People struggle to forgive themselves. If you’re reading this, it probably means you struggle to forgive yourself. You’ve made mistakes (we all have) and you hold on to them like a drowning child clings to a life preserver. You’ve been told “learn from your mistakes” and “take responsibility for your actions”. You never learned how to let go of the shame the world heaps upon you when you mess up.
I applaud your ability to recognize your mistakes. It is important to take accountability for the actions that led your family to come to residential treatment. But your feeling that you made a mistake turns into a feeling that you are a mistake, turning from guilt to shame. To move forward, you have to learn to forgive yourself. And yes, forgiving yourself can be hard. But it is possible.
Below are strategies that I give my students as they work through the process of self-forgiveness:
Every human being has weaknesses and limitations. Learning what those weaknesses are, and accepting that we have weaknesses is an important step. Acceptance of weaknesses can lead to opportunities to learn and grow.
- Avoid self-punishing thoughts, beliefs, and actions. These thoughts are not effective in moving forward, and will only make the healing process more difficult.
- Recognize that the past is the past. Yes, the actions and/or habits that one was involved in were not okay. While those decisions were not wise yesterday, the decisions that we make today can make us healthy tomorrow.
- Regardless of the mistakes or actions, it is always possible to move forward. It is so easy to look at the bad in ourselves. However, it is much more effective to look for the good in ourselves and to be proud of what improvements we can make.
- What have you learned from the past? Can the mistakes of yesterday make you a better person today if you choose to do so?
- You have the ability to change any behavior that you don’t like. Yes, unhealthy self-defeating behaviors can become habitual, but healthy self-strengthening behaviors can become habitual too.
These strategies fit into the Four Stages of Self-Forgiveness Process*:
- Confront the self
- Hold the self responsible
- Confess flaws
- Transform the self
My favorite of all those steps is the last one: “transform the self.” It is absolutely possible to transform and become a better version of yourself.
The most fulfilling part of my job is helping families make healthier choices. I love seeing them realize they don’t have to stay tethered to their negative, self-defeating behaviors.
You can make decisions. You can work towards being a happier and healthier version of yourself. You can forgive yourself.
– written by Chris Taggart, CSW, Therapist, DBT Specialist