The Difficult Art of Self-Forgiveness
I was thinking about forgiveness. Whether we practice it or not, most of us have heard of the importance and benefits of forgiving people. It’s not about liking or condoning negative, abusive or unhealthy behavior; it’s simply about forgiving the person because it doesn’t serve us (or anyone) to hold onto the hurt and judgment. Most counseling practices, spiritual traditions, universal philosophies, and personal growth processes eventually lead us back to the art of forgiving. But sometimes I think we go about it backwards.
We always get taught to forgive other people. But I think the first person we have to learn how to forgive is ourselves. And I think that is even harder to do. Have you ever tried to forgive someone, or be kind, compassionate or nurturing when you are really annoyed or irritated with yourself? I can’t decide if it’s more sad or comical.
For me it’s as clear as this. When I am being hard on myself, I am harder on everyone else too—even if I pretty it up with politeness. When I don’t let myself off the hook first, I am not able to let you off the hook either. However, when I decide to remember that I am good, in spite of my mess-ups, when I intend to do better next time, and when I work on forgiving myself and then making amends where needed, then beautiful things can happen.
So here is your provocation for the week. First, think of some things you have been disappointed in yourself about, or have not forgiven yourself for, or wish you had done (or would do) differently.
Here are three of mine:
When I am impatient with Nikolas (my son)
When I procrastinate on my lifework projects
When I eat more sugar than feels right/good/healthy for my body
Second, take those things and remember at least three times when you have done them differently and in a way that felt good, loving, healthy or “right” for everyone involved. With my examples I could ask myself:
Have there been three specific times when I had infinite patience with Nikolas? (Oh yes!)
Are there three times when I have moved wonderfully on my writing and speaking projects? (Definitely!)
Have there been three times when I have treated my body in a way that makes me feel strong, healthy and proud of me? (Of course!)
As you do this exercise sense any gentleness or softening that begins to move through. Just breathe with that awareness and be willing to treat yourself kindly. Decide to remember all the ways and times that you have done well, and then choose consciously to let yourself off the hook for anything that has needed your love, compassion, understanding and forgiveness. It’s after we engage in our own gentle forgiveness that we can then extend that feeling to others in an authentic way, whether through making amends (if we perceive we have done something “wrong”) or offering forgiveness (if we perceive they have done something “wrong”).
It’s interesting (and beautiful), when I have used a mean or condescending voice with Nikolas and I say “I’m really sorry,” he normally looks right at me and says, “That’s okay.” And I know he means it because I can feel it. I think he can mean it because he still feels good about himself. Which perhaps is why he can also say “I’m sorry” so easily. The next time you do something that you know was not your highest choice, imagine saying, “I wish I wouldn’t have done it that way. I’m sorry.” And then imagine the highest, most intelligent and most loving part of you saying and truthfully meaning, “That’s okay.” What powerful and transforming moments can happen when we are willing to step into the difficult art of self-forgiveness.