Many people know what to do when an action or unnecessarily rude remark is directed towards them by another individual. Depending on what is done or said, retaliating or forgiving others is something we were all forced to learn even from an early age.
However, it can become challenging when the offender is the same person as the offended, oneself.
Self-forgiveness is not only essential to your mental and physical health, but to your general productivity and ability to meet your goals as well.
For many of us, when we make mistakes, we start having obsessive thoughts about what we did wrong. “How could I have made this mistake?” “How could I be so stupid?” “How could this have happened?” “Why did I fail?” etc. More often than not, we find ourselves suffering from these situations and their adverse effects on our output and productivity.
The inability to move on from negative thoughts and emotions can have a crippling effect on anyone, and the stakes are even higher for us, as entrepreneurs and professionals. Hence, there’s a need for us to learn the importance of forgiving ourselves, its benefits, and most importantly, how to do it.
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Why Self-forgiveness Is An Essential Tool For Higher Achievements
Although it’s easy to understand that self-loathing is of no positive value to anybody, what is less obvious to many is how holding onto past mistakes affects our output as entrepreneurs and professionals.
Many entrepreneurs, business owners, and professionals share the common belief that holding onto mistakes made in the past would be beneficial to them in making decisions that affect their businesses and sometimes their personal lives. But this isn’t the case, not according to Beverly Engel, a seasoned psychotherapist,
“Shame is incredibly unhealthy, causing lowered self-esteem and behavior that reinforces that self-image.”
According to her, you become resistant to change, and doubt begins to rule over you. As soon as your self-image and how you perceive yourself are damaged, you begin to lose trust in your abilities and decisions, ultimately locking yourself out and losing the zeal to meet your goals.
Another reason we do not believe in letting go of these mistakes is the often erroneous yet widespread belief that forgiving oneself is letting yourself off the hook, which most people think is an invitation to repeat the error. This goes contrary to the Liverpool Desistance Study, which many researchers and scholars have cited. It studies ex-convicts who have reformed and rebuilt their lives and exactly how they went about it. This research discovered that criminal offenders who recognized that doing bad things did not make them bad people were less likely to continue engaging in illegal activity.
So, as impossible as it might be to believe, the truth is that when we refuse to forgive ourselves for our missteps, a higher chance of us repeating them becomes plausible.
Why Do Suppressed And Repressed Emotions Hold You Back From Higher Achievements?
Our negative thoughts and emotions are often the results of our inability to forgive ourselves and leave our mistakes behind us. Our thoughts become clouded, and so also do our decisions and judgments. The inability to forgive oneself mostly robs them of important learning experiences that would be otherwise valuable as entrepreneurs and decision-makers.
So, what exactly are these emotions that are detrimental to our mental health and our pursuit of success?
Grief is an emotion that is mainly associated with a sense of loss, with attachment as the psychological root and cause of all grief and mourning. Attachment occurs as a result of feeling incomplete within ourselves. When we have this feeling, we find completion externally in other people, objects, and concepts.
In doing this, we invest our emotions and energy into them, unconsciously creating an attachment, and using them to fill the void within ourselves, which transitions them from external objects. We begin to identify them as a part of ourselves because they have filled the emptiness within us, thereby completing us and becoming a part of us.
The more energy expended on these concepts, the more attachment we create with them, and the more pain we feel when they are gone. So much that it can feel like we’ve lost a part of ourselves, this loss results in grief, mourning, and even anger directed inwardly at ourselves. As the loss results in grief, the void returns, leading to regret, self-criticism, self-blame, self-doubt, and even self-loathing; all negative emotions that affect you mentally and physically and keep you from optimum performance.
We all get them at some level, with it being prevalent among business owners, and while it’s nice to know we’re not alone, it’s not so helpful.
Guilty feelings work to make us feel like crap, and it increases our feelings of unworthiness, which ultimately damages our self-esteem. We give ourselves a hard time, lose interest in what’s important and become more invested in punishing ourselves with constant self-blame for not meeting a target or attaining a particular goal.
It often begins with how we feel we are observed by others, a want to fulfill the expectations of other individuals at our places of learning or work. When the expectations are not met an instant desire to escape judgment and most times embarrassment is instantly awakened in us. We immediately withdraw.
It is both an excruciating feeling and a universal one. We all experience shame from time to time, whether we admit it or not. Shame can shut us down or emerge in ways destructive to ourselves, it essentially forces us to crawl away and hide. This toxic emotion works to isolate the individual and make them feel inadequate. It is the lowest level of human consciousness.
A very powerful emotion, ANGER; born out of our desire to meet objective standards set by us or our ideas of perfectionism. Whenever these standards are not met we become angry at ourselves.
Like I stated earlier, anger is indeed a powerful emotion, a state of higher energy that energizes us and keeps us ready for action, still, the emotion can also be very destructive in both our relationship with others and in the relationship we have with ourselves.
