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 capability 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 is able to forgive themselves, learn, and grow and a person who is tormented by their mistakes?
Oftentimes, one person feels guilt, and the other person feels shame.
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.
Guilt is 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, “I am sorry for what I’ve done; I can fix my mistakes.”
Shame is a destructive emotion.
Shame is the pain and humiliation that comes from associating your guilt as a fixed part of your identity. A person who is shameful is ultimately resentful of themselves, rather than of their actions.
People who feel shame say, “I am sorry for the way I am, but I cannot change.”
Learning How To Forgive Yourself: The Buddhist Path
There are 2 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 Gelong Thubten 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 using your thoughts in a productive way 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, a person practicing self-forgiveness through the path of intelligence would think something along the lines of:
Although I feel guilty for doing this, I am grateful that for the sense of guilt so that 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.
At times, empathy for ourselves seems a bit strange. Try to forgive yourself the same way you would forgive a puppy or a baby.
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.
A person practicing self-forgiveness through wisdom may think something like:
I am experiencing these thoughts and emotions in this moment, and all of my experience is a beautiful gift. 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.
Rather, the purpose of meditation is to be balanced and aware of your thoughts and emotions — neither indulging in nor suppressing them, 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).
As Vishen Lakhiani, founder of Mindvalley and author of Mindvalley’s life-changing Becoming Limitless (where he teaches the immense power of forgiveness) program says:
Hack your past with forgiveness. Hack your present with mindfulness. Hack your future with ‘I AM ENOUGH’.
To learn more about forgiveness, read our guide on all things forgiveness.
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How do you forgive yourself? Do you have any personal methods you’d like to share with us? Do so in the comments below, we would love to hear from you!