Becoming the Living Poet

Self-Forgiveness

Posted on: May 20, 2009

Go, Dog, Go

A co-worker sent me this image. She said it reminded her of me because the dog looked so determined.

I’m really hard on myself and it’s not just in a daily life sense. I look back on mistakes I made years ago and I still judge, blame, and fruitlessly brainstorm.

Like an employer investigating a complaint filed against one of their employees, I ruthlessly demand from myself an accounting of where the error arose, what I could have done differently to bring about a different outcome, and what I think I’ve learned from the situation.

In the same way that very rigid work environments result in a stagnation of new ideas, I’ve developed an almost phobic attitude towards mistakes. I know that every time I stumble, long after every one who witnessed my misstep has forgiven and forgotten, my inner critic will remember and condemn.

I was looking for a concrete definition of regret as a phenomenon to see how it differed from guilt and shame. Wikipedia had theories, but they weren’t very interesting.

Have no fear philosophers, Google shall never replace you!

But I did discover this starkly true quotation:

Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past and fear of the future. – Fulton Oursler

One week ago I was given psychological homework that produced some procrastination inducing resistance.

The assignment was to write down as many statements of self-forgiveness as you can think of.

I found this definition of forgiveness on the Mayo Clinic website. (I know, a medical clinic, go figure?)

Forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentments and thoughts of revenge. Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you.

In this case the one who hurt me would be me, so I have two things to forgive myself for.

1. Making mistakes.

2. Psychologically bludgeoning myself within an inch of my life every time I made mistakes.

The Mayo Clinic goes on to explain that forgiveness is a commitment to a process of change.

I have already committed myself to this self-compassion / destuckification journey and I think it makes sense that this would be the next step.

If I can’t support my decisions, even when they turn out to be flawed or misguided, I’m not a very good friend to myself. In terms of the people in my life right now I’ve been truly fortunate. I can’t count on one hand the number of truly good friends I have who always give me the benefit of the doubt and recognize that the fact that I have flaws doesn’t invalidate our friendship. I think it’s time I started allowing myself to use my friends as an example of what a functional relationship with myself might look like.

So enough stalling, here’s the list:

10 Expressions of Self-Forgiveness

1. I forgive you.

2. Back then, you did not have the knowledge and experiences that you have now, and thus could not have been expected to act differently then you did.

3. You always do the best you can and I acknowledge and appreciate that.

4. You are not perfect and you do not have to be perfect to be good, loved, worthy, etc.

5. You’re allowed to let your best be good enough independent of the real world consequences.

6. You’re allowed to have moments when you are selfish, stupid, lazy, inconsiderate, cowardly, and all those other adjectives you like to sling at yourself. Those adjectives do not define who you are as a person.

7. Learning something important justifies making a mistake, even if it seems like a really big one. Sometimes there really is no other way to learn a particular lesson than to make a really big mistake.

8. I give you permission to make the same mistake as many times as you need to in order to learn a really hard lesson. You are learning as fast as you can and that is good enough.

9. Your flaws don’t make you a less worthy person. You’re allowed to progress through life without feeling that you’ve failed if you never become the ideal version of yourself you wish you were. You’re allowed to be happy with who you are right now.

10. I give you permission to make as many mistakes as you need to. I believe you when you tell me it was an honest mistake, that you were not intending to hurt anyone, that you were not intending to cause problems. I trust you.

Some last parting words from the Mayo Clinic:

Also, remember that forgiveness often isn’t a one-time thing. It begins with a decision, but because memories or another set of words or actions may trigger old feelings, you may need to recommit to forgiveness over and over again.

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5 Responses to "Self-Forgiveness"

I, too, have a ruthless inner critic who keeps reminding me of every mistake I’ve made. I guess this is a persoality trait which, sometimes, can instil in ourselves such a fear of making the wrong decision, that we end up paralysed by it. I’ve written something about this issue on my blog: http://asmpires.typepad.com/chronicles/2009/05/a-personal-side-of-the-financial-crisis-ii-fear.html

I’m a fan of self-forgiveness. Mmmm. One of my friends gave me an idea that I like. I lay down and get comfy and then think about what I’ve been giving myself a hard time about…and then I say to myself: “I apologize. I love you. Please forgive me. Thank you.”

So it’s me saying that to myself in my mind. And I repeat it over and over until I start feeling a little kinder to myself. I love how it feels.

Dear Keely

Thank you so much for this post. I was reading it and straight away thought, “Oh my god, this is me!”.

Your 10 Expressions of Self-Forgiveness brough tears to my eyes. I will copy them, print them out and keep them pinned up somewhere I can see them every day!

Good luck with your studies. No doubt I will keep an eye on your blog.

All the best

Betti

Thanks so much for your comment! This post was very healing for me to write. I’m glad it was meaningful for you to read.

[…] while back I wrote a post about self-forgiveness. It’s one of my favorite posts on the blog because every time I re-read it, it never fails to […]

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