When we talk about forgiveness, it’s often regarding others — forgiving your elementary school bully or the coworker who took credit for your work idea. Unfortunately, we often forget about one very important person who is also worthy of forgiveness: ourselves.
Forgiveness is difficult in its own right. However, when we have to face the reality of forgiving ourselves, it can quickly become a (seemingly) impossible feat.
With that being said, learning how to forgive yourself and move forward from trauma, regret, or remorse can help contribute to a healthier, happier life.
So how to forgive yourself?
Here are some helpful reminders and thoughts to use on your journey towards inner peace and happiness.
Fighting Through Obstacles (Even When It Seems Impossible)
Moving on from a debilitating life event such as a car accident or escaping a toxic relationship is not only physically draining but mentally draining as well. It’s also fair to say that we feel these effects long after said trauma or event is over, making it even more difficult to move forward.
Moreover, it’s important to recognize that sometimes there are other barriers to treatment, besides ourselves.
As Duquesne Nursing points out, many patients who are seeking mental health treatment end up facing a variety of obstacles when trying to receive proper treatment.
Some of these include:
- Too costly or no health insurance coverage
- Lack of awareness of the severity of the disorder
- Feeling hopeless about treatment prospects
- Concerns about confidentiality
- Social stigma
It’s also worth noting that these factors can be especially difficult or prevalent if you happen to live in a rural community due to the lack of available resources and medical professionals in smaller populated areas.
However, it’s important to recognize that there are still mental health options you can (and should) utilize despite these barriers.
Forgiveness is a battle that doesn’t have to be taken on alone, no matter where you live. Moreover, many people find healing through numerous methods such as reading, talking, or writing. Ultimately, your path towards a happier life can be paved with whatever works best for you.
If you do happen to find yourself in a position that prevents you from visiting a mental health professional, consider these options in the meantime:
While group therapy is not as anonymous as a private session, checking your local community center for support groups can at the very least provide you with a connection to others dealing with similar difficulties as you. You also might find that you flourish in a group setting.
Local University Hospitals
As Dr. Fran Walfish, a psychotherapist, tells NBC News,
“Most qualified training hospitals have a department of psychiatry and outpatient psychology program that offers low-fee sliding scale psychotherapy.”
It’s worth visiting one nearby to see exactly what they can offer you and if it’s right for you.
Develop Self-Care Strategies
Forgiveness itself is self-care, but it’s also an ongoing battle. Developing useful strategies to recenter your mind, body, and spirit can help you get through some of those tough moments.
Whether it’s learning how to meditate, working to be more mindful, or developing a relaxing nighttime routine, these practices can help ease your pain and help you refocus after an especially rough day.
Forgiveness and the subsequent journey towards happiness is definitely an emotional roller coaster. Professional help should always be your first priority, but again, it isn’t necessarily available.
While it can make you feel hopeless at times, know that there are always alternatives that can help you, no matter what curve balls get thrown your way.
The Pressures (And Regrets) Within the Workplace
Once you are able to find help on your forgiveness journey, the next challenge will be applying what you’ve learned about yourself, your pain, and how you’re going to grow from it.
Work can be one of the more triggering factors in your life. A lot of regret or trauma often stems from a toxic work environment, perhaps a failed project, or the general feeling of making the wrong decision at the last second.
Furthermore, regret and remorse can happen within any career at any level. From office jobs to those in the medical field, learning how to forgive yourself has a unique set of challenges — it’s different for everyone.
Our forgiveness (or lack thereof) can be the result of various incidents, meaning it’s difficult to explain your feelings, anxieties, and pain to others.
For doctors, it might be the struggle to reconcile with a “never event”, or an error made during surgery. For veterans, it can be the trauma of losing fellow soldiers and friends while on active duty. For those in offices, it could be dealing with the fallout (gossip, isolation, bullying) after filing a sexual harassment case. The list goes on.
There is also the very likely circumstance that you just no longer enjoy your job or career, meaning there’s a chance it’s simply not meant for you. But that doesn’t make you a failure, it just means you’re destined for something else.
Holding Yourself Back Might Be the Problem
Furthermore, holding yourself back from that something else could be the thing standing in your way of a happier life, inside and outside of work.
As USC Applied Psychology aptly explains,
“Passion not only drives you to enjoy your work but helps in overcoming obstacles in the workplace as well. Anytime you hit a bump in the road or begin to doubt your abilities, remember the positive effects of the work you are doing.”
In life, we only get so many chances to follow our happiness and our dreams. Granted, we might lose sight of that goal at times, and that’s when those dark feelings can begin to creep in. But ultimately, our lives can only get better if we forgive our mistakes and learn from them.
