“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and realize that prisoner was you.” ~Lewis B. Smedes
Have you ever tried to forgive someone who hurt you, and despite your best efforts, it was just too hard? So you beat yourself up because you were not able to forgive, and the pain was still there?
I spent years trying to forgive others.
I tried to forgive a family member for abusing me as a child.
I tried to forgive my primary school teacher of seven years for constantly hammering that even though I was a straight-A student, I wasn’t allowed to be me, and I needed to change myself so I could be accepted and loved.
I tried to forgive those who indirectly made me understand that their lives would have been so much better if I hadn’t been there, or if I would have been a boy.
Although I had developed a strong resilience, which allowed me to build strength from these negative life experiences, they had left their mark, and I felt pain, resentment, and a feeling of injustice.
I had been taught that I should forgive others for everything they did to me. But I couldn’t get out of my head and back to my heart, and I couldn’t manage to forgive them.
I was still feeling stuck, trapped, and unable to let go, move forward, and honor my needs. I let the regrets of wasted time consume me.
I realized I was making everything so hard on myself because I felt guilty.
If these people had taken advantage of me in one form or another, somehow, to me, it meant that I did something wrong, that I was broken, that something was wrong with me, and that I didn’t deserve anything better.
I just clutched to my guilt so tightly.
And one day, I had a breakthrough.
I realized that I needed to offer forgiveness, not to others, but to myself.
I had no control over the decisions, thoughts, and actions of others, but I did have control over the blame I was placing on myself.
It was time to let go of the pain, heal old wounds, move forward, and finally nurture myself and honor my needs.
The first step I took on the path to self-forgiveness was to accept reality without blaming others.
I would have loved to change the past and rewrite my history, but that was not possible. So instead of accepting reality and moving forward, I was drowning myself in blame and resentment.
I couldn’t go on like that. I needed my life to move forward. I had created a lot of struggles and suffering for myself because I spent too much energy resisting the present moment.
I needed to accept the reality I’d been given. Once I did, I was finally able to release all of the anger, blame, and resentment that had been built up in my mind and body.
To me, accepting reality is a crucial step toward self-acceptance. And self-acceptance is one of the first steps toward self-forgiveness.
The second step for me was to stop blaming myself and feeling guilty.
Most of us have been raised in a culture that stresses dichotomous thinking—good or bad, young or old, guilty or not guilty…
And once we stop blaming others, we usually blame ourselves. It must be someone’s fault, right?
I blamed myself for letting this family member abuse me as a child.
I blamed myself for not being able to change myself so I could be accepted and loved.
I blamed myself for having made a financial mistake and not knowing how I would get out of debt.
Once I had reflected on my negative experiences and identified what exactly I was blaming myself for and what exactly I was feeling guilty about, I took the next step and declared I was no longer going to blame myself for all this.
This was extremely liberating.
I was now accepting reality without blaming anyone. I was one step away from being able to forgive myself, let go, and honor my needs.
The third step toward self-forgiveness was to love myself fully.
I knew if I wanted to let go of my past experiences, I had to work on loving myself.
I managed to increase my self-love and forgive myself by consistently doing three simple things every day of the week.
First, I started a gratitude journal, and at the end of each day, I wrote five different things I was grateful for. It helped me see my life and myself through a new, more compassionate lens.
Then, I kept a list of all nice things that people said to me. I was mindful of thank-yous and compliments, and instead of focusing on the people who didn’t seem to appreciate me, I focused on those who I knew did love me.
Eventually, I repeatedly said to myself, “I am valued, I am enough, I am not damaged or broken, and I love myself just the way I am.”
Once you start looking, you can find so many reasons to love yourself fully. And the more love you feel for yourself, the easier it becomes to forgive your past.
I was finally ready to forgive myself wholeheartedly…
I forgave myself for making mistakes.
I forgave myself for allowing negative energies into my life and letting those sit in my body for all these years.
I forgave myself for not being who others wanted me to be.
I forgave myself for allowing outside circumstances and people to dictate my self-worth.
I forgave myself for not trusting my inner wisdom to know better.
And most importantly, I forgave myself for carrying the weight of my guilt and self-blame.
Forgiving myself wholeheartedly was liberating. It allowed me to be compassionate, accept myself, and let go of painful memories.
Sure, I still doubt my worth sometimes, I still re-live some memories I wish I could just erase from my mind, and I still worry about not pleasing other people and being rejected. But I feel free, joyful, and whole.
By forgiving myself, I was finally able to honor many of my needs that I had ignored before, even if it’s still a work in progress in some areas.
I was able to honor my need to feel great in my skin and accept my body.
I was able to honor my need to be myself and be loved for who I am, not for what I do.
I was able to honor my need to let go and not feel like I had to be hyper-vigilant and in control all the time.
You can do this too.
If you’ve made financial mistakes, if you struggle with food, or if you feel resentment and anger toward other people in your life, take these three steps: stop blaming others, stop blaming yourself, and learn to love yourself fully.
Your life will never be the same.
Self-forgiveness will allow you to create more peaceful relationships going forward, it will boost your mood so you’ll no longer experience depressive feelings, and it will reduce stress in your life. You’ll feel better, and you’ll also be healthier.
To me, self-forgiveness is one of the most meaningful lessons life has to offer. And I am so grateful for those times of trial.
Don’t waste another day of your life.
Forgive yourself and live fully!