Why is it that we are so much harder on ourselves than we are of others? We all make mistakes, regret our actions and wish for leniency from others. Yet, when it comes down to forgiving ourselves it’s one of the hardest things to do.
I’m not saying that forgiving others is easy either. When I was younger, I was a pretty angry person. I held onto my anger, and knew it so well that it became part of who I was. It wasn’t until my late 20s when I learned that forgiveness is something you do for yourself, not for others. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that what they did was right—far from it. Instead, it has more to do with letting go of hurt and resentment so the incident doesn’t cause us to relive the injury over and over.
When we mess up, or disappoint someone, our natural reaction is to be hard on ourselves, which often results in anger and low self-esteem. Instead of learning from these events, we beat ourselves up. Do we feel better reliving our disappointments? I don’t. And I don’t think we become better people as a result of beating ourselves up either.
I believe that when we act without compassion towards ourselves we sabotage our self-esteem as well as our ability to do better in the future. Been there, done that.
It took me some time but I did learn by asking these simple questions:
Why do I feel this way about myself?
Is it loving to me?
Some of us don’t believe we deserve kindness, empathy or even “a break.” They think they should have all the answers, all the time, and never make a mistake, which is why they are so hard on themselves and everyone around them.
As I grew older, I realized that no one is perfect, especially me. I don’t beat myself up (or at least not as much) when I make mistakes, because I try to learn a lesson from every mistake I make. Instead, I try to accept my own humanness, with as much compassion as possible.
Learning to forgive myself involved taking baby steps. First, I became more conscious of my mental chatter. If it was being overly critical, I would stop and reframe my thoughts. If I continued being hard on myself, I returned to the question: Why do I feel this way about myself?
It takes courage to get at the root of our long-held beliefs and the reasons why we are so self-critical. It also takes courage to remember that it’s our birthright to feel good about ourselves. We’re worth it.
An effective way to be more compassionate with yourself is to imagine you are talking to a beloved small child, family member or a close friend instead of yourself. If you spoke to your five-year-old daughter, would you use harsh or kind words? If she made a mistake and needed your forgiveness, would you give it or would you withhold it?
Chances are you would treat someone you care about with kindness and compassion, so do this for yourself. We all deserve it. Call on this newfound insight any time you are having trouble forgiving yourself.