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Dear Past Self, I Forgive You

By: Kennedy Hunter

When we think of forgiveness, we tend to think about forgiving other people for their actions. We may forgive others for their wrongful actions because of the amount of growth that they have made or forgive others because they have apologized for their wrongdoings. This does not mean that their actions are excused or forgotten about, but it instead means that peace will be brought to help you move on in life. Although most of us are familiar with forgiving other people, a lot of us are uncomfortable with forgiving ourselves.

When it comes to finding peace with one’s self, it is easier said than done. I, for one, always dwell over the things that I have and haven’t done in the past. I always conclude that whenever I do something wrong that that action equates me to being a bad person myself. I always find myself in the mindset of “It’s okay if someone else makes a mistake, but I cannot ever make a mistake.”

Then, I punish myself by wallowing in my own guilt. I use my guilt as a shield to protect myself from all of the things that the people around me say to make me feel better. No matter how positive their words are, the thoughts in my head always beg the question, “What if they are lying to me just to make me feel better?”

Because of how much I’ve allowed myself to sit in a pool of my emotions, I’ve realized that I haven’t been allowing myself to grow and actually fix more wrongful doings. The reason why I have been making the same mistakes over and over again is because I haven’t properly forgiven myself for my mistakes.

A prime example of me not properly forgiving myself comes from my relationship with my partner. My partner has talked to me about ways I have accidentally hurt them, and each time I’ve fallen into the same cycle. First, I admit to what I’ve done wrong and apologize profusely. Next, I promise that I'll fix the problem. Then, I wallow in my guilt for too long, and finally, I repeat that same mistake a few months later.

In a recent talk that I had with them, they told me that the reason why I keep making the same mistakes over and over again is because I allow myself to sit in my own sorrow and guilt for too long which leads to me not actually forgiving myself. I would just wait until my emotions subsided and let time heal me.

It is also true when they tell you that misery loves company. When you wallow in your guilt for too long, you become more withdrawn, critical, and not as open as you normally are. And because of that, the people around you will be affected by your misery. I’ve done this way too many times where I actively choose to sit in my sorrow, not realizing that it was affecting the person that I loved as well. I never realized until now that always being sad about hurting them was actually hurting them more in the long run.

“Forgiveness is a tool with which we face what we’ve done in the past, acknowledge our mistakes, and move on. It does not mean that you condone or excuse what happened. It does not mean that you forget” – Fred Luskin, Ph.D.

Completely forgiving yourself will not happen overnight. It will take lots and lots of time, and to be honest, it is quite an uncomfortable process at first. However, I have discovered several steps that one can take to forgive oneself.

“Categorizing the offense begins the forgiveness process… It allows you to break down what you did, look at it, get a little distance, and begin healing.” – Fred Luskin, Ph.D.

The first step in forgiving yourself is to break down what you did. For example, if you realized that your actions hurt someone else, you must recognize what exactly you did to make them feel upset and not dismiss it. Then you must express how you hurting the other person made you feel and apologize to them. What’s also important is that you give yourself some grace. No human is perfect, and we are all bound to make mistakes at some point in our lives.

“Articulate the specific wrong you committed and the harm it caused,” – Fred Luskin, Ph.D.

Then, you must articulate to that person what you did and the harm that came from it. Once you confess what you have done wrong, you will be less likely to deny, repress, or forget what you did.

“Try to minimize negative self-talk. Dwelling on situations and making yourself feel worse about it will halt any progress in forgiving yourself,” – Heather Hagen, M.S., L.M.F.T.

This next step is the step that I find to be the most difficult part of the forgiveness process, but it is extremely vital in making any progress in this process. To help reduce the amount of negative self-talk in your head, you can transform this negative energy into a learning experience. You can think of the experience as recognizing what you did wrong and figuring out what you can do next time to prevent it from happening again.

“Tell yourself that whatever happened doesn’t define who you are,” – Heather Hagen, M.S., L.M.F.T.

When it comes to my relationship with my partner, I thought that whenever I made a mistake that it automatically made me a bad person. However, they reminded me time and time again that my mistakes don’t define who I am and that all of the positive things I’ve done outshine every mistake that I’ve made.

The next step in the forgiveness process is to stop replaying the bad thing that you did in your head. It is easy to fall into the pit of ruminating on your wrongdoings, but in the end, it does nothing but makes you feel worse. One suggestion that I believe helps is whenever you find yourself doing this, think of something positive that you did to that person.

The last step one can take on the path to forgiveness is to replace guilt with gratitude.

When you feel bad about something, it can be very painful to deal with. Because forgiveness is a time-consuming process that requires lots of learning, you can give your body a break by replacing your guilt with gratitude.

What I’ve realized while being in a relationship is that no matter how many disagreements and arguments you have with your partner, it is important to be grateful for them and all of the love that you both have given each other. No relationship is perfect, and the hardships that two people face will only make their bond stronger as long as they follow the steps to forgiveness.

Now, don’t allow yourself to drown in the pool of your emotions. Growth can only occur when you are able to swim out of that pool and do what is uncomfortable– forgiving yourself.

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