly as you felt the sinking in your stomach.
Most of all, remember your ability to move forward in your journey cannot be hindered by others’ acceptance, or lack thereof.
2. Forgiveness requires acceptance.
It’s tempting to believe, after reading the first tip, that all you have to do is ignore the bad stuff and pay attention to the good stuff.
Have you ever tried to ignore something that needs your attention though? What you resist in life, persists in life. That means any attempt to ignore the pain of your past or the hurt you feel when your support system can’t let it go will only perpetuate the feelings of loss that you have.
“But, Triffany, you said to redirect your energy. Isn’t that the same thing??”
Tell yourself not to think of a daisy in a turd and your mind actually struggles to draw the picture for you (you’re welcome, btw).
The same is true when you tell yourself not to feel something.
Regret’s gymnastics in your gut makes you cringe in public. It has a mountain of proof about your previous assholery and it needs to be acknowledged. Try to ignore it or tell it it’s wrong and every misdeed you’ve had since you bit that kid in preschool will come flooding back to mind.
Instead, treat your triggers like an alert to practice releasing your past. “Oh, hi self loathing! I see we have more work to do today. Let’s get after it, shall we?!”
Invite it in like an emotional personal trainer. Let it be part of the process. Get its buy-in. You don’t necessarily enjoy the workout but you know it’s necessary and you can be grateful it’s there.
2. Forgive the unforgiving
Hurt and frustrated that others won’t let you live down your past? Forgive them!
It not as counter-inuitive as it seems when you consider Sometimes it’s easier to be kind to others than it is to be kind to ourselves. If that’s the case, accept the people in your life who don’t believe you’ve changed.
- They have their own insecurities.
- The personal work required to let go of the past isn’t even on their radar
- They’re emotionally overburdened with so many things in life, of course you’d be last on the list for now.
There are a whole host of reasons why someone may not be able to come to terms with the past and learn to let it go.
Can you think of a better time to practice forgiveness?? I sure can’t. Do for them what you wish they’d do for you and before you know it you’ll have the skills strong enough to do it for yourself!
3. You are both sculptor & sculpture
It’s time to state the obvious: significant change does not happen overnight.
Logically, you know this. The first backslide into old patterns appears, though, and the self-flagellation begins. Every mistake, misstep, misunderstanding, missed opportunity and missed workout comes flooding back to you.
Rather than replay old, hurtful AND UNTRUE stories about yourself repeatedly remember that you’re a work in progress. You’re reinventing yourself. You’re learning to choose your happiness over everything (so you can bring happiness to everything).
You are the artist bringing her vision to life, it takes time to find your style and expression. You’ll have multiple phases and experiments throughout, each one more deeply expressed than the last.
You are also the artwork itself. You are your own sculpture. Once a block of stone your magnificence is revealed detail by detail over time. Unknown, even to yourself, until you pull yourself out of the rubble at your feet, shifting your attention from the minutiae to the whole of the artwork itself.
Bear witness to the beauty in the sculptor’s struggle and the pride in the developing beauty in front of you. Past sins turn to dust at your feet as they are only as relevant to the finished product as the chiseled away bits lying at your feet; their purpose served by their removal from your developing monument.
4. Mistakes (yours and others’) are simply practice
How do you improve anything in life? Regardless of your mistakes you just keep working at it. Dumping your emotional baggage is no different.
Others’ mishaps and hurtful choices are your opportunity to practice forgiveness. Remember that next time your feeling are hurt or you find yourself holding someone else’s mistakes over their head. They gave you the chance to improve one of happiness’s most important tools.
The same is true in reverse. Your mishaps and hurtful choices are yours and others’ opportunity to improve your ability to let go. Whether they (or you) take that chance to practice (or not) is irrelevant. The gift to grow is on the table.
Forgiving yourself for your past is not a free pass to walk around town acting like an asshole.
Intentionally hurting others isn’t helpful to anyone, yourself included. Instead, this perspective gives your mistakes utility; make your trials useful and you empower yourself to create greatness.
You have greatness to bring to the world. You have a right and the ability to do so untethered from your past.
Forgiving yourself for your past begins right now.
You are not the first person to make mistakes (even massive ones) and you certainly won’t be the last. And, let’s face it, there are even more mistakes to come. As long as there is room for growth there will be “learning opportunities” (read: fuckups).
Next time you screw up remember it is merely forgiveness practice for everyone, yourself most importantly.
Your best life awaits you. Not “them,” YOU. It’s time to step into the bright future you have before you.
Step by step you’ll remove the jagged edges of every wrong you’ve done and every wrong done to you. Crumbled at your feet, forgiving yourself for your past easily leaves footprints in the dust. Before you know it you’ll be so focused on your fabulous creation (YOU) that you won’t even notice the past has been blown into oblivion by the winds of change.
Triffany is a Certified Professional Life Coach and best-selling author. Her superpower is forgiveness and it’s 100% teachable.
She prides herself on helping strong women tame their inner hot mess so they can reach their fullest potential in both professional success and personal happiness. Schedule your free consult to learn a few tools that can help you too.