The intention behind anger is negative, and it will have similar consequences even if it is not expressed. A helpful approach is to view the energy of anger positively and to use it to fire up our ambitions and our actions in a useful way. For instance, let’s say that we are angry at a client; some clients never seem to know better than to undermine our abilities or efforts. But we know it’s unwise to express anger and resentment. It would very likely result in the loss of a contract or at least bring on the continued resentment of the client.
At best, the expression of anger would result in a sticky situation. Instead, we can make a decision to use that energy in a constructive way on our own behalf. It can be the inspiration for us to create a project that, because of its excellence, proves our point. It might be the energy for us to move up and out of a situation that is unsatisfactory. We can utilize that energy to create new opportunities, find a better way of dealing with them, or whatever else we think would benefit our personal goals.
Past Mistakes; Why They Should Remain In The Past
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way”
(Frankl,  2006)
So, why exactly should we free ourselves from the shackles of self-hate, and what are the gains of embracing self-compassion?
Josh Galarazar, a mental health advocate, shares his personal experience at a Tedx event, where he discussed negative feelings, their impact on his life, self-esteem, and how he turned it around with self-forgiveness.
He tells us about the negative impact of his inability to forgive his mother’s boyfriend for his behavior towards him and his family. He also tells us how he developed guilty feelings after finding out that the man had been bipolar all along, accounting for his behavior towards Josh and his family.
The realization that Galarazar had been harboring negative feelings and emotions towards somebody for something that could not be controlled led to a long period of depression for Mr. Galarazar. He kept getting worse until a friend of his advised him to seek professional help.
So far in Josh’s experience, it is to be noted that all he had done was stuff his emotions to the deepest darkest parts of his mind, instead of simply letting go and freeing himself of all the dead weight. He allowed the feelings to weigh him down and ultimately destroy him.
Later on, Josh began to realize where he had gone wrong. He realized that human beings were bound to make mistakes and that letting the missteps from his past determine his future would be an enormous blunder.
“Forgiveness is for us, not for them. We forgive ourselves to get rid of the weight and anger we hold onto.” He says.
Yes! Josh found out that many of us have never been told before that it’s our choice to free ourselves of the weight and burden that comes with self-hate. What a powerful discovery.
What else can we learn from his experience? We can see that self unforgiveness puts you firmly rooted in the past. You cannot move on because you keep dwelling on what could have been instead of accepting what is and what isn’t.
Regrets have a haunting quality, but you need to see past that and move on; once you do that, you’ll find you’re better than before and back on the road to your best life.
Immense Benefits Of Forgiving Yourself
So far, we’ve seen the effects of unforgiveness and self-hate. How surprisingly toxic baggage from self-hate is and how our case study Josh could free and improve himself, both physically and mentally.
Well then, what exactly can one gain when they practice self-forgiveness
Improves Your Physical Health
Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health, lowering the risk of heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. Research also points to an increase in the forgiveness-health connection as you age.
“There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed,” says Karen Swartz, M.D., director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that cause numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure, and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease, and diabetes, among other conditions. Forgiveness, however, releases endorphins (a natural stress reliever) and calms your stress levels, leading to improved health and overall wellness.
Frees You From The Toll Of Weary Baggage
Many people don’t realize that unforgiveness Is nothing but heavy baggage. Carrying it on your shoulders is exhausting. You need to let go before you can be able to do anything meaningful. Unfortunately, the only person who is hurt when you do not forgive yourself is, quite frankly, you.
Unlocks Your Potential
When a person doesn’t forgive themselves for what happened in the past, they begin to doubt every decision, undercut their abilities, which stifles all potential. When you learn to forgive yourself and embrace self-compassion, you find that your mind is no longer clouded, your self-esteem is now significantly increased, and your sights are now set on more important goals.
How To Forgive Yourself
A lot has been said about how refreshing It is to forgive ourselves and how dangerously toxic it is to engage In self-hate, which begs the question. “How exactly do I now forgive myself?” Here are a few steps that will help you learn how to forgive yourself.
1. Understand Why The Situation Happened And How You Can Do Better In The Future [Cognitive Understanding]
For a better understanding of the situations that surround our errors and the best way to turn around from them, the employment of logic usually goes a long way in helping us break down the situations and shedding light on the path to a better future. We employ that logic using something called Cognition. How about we break down what exactly cognition is?
Cognition is a term used to refer to the mental processes involved in gaining knowledge and comprehension. These cognitive processes include thinking, knowing, remembering, judging, and problem-solving.
First things first, when applying the cognitive process, you analyze the situation. Without judging yourself, you will need to recall your mistakes and the results of the mistakes. Gather as much knowledge as you can about the situation, learn what went wrong, and how to avoid it.