Life is all about trial and error, and it’s okay if you don’t get it right the first, second, or third try. The most important thing is to never give up or stop trying because you’re afraid of regret or making a mistake.
Growth comes in all forms, and that includes forgiveness.
Besides, it is never too late to start over. Here’s the proof.
Finding Forgiveness Amidst Grief
When we lose a loved one — a parent, an ex-partner, even a pet — it can be tempting to put some blame on yourself. Part of the grieving process should include mourning the loss and moving forward, with them forever in your heart.
However, when we fall into the trap of blame and regret, we end up robbing ourselves of the chance to appreciate our time, memories, and experiences we had with our loved ones who have passed.
This makes the loss of them even harder to bear. It’s a difficult cycle to break and can lead to some serious mental health issues, like depression and anxiety.
Moreover, forgiving yourself in the face of death is without a doubt tough. It’s okay to be a work in process, especially considering that the loss of a loved one is an event that will stick with you forever.
Of course, that’s all the more reason to begin learning how to forgive yourself and move forward. Acknowledging and accepting your mistakes doesn’t make you unworthy of forgiveness.
Losing a pet to a car accident or house fire doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad owner. Your dog or cat loved you dearly, and although their untimely death is unfortunate and heartbreaking, the best way to honor your pet is to own your mistake, learn from it, and forgive yourself.
When dealing with the loss of a loved one due to addiction or suicide, it’s important to remove yourself from the situation as a factor in their death. Sometimes, we simply cannot stop people from making their own choices, no matter how bad the consequences are.
Furthermore, many of us desperately want our loved one(s) to get better, to seek help, but if they don’t that’s not on you.
While it might feel like you’re betraying those who have passed away by trying to forgive yourself and move on, you’re actually doing what’s necessary to take care of your mental and physical health. You deserve to be healthy and although it may take a while, you deserve to be happy as well.
Things You Can Do After a Loss
Practicing important grief strategies is one way you can begin coping with death and begin the forgiveness process. The American Psychological Association (APA) tell us,
“Everyone reacts differently to death and employs personal coping mechanisms for grief. Research shows that most people can recover from a loss on their own through the passage of time if they have social support and healthy habits.”
They go on to list so methods worth implementing after a loss:
- Talk about the death of your loved one. Instead of isolating yourself or denying the death outright, speak about your loss with your support system. This can help you process the loss and begin moving forward.
- Accept your feelings. All of your feelings are valid and it’s okay to feel them. You aren’t weak or guilty because of your emotions.
- Take care of yourself and your family. You can grieve for those who have passed while also making sure to take care of the living.
- Reach out and help others dealing with the loss. Helping others has been shown to make us feel better and by sharing your stories you can form new, lasting bonds with others affected by a loss.
- Remember and celebrate the lives of your loved ones. APA recommends, “donating to a favorite charity of the deceased, framing photos of fun times, passing on a family name to a baby, or planting a garden in memory. What you choose is up to you, as long as it allows you to honor that unique relationship in a way that feels right to you.”
While the grieving process might be messy, complicated, and certainly frustrating at times, if you can learn how to forgive yourself, you will only grow stronger. Remember good can come from even the darkest of times.
When we force ourselves to hold onto the past — past mistakes, regrets, pain — we end up missing out on a lot of the positive things life has to offer. It’s important to keep in mind that you are not alone and it’s okay to hurt and reflect on certain aspects within your life.
However, it isn’t worth losing valuable time, relationships, health, and emotional energy over. Instead, amid grief or remorse, as difficult as it might be, working towards inner peace will ultimately serve you much better.
Moreover, a person who is at peace with themselves will reap some benefits, such as:
- Increased acceptance of yourself and self-actualization
- Increased emotional maturity
- The ability to live in and enjoy the present more
- A deeper capacity for love (towards others and yourself)
- A better sense of inner strength and power
- More patience and compassion
- Increased self-esteem
- Freedom from stress and anxieties
- A stronger sense of inner happiness
- A better understanding of forgiveness
Achieving inner peace, especially in the face of difficulties and trauma, takes a lot of work and practice. However, the rewards are certainly worth the effort as you begin to grow as an individual, learn forgiveness towards others and yourself, and begin viewing life through a more positive lens.
You don’t need to forget your past experiences; rather, use them as a vehicle towards a greater, healthier life. You are worthy and your past doesn’t define you. It simply molds you.
Once you understand and can come to terms with that, the possibilities of happiness will open up and you can begin moving forward in life.
It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.