Sometimes I think of decisions I’ve made, words I’ve said, things I’ve done, and I convince myself that they were mistakes, and they are unforgivable. Have you been there?
Do you often find yourself saying these things to yourself:
I’m the worst!
What was I thinking?
If only I could go back and do it differently.
So have I, and even more so when the “mistake” in question has to do with motherhood, because, you know, we’ve been fed the lie that one must be the perfect mom in order to be good enough.
Today, I want to give you the advice I give myself whenever I sink into a “how could you?” depression and seem to be stuck on just how horrible I am: stop beating yourself up and forgive yourself.
If only it were that easy, huh? As women, and especially as moms, we are so much more critical of ourselves than we will ever be of others.
We’ll give others the benefit of the doubt, we’ll cut others slack, we will give about ten “second” chances to people because we are so empathetic, and we choose to believe they didn’t really mean it. But when it comes to yourself, my darling, you ruthless and unforgiving with even the pettiest of the mistakes. You judge yourself constantly and consistently, engulfing in self-condemnation, self-blame, and self-directed negativity.
But you justify yourself and rationalize beating yourself up, because, you know a positive mom takes personal responsibility. You’d be even more horrible if you weren’t wallowing in all this guilt, shame, and regret.
Well, NO. While we must definitely take ownership of what we did, said, and even thought, and it is healthy to feel disappointed in what happened, along with the undesirable outcome it caused, it is not okay to hate yourself.
Forgiving yourself doesn’t mean you are condoning or excusing what happened, that you are not taking the offense or mistake seriously, that you’ve forgotten all about it, or that you simply don’t care anymore. Forgiving yourself means taking ownership of your actions, making the possible amends, and letting go of the past.
Now let’s sit with this last one for a sec. This letting go of the past is something that can be confusing. It doesn’t mean that you are going to deny your past choices, pretending it never happened.
Letting go of the past means you will accept that the past cannot be changed, and that what really matters is the present moment. You deal with the consequences of your past choices with dignity, learn the lessons the situation imparted, and move on.
Why You Must Forgive Yourself
Unforgiveness toward oneself weakens you and makes it harder to recover or make restitution. Harboring anger, resentment, and shame against yourself robs you of precious energy and damages your health.
Scientists claim that not forgiving makes you more likely to experience heart attacks, high blood pressure, depression, immune dysfunction, and many other ills. Guilty feelings generate chemicals that go straight for your vital organs.
But maybe you feel you deserve the agony, and if others found out half of the awful things you do, they would agree. Maybe you still want to sit in a corner, cry, and be miserable for the rest of your life.
What if I told you that forgiving yourself makes you a better mom?
I think I got your attention now. Good.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” There’s more truth to that than you would care to admit, even when it may not be absolutely obvious.
If you’re suffering, little by little you’re going to drag the ones you love into the same pit of despair. That sounds like a guilt trip, but I promise it’s not. It’s simply a hard lesson I learned and I still need to remind myself of. I often teach what I need.
I’ve noticed that whenever I am beating myself up and treating myself like I’m worthless, pathetic, and just about the worst person alive, not only do I set a standard for how others treat me, but I also end up treating them poorly, and the cycle never ends.
When I choose to be depressed I am withdrawn, emotionally unavailable, and a lot more critical than when I choose to forgive myself. When I say this, I do it with absolute clarity that, very often, depression is NOT a choice.
So if you can help it, do, and if you can’t, get help. Strive to develop a trusting, loving, accepting relationship with yourself.
Francois de La Rochefoucauld (thank you, copy-paste!) says it this way: one forgives to the degree that one loves. And that sounds about right. When you stop beating yourself up and forgive yourself, you are practicing self-compassion, self-acceptance, and self-love.
How Can I Forgive Myself?
Forgiveness is a tool to help you navigate out of self-defeating situations, freeing you from bitterness, anger, and resentment. These are three ways that can help you forgive yourself from your past mistakes:
Embrace your humanity.
So, I think it won’t be a revelation to you that you’re not perfect. But if you keep track of all the times you call yourself “horrible,” “stupid,” or “a failure,” you’ll realize that you’re judging human mistakes and aspects of your nature, rather than huge offenses that deserve capital punishment. If you forgive yourself of these mostly inconsequential trespasses, you’ll be more productive in all your endeavors, including in practicing real repentance when the case actually merits it.
Visualize A Do-Over.
If after recognizing you’re human, you still think your past mistake was not inevitable, that you knew better, and Cruella’s got nothing on you, I’ve got an exercise that may help you. Think of what you would do differently if you could go back in time and redo what you wish you hadn’t done. When you do this, you realize that you are not a bad person, you simply didn’t have then the awareness you have now. Sometimes, we actually learn what we know now because of the path we took and the consequences we had to deal with, in the first place. We’re all doing the best we can, based on our skills, frame of mind, and level of awareness at any given moment, so you can strive to be fair with the expectations you set on yourself, yeah, even your past self.
Remember your strengths.
Take a step back and look a the situation with amplified perspective. A good example is when I lose my temper with my daughters. I feel like I deserve the worst mom award! Then I force myself to look at the big picture of who I am, to admit (reluctantly) that I’m mostly loving, patient, and understanding, and that it counts! Plus, I have found that being less than perfect is reassuring to my kids, who happen to be mistake-making humans, and I am able to use these moments as opportunities to model what is a healthy course of action when one falls on her face.
The Secret to Self-forgiveness
If all else fails, try this: take your own advice. Think of a mistake you can’t seem to forgive yourself for. Now imagine someone you love like crazy comes to you shaming herself, calling herself names, and tormenting herself about that very same mistake. What would you say? Maybe…
Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Don’t dwell on the past.
Everyone makes mistakes
You’ve got this.
Don’t let this hold you back.
You wouldn’t let your best friend attach her identity and worth to her actions, words, or performance. You extend empathy, compassion, and understanding to your children and to other people you love whenever they make a decision that is detrimental, yet you don’t treat yourself that way.
Tell yourself the encouraging words you’d say to a friend out loud, looking in the mirror, and eventually, you will start to believe them.
How Do I Know I Forgave Myself?
You know you have forgiven yourself when you have a perfect memory of what happened, yet have released the pain that is associated with it. You feel a sense of freedom, a sense of peace, and a sense of grace that allow you to move forward.
This journey is worthwhile. As you pick up the broken pieces and move on with living with the skills you have learned from an unwise decision, you can find emotional healing, increased mental toughness, and reaffirmed self-worth.
Are you ready to stop beating yourself up and forgive yourself? You will feel less burdened, will have more energy, and will live healthier (maybe even longer). Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. Sending magic and pixie dust your way, my beautiful friend!