“All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.” -Dalai Lama
“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” ―James Baldwin
Mistakes are a fact of life. Some small blunders are easily fixed; other bigger failings must be painfully repaired – all are part of our human experience. We are fallible. We err. We are imperfect.
As a minister, I frequently listen to people disclose their mistakes. I hear of less than optimal decisions, indiscretions, failings; in private and in public; intentionally and unintentionally –
We screw up.
I have come to believe that forgiveness is incomplete without forgiving ourselves. Failing to self-forgive feeds an increasingly toxic corrosion of our thoughts, feelings, bodies and spirits. While shame and guilt can serve as positive initial motivators to make amends, unresolved guilt festers, poisoning our self-esteems and our outlooks.
It can be difficult to forgive ourselves sometimes depending on our self image and our individual perspectives regarding our mistakes. Perhaps even worse, we tend to believe that our families and friends would never forgive us if they knew even half of the other things we’ve done.
The fact is that we are all wounded and we all wound. Maybe this is the essence of our interconnectedness.
Accept responsibility for your behavior and move on. Avoid wallowing in self-pity and drama which only tends to perpetuate internal bad feelings. Own it.
Accept yourself and your flaws. You are imperfect and have defects… and so we are. The struggle to be good enough is real. While it’s OK to strive to be the best we can be, pay attention to your internal critical dialogues. Your silent self-talk speaks volumes about your evaluations and judgments. Think: Am I my own worse enemy?
Perfectionism is a perpetually self-defeating and losing game. I have witnessed too many “crash and burn” relationships and careers from unreasonably rigid standards that prove to be a set up for failure from day one.
Categorize your mistakes with honesty and integrity. Is it really as bad as you think/feel it is? Maintain perspective. Be sure that the meaning you are giving to the faux pas is accurate and real. Fear can lead us down some dark and self-defeating paths.
Realize that forgiveness does not mean “everything is now OK;” that you condone the error or that you will forget the mistake.
Ask for forgiveness. This is exactly where “I am sorry” should be practiced. Yes, it can be humiliating. Deal with it. You did it. Remember that there are many ways to apologize.
You don’t have to be religious to confess your sins. “Confessing” is a powerful psychological method for claiming our truth and admitting who we are. You can confess to God, a minister or any object you deem sacred. A woman I recently counseled chose to forgive herself while hiking alone at Red Rock Canyon in a monologue to her deceased father.
There is a huge difference between doing something and being something. Never forget that one mistake does not define your identity.
Talk it out. Ask for a second opinion from a trusted friend who may have another perspective. Get professional help as needed. This is particularly true if you are one to ruminate your sins or if your mistake has potential for catastrophic fallout.
Forgive yourself… repeatedly… Frankly forgive yourself enough times for you to finally…forgive yourself. Every forgiveness guru I’ve read agrees: forgiveness is a process.
Real forgiveness is a means to an end. It’s a tool to reconcile and to make amends.