Optimize Your Life

Episode #15: How to Crack the Code on Self-Forgiveness

Show Notes:

Hello and welcome to the show, Optimize Your Life, where each week I talk about one way you can level up and most of the time, it comes down to mindset. This week, my friends, is no exception. We are going to talk about your relationship with yourself, more specifically – how you relate to yourself when you’ve made a mistake that you have a hard time forgiving yourself for. 

Let’s start by defining some terms: According to Wikipedia, “Forgiveness, in a psychological sense, is the intentional and voluntary process by which one who may initially feel victimized, undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding a given offense, and overcomes negative emotions such as resentment and vengeance.” Self-forgiveness is, of course, applying some of this to yourself. 

Now it may not be easy to do, but forgiving yourself is important for both your physical and mental health. When we hold onto resentment, it increases our stress levels and takes a toll on our well-being. Say, for instance, you are an executive assistant and you are supposed to put together the company retreat, but you made a blunder and the day before the event, you find out there is a problem with the venue. As a result, it’s going to cost the company more money or you have to somehow deviate from the plan. You might feel embarrassed about the oversight and afraid of the repercussions, but you might also get stuck in a cycle of self-loathing. 

Mark Victor Hansen said, “Lack of forgiveness causes almost all of our self-sabotaging behavior.” It makes sense that if you understand how your mental and emotion states lead to your behaviors and if you’re filled with negativity, you might believe you don’t deserve happiness and then block yourself from joy. 

What if you’re a surgeon and you make a mistake during an operation which can sometimes mean the difference between life and death? How can you live with yourself after the fact?

Now imagine that you’re a parent and you’ve taken your child to the beach. When you weren’t looking, he went into the water and got swept up by a current and drowned. What do you do?

These scenarios can be extreme, but typically they aren’t this bad. People struggle with self-forgiveness for the smallest things as well like coming late to a meeting or getting in a fender bender or misplacing an item. If you have an unhealthy relationship with yourself, it won’t take much to put you over the edge.

But what I want to do today is address how to forgive yourself regardless of what has happened. Even though it can seem hard, it’s mission critical. 

This brings me to the question of why it’s hard for people to forgive themselves.

I can think of three reasons:

  1. Sometimes we wonder how we can forgive ourselves when others can’t forgive us. If someone else is upset with us, we might believe that we need to keep ourselves accountable by not forgiving ourselves and that anything would appear to others like we aren’t taking responsibility. 
  2. Other times, others we’ve hurt can forgive us but we still can’t forgive ourselves because we want to make sure we are taking this seriously and won’t make that same mistake again.
  3. Lastly, it’s because we have some pre-existing self-loathing and, as I mentioned, it doesn’t take much to find a reason to hate on ourselves.

But lucky for you, we’re here to talk about how to crack the code on self-forgiveness so you can break free from the resentment, self-loathing, and hatred you might otherwise hold within. This stuff is just toxic so it’s important to figure this out once and for all. 

As with anything else, I believe the meat of this is your mindset. It’s about what you believe because that’s going to drive your actions. But before I break this down for you, I want to share some quotes which I think shed light on this subject.

Maya Angelou said, “Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.” This is important because life is all about learning and we learn most from mistakes that we make. You can’t expect yourself to know everything in advance. Making mistakes is part of the human experience. Of course you’re going to mess up. 

Dale Carnegie said, “Any fool can criticize, complain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.” So while it may seem like a noble thing to do to hold yourself accountable by not forgiving yourself, doing just the opposite is the real hard work and what is more noble. 

When you are filled with resentment toward yourself, you create a heart wall. You block your emotions and are likely filled with negative self-talk. As Amy Leigh Mercree said, “Your inner critic is simply a part of you that needs more self-love.” That is to say, if you’re struggling with negative mind chatter, it’s a sign that you have more work to do to turn your relationship with yourself around. 

Finally, Jack Kornfield said, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” And this brings us to the final question for today, how you can forgive yourself.

I’m going to break this down into 5 steps.

Step 1: Recognize that you’ve made a mistake. This means seeing a parallel between what you did or didn’t do and the outcome as well as the fact that it’s not what you or someone else may have wished for at the start.

Step 2: See the consequences of your mistake. What’s happened as a result?

Step 3: Take responsibility for the consequences even if they were unintentional.

Step 4: Identify a lesson from this experience. What have you learned so you don’t end up repeating this mistake again?

Step 5: Remind yourself that you did the best you could with the resources you had at the time. By focusing on your intention, you can allow yourself to let go of the incessant blame. It doesn’t serve you. Release the guilt and with it any suffering.

I know forgiving yourself can be hard, but it is important work. It can be done and it needs to be done to return to optimal.

If you struggle with negative self-talk in general and want to change your relationship with yourself, I invite you to sign up for a call with me. Go to www.bookachatwithsharon.com, get on my calendar, and I will provide you with some fitting solutions so you don’t stay stuck in a work-against-you kind of way. Remember, the steps I shared today are a helpful construct for your conscious mind, but if you’re still struggling to implement, you need to work on a deeper level, which is your subconscious. 

I look forward to hearing from you. Until then…or at until least next week – take care!

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