“Knowledge of knowledge is a powerful Neural Plasticity Tool.”
states Robert Sapolsky, a neuroendocrinology researcher, and professor at Stanford University.
Next is, do not forget to remember. Many people take the saying “forgive & forget,” very literally and think to forgive means putting the experience buried away. Instead, forgiveness is accepting to leave the past mistakes behind and learning from the experience.
Problem-solving is the final step in applying cognition and understanding. Once you’re finished with your analysis, the next step is to face the future, assess the problems caused by the error, and fix them up. Once that is done, apply what has been learned to the improvement of your future.
2. Choose Not To Live With Regrets
It’s only human to want to analyze the situation and find out what went wrong and what led to the mistake; it’s not entirely wrong even. The problem lies when you try to undo the past with the knowledge you’ve gained now.
You find yourself saying, “if I’d just done it like so, I could have prevented this.” That kind of thought only traps you in the past and robs you of a new chance In the present.
3. Practice Acceptance
Surrender to the feelings of guilt, shame, anger when they arise. Let them happen instead of resisting them. Accept the feelings instead of resisting them.
The “Shadow” is a concept first coined by Swiss psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and the founder of Analytical Psychology, Carl Gustav Jung. He deduced that the shadow is a part of our personality that is oblivious to our consciousness. He believed that an individual who rejects or ignores the negative aspects of their personalities grows a “shadow” that is largely negative.
“Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.”
Jung’s deduction tells us that we aren’t only limited to “the good side as human beings.” We all have that “bad” side that makes mistakes, does the wrong things, and gets misled by emotions. Avoiding or ignoring mistakes and their resulting emotions only keeps you at a disadvantage.
Accepting your humanity and owning your shadow gives you more power over the damaging effects of negativity.
4. Your Mistakes Are Valuable Learning Experiences, Treat Them As Such
Think of each “mistake” as a learning experience that holds the key to moving forward faster and more consistently in the future.
Reminding yourself that you did the best you could, with the tools and knowledge you had at the time, will help you forgive yourself and move forward.
5. Rebuild Yourself With Positive Affirmations
In letting go of our negative thoughts, positive affirmations become highly important. By truthfully repeating these affirmations to ourselves or out loud, we take back control from the inner critic, reshaping our self-image and ultimately rebuilding self-esteem.
Here are some affirmations to practice daily;
- YES, I make mistakes every day, so what?
- YES, I give myself permission to be free
- YES, I let go of any attached feelings to my past today.
6. Give Yourself Time To Recover
You could place this process on hold, create a mental picture, and imagine putting the issues in a box. Not so you can forget about them or pretend they are not there, but so you can return to them when it is most convenient for you.
7. Understand That The Past Is The Past, And You Can’t Do Much To Change It
Although you wish you could change things, it might not be possible to repair an error made in the past. What you can do is look ahead and plan best for whatever comes next.
Daily Exercise for Self-forgiveness
As we have established that our essential well-being depends on forgiving ourselves for past mistakes, it is also crucial to note that deciding to let go of our internal pain can be a challenging, slow process. Here’s an exercise to practice as you move toward the goal of achieving self-forgiveness.
1. Begin by asking, “what can I forgive myself for today?”
(Define the wrongdoing by choosing a specific outcome or action). For example, “I want to forgive myself for losing my temper and insulting my employee.”. Take a piece of paper and write it down.
2. Identify the negative feelings you want to let go of.
(List the negative emotions related to the wrongdoing you are experiencing. For example, shame, guilt, fear, anger, etc.)
3. Acknowledge and describe how you will benefit from your self-forgiveness. (Describe the advantage of letting go of the negative emotions). For example, “I acknowledge that self-forgiveness will help me because I will ….”
4. Acknowledge and describe how your self-forgiveness will benefit others.
(Describe the value of self-forgiveness to the person you wronged or to others around you.) For example, “I will become a more supportive friend.”
5. Commit whole-heartedly to your self-forgiveness.
(Write a pledge of commitment using the answers from above.) “I commit to forgiving myself for losing my temper (Wrongdoing). “I open myself to the clarity and peace of mind it brings (Benefits).”
6. Complete the exercise by speaking and thinking about the affirmations below.
YES, I give myself permission to be free.
YES, I let go of any attached feelings to my past today in not resisting or reacting to it and just letting it happen.
“To Forgive Is Divine”
Self Forgiveness is essential for freeing yourself from the damaging effects of negative emotions, such as guilt, grief, and shame.
As soon as you accept that what’s done is in the past and you acknowledge that it’s only human to make mistakes, you’ll find that the freedom that comes with self-forgiveness feels entirely like a miracle. So, instead of holding onto emotions that would weigh you down today, why don’t you step out today, take a deep breath, and begin the practice of self-care through self-forgiveness.
You don’t need to become a superhuman, but recognize that it’s super to be human (with all the mistakes).