How to forgive yourself, a journey that is oh so personal and powerful for your growth.
Everyone makes mistakes.
So then, why do some people seem to live happy lives while others live in constant doubt, tormented by their past?
The difference isn’t necessarily in the severity of their mistakes. Rather, it’s in their capacity to transform their “mistakes” into heaven-sent lessons and grow from them.
The crux of this transformation is learning how to forgive yourself.
So, what’s the difference between a person who can forgive themselves, learn, and grow and a person who is tormented by their mistakes?
Oftentimes, it falls within an experience that you yourself may have felt before. Those feelings are that of ‘guilt’ and ‘shame’.
How Do You Fully Forgive Yourself?
Understanding the difference between guilt and shame
An important distinction to make before we dive into ‘how to forgive yourself,’ is the difference between guilt and shame.
They are often misinterpreted but can serve to be beneficial for your own understanding and growth.
Understanding the distinction between both words will change how they can affect your actions and outcomes.
Guilt: A constructive and healthy part of forgiving yourself
Guilt is the recognition and awareness that you have done something that is not congruent with the person you want to be. It is the genuine remorse of an action or thought that can spark personal growth.
It’s an indicator that you aren’t in alignment with your highest self.
People who feel ‘guilt’ say things like, “I am sorry for what I’ve done; I can fix my mistakes.”
Shame: A counterproductive and destructive emotion
Shame, on the other hand, is the pain and humiliation that comes from associating your guilt as a fixed part of your identity. A shameful person is ultimately resentful of themselves, rather than of their actions.
People who feel shame say things like, “I am sorry for the way I am, but I cannot change.”
Now that we know the difference between the two words, there is one more thing to note.
In order to really move forward toward the path of self-forgiveness, you must have a mindset that is willing to move on.
Move on from what you say?
Moving on from your own past mistakes and making peace with them.
How to stop punishing yourself for past mistakes
It’s important to highlight that forgiving yourself does not mean forgetting or condoning.
You cannot nor should you continuously punish yourself with self-hate, as it does not yield any positive outcomes. Your past mistakes are not a forever imprint of you being a bad person.
You need to look at the lessons, understand and ask yourself, “what did I learn here?“
Learn from it, make amends with yourself, grow and move past it by disowning your past mistakes, but never yourself and who you are.
By practicing such thinking, you will be amazed at how powerful forgiveness can be in elevating you to a higher level of self and consciousness.
Your past defines who you were. But but it does not define who you are now. The ‘now’ defines who you want to be.— Anonymous
Learning How to Forgive Yourself: The Buddhist Way
There are two paths to learning how to forgive yourself in Buddhist philosophy, as taught by Buddhist monk Gelong Thubten.
The first path is through deep thought of your external world, which Gelong Thubten calls “intelligence.”
The second path is through deep thought of your internal world, which he calls “wisdom.”
These paths are dichotomous in their nature, meaning that they approach forgiveness from two opposing perspectives. But these perspectives are not mutually exclusive.
If you choose one, you can still explore the other. In fact, developing deep, genuine forgiveness comes from balancing both paths equally.
The path of intelligence
‘Intelligence‘ as a path to self-forgiveness involves proactively using your thoughts to change your perspective on the actions you believe are mistakes.
When you are faced with an action that tests your ability to forgive yourself, you can change your thoughts to come from a place of gratitude instead of shame.
When you are grateful, you can see these situations as opportunities to develop and to see all of your “mistakes” as teachings.
For example, if you are practicing self-forgiveness through the path of intelligence, you would learn to frame your thinking this way:
Although I feel bad for my doing, I am grateful for the my abilty to face myself and learn. I can now confront this behavior and ultimately grow to become a better person. My guilt is my guide.
This kind of thinking takes mindfulness and empathy.
We seem to find paths to forgiveness for others much easier than we do for ourselves. At times, empathy for ourselves seems a bit strange.
But try to forgive yourself the same way you would forgive a puppy or a baby. You easily do so because you view them as being young, innocent, and ignorant of their own doing.
If you think about it, so were you. However, with that said, if you truly love and care for yourself, then you must strive to want to become a better version of yourself every day.
Be mindful of yourself and know that you’ve learned new lessons. Now you must apply these lessons and develop your sense of self and character. Mindfulness is one of the many paths toward wisdom.
The path of wisdom
‘Wisdom‘ as a path to self-forgiveness involves developing a relationship with your thoughts and feelings from a place of unconditional love and acceptance.
When you are faced with a seemingly irreconcilable aspect of yourself, the path of wisdom is to be present and accept your being with unconditional self-love.
With unconditional self-love, self-forgiveness follows effortlessly.
When you practice self-forgiveness through wisdom, you will start to think about yourself and your mistakes differently.
Instead of thinking that your actions and feelings define you, you would think something along the lines of, “I am experiencing these thoughts and emotions in this present moment. My thoughts and emotions do not define or control me”.
You can learn to develop the wisdom of self-acceptance and self-forgiveness by meditating.
A common misconception about meditation is that you shouldn’t feel or think anything while meditating.
However contrary to common belief, the purpose of meditation is to be balanced and aware of your thoughts and emotions.
Neither indulging in nor suppressing them, but just simply recognizing and accepting them for what they are.
With practice, meditation ultimately allows you to develop an unconditional relationship with your entire being — unconditional in acceptance, love, and understanding.
In this way, you can learn how to forgive yourself through the simple universal truths that are experienced in the meditative state:
- Your thoughts and emotions don’t define you
- You can define your thoughts and emotions
- The past and future are illusory — the present moment is the only real experience
So, feel which emotions are the most conducive to your highest self. Then, wisely choose which thoughts you repeat to yourself (because we do get to choose).
And lastly, always remember that the path to self-forgiveness and growth starts right in this present moment (now).
Vishen Lakhiani (founder of Mindvalley and author of Mindvalley’s life-changing program Becoming Limitless), teaches the immense power of forgiveness. He tells us,
Hack your past with forgiveness. Hack your present with mindfulness. Hack your future with ‘I AM ENOUGH.’— Vishen Lakhiani, founder of Mindvalley and trainer of Mindvalley’s Becoming Limitless Quest