If you’re a human being, I’m willing to bet that you’ve made a mistake that you haven’t gotten over. Maybe you feel like you shouldn’t have quit that job, lost your cool with a friend, or given up on a dream.
As this is something I’ve struggled with, I did some research and found that all paths to self-forgiveness follow the same steps. Who’d have thought that Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, New Age Mysticism, and Alcoholics Anonymous have so much in common!
In the tradition of the 12 Steps made famous by Alcoholics Anonymous, I bring your attention to steps 4-10.
I’ve summarized them below:
- Step 4-I made a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself.
- Step 5-I admitted to God, to myself and to another human being what I’ve done wrong.
- Step 6-I was entirely ready to have these defects of character removed.
- Step 7-I humbly asked God to remove my shortcomings.
- Step 8-I made a list of those who I wronged and became willing to make amends.
- Step 9-I made direct amends to those I wronged unless doing so would harm them or others.
- Step 10-I continued to take the inventory and when needed admitted that I screwed up.
For the complete list of 12 steps, click here.
So why do I share this with you?
It’s a formula for transformation whether that be sex, drugs, or self-forgiveness. It all starts with introspection and ends with surrender.
The Importance of Self-Forgiveness
Self-forgiveness is an important step to becoming a compassionate person.
After all, if you can’t stop judging yourself, how will you ever stop judging others?
We have a moral obligation to take responsibility for our mistakes. This is not just for other people. It is so we can avoid making the same mistake in the future. Let’s look at an example. When I was working a full-time office job, I wanted to start running more. I told myself “From now on, I’m going to wake up at 5 am and go running before work.” If you know me, you know I am not a morning person. When the alarm went off, I continuously hit the snooze button until it was time to get up for work. I later had feelings of disappointment with myself. My thoughts spiraled from “Ugh, why can’t I get up?” to “I’ll never get to where I want to be in life?”
When I was in that mindset, my inner critic found fault with everything I did.
It obliterated my self-trust.
Denying self-forgiveness cuts you off from love. Ironically, it almost guarantees that you will be more likely to act in the exact ways that you struggle to forgive yourself for. For example, if you feel you can’t tackle that large project and you beat yourself up, it will seem even more daunting and you won’t begin. You’re staying in a cycle of dark energy and you’re attracting the same people, places, and things that got you into that position to begin with.
Let’s not fulfill those fear-based prophecies. It’s time to turn the inner critic off.
This starts with listening to your inner dialogue.
How Do I know what my inner dialogue is saying?
Shut up and listen! Look at the words you tell yourself throughout the day. This goes beyond meditating. Listening to your inner dialogue means bringing mindfulness in throughout the day. This means unplugging your iPod. Like many New Yorkers, I was incapable of commuting without headphones in my ears. As I became aware of this numbing technique, I learned 2 things:
- My inner critic often acts like a wild elephant that needs to be tamed. Awareness of this beast led me to realize that I often focus on lack and comparison.
- A lot of of the music I listen to reinforced my inner critic (Sorry Zedd, but “Clarity,” though catchy, is not good for my mental health). It was like I was strengthening my inner critic by musically brainwashing myself.
So take some time to notice your thoughts during the day sans headphones. If you’re constantly saying the words “should have, would have, could have” your inner dialogue is probably self-criticism and not self-love. That’s a lot of energy that could be used to attract what you do want.
Why is my inner critic such a jerk?
Often, our internal dialogue is a mirror of external criticism from an authority figure. We carry this message with us and parent ourselves with similar beliefs. And even when we make amends, our inner critic doesn’t recognize it or give us much love.
So how do we counteract that voice? The answer is our inner guide, our higher self, our inner cheerleader. This is the voice that puts things in perspective. It’s the one that reminds you that you have great qualities, that you don’t need to be with that guy to be happy with yourself, you don't need to run in the morning to be worthy, and that you are perfect exactly where you are in your journey. It also encourages us to get back on the horse despite a temporary low point.
Through inner work, research, and many late-night conversations. I present my 4 Steps to self-forgiveness:
The 4 Steps to Self-Forgiveness:
1. See your mistakes clearly
You don't drive with a foggy windshield, so why do that with the rest of your life? The first step is to get clear on what your inner critic is saying and where it is coming from. Make a list of the things you are holding onto. What would be helpful to let go? Does it date back? Make a list of things you’ve felt judged for. If you’re a perfectionist, whose set of expectations are you trying to live up to? Is it really yours? Is it your parents’? Your partner? Your boss? Your culture?
This is your opportunity to delete that story and forgive yourself for believing it. Say to yourself, “I’m only human, I made a mistake. I’m willing to let this go.”
2. Take responsibility
Nobody likes this one, but it is crucial. Acknowledge the mistake and your role in the situation. Feeling an appropriate level of remorse is natural, that’s how we learn. But if you beat yourself up past this point, it’s just self-defeating criticism that won’t take you any further. It will only limit your future.
Recognizing that you chose to believe in these limiting beliefs and criticisms is key to becoming self-aware. This process can elicit strong feelings of anger or sadness. Change can be uncomfortable and these feelings are natural.
Be compassionate with yourself.
Give yourself the chance to acknowledge your feelings.
3. Where necessary, make amends
Part of taking ownership of your shit is coming clean. If you’ve wronged someone and it’s appropriate, reach out to them.
Caveat- If it would do more harm than good or if they have deceased, write a letter without sending it and allow your inner guide to give you absolution. As I recently said to a friend, closure is an internal shift. Don’t expect it to come from that person’s reaction.
4. Move on
The challenge to self-forgiveness comes when we hold on to anger and resentment. After feeling the necessary emotions, it’s time to release it and move on. Letting go can be new for many of us. We’ve used our limiting beliefs to protect ourselves from perceived dangers and from achieving greatness. Your perception that what you did is unforgivable creates a separation between you and you inner power. Now is time to amp up your self-love practice. This supports the realization that when you withhold self-love, you withhold self-forgiveness.
If you’re a perfectionist, this step can be even more of a challenge. Really take stock of why you’re trying to be perfect when you’re only human. What we often call “high standards” can often be a way to block our inner guide and feed our inner critic. If you’re a perfectionist, I invite you to remember that there are no mistakes, there are only opportunities for learning and growth.
These 4 steps allow you to live in the present instead of being stuck in the past. Or worse, being scared you’re going to make mistakes in the future. When you choose to listen to your inner guide and not your inner critic, you view mistakes as lessons. Choosing to believe in your inner critic only feeds the cycle of negativity that drags you back into the victim mentality. That impacts your happiness, health, and future.
Step into your strength and you will not only forgive yourself, you will release your judgment of others.
Learn. Grow. Let Go.
I'd love to hear your story! Is there something you're struggling to forgive yourself for? How do you let go? Comment below!