Editor’s note: Jay Shetty is a motivational speaker and former monk focusing on emotional wellness. Below is his advice on learning to forgive yourself and moving forward.
One of the most common questions I get asked is how people should move on from disappointing, challenging or unexpected situations. While there are many answers to this question based on the specifics of the experience, one thing that always stands out to me is the process of self-forgiveness. So much emphasis is placed on learning to forgive others in life that sometimes we are almost blind to the possibility of the block being something internal.
It is absolutely natural to feel guilt, shame and pain if you’ve hurt someone, offended a loved one, argued with a co-worker or are just not happy with yourself. Forgiveness is not about just “letting go” of those feelings, but dealing with them in a constructive manner. As the saying goes, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”
The simple act of moving forward can benefit you in the long run: Studies show that an inability to self-forgive can play a role in anxiety and depression.
Below are a few steps you can take to learn to let go of your self-resentment. This is a process, and you should take as long as you need at each step ― but remind yourself that you must move forward.
1. Acknowledge your emotions.
This is probably the phase you’re in right now. Feel free to acknowledge how you feel and how you’ve made someone else feel, if that is the case. Allow yourself to observe your reasons, justifications and self-blame.
2. Accept what happened.
Accept responsibility for what you’ve done. In this stage, you want to move away from your excuses, justifications and blaming others and how that may have affected you. Without accepting responsibility, any form of self-forgiveness will be naïve, immature and hollow.
3. Adopt a new way of thinking about the mistake.
At this stage, you want to adopt an empathetic mindset as opposed to a self-blame mindset. Feeling negative doesn’t empower you or motivate you to make the changes that are needed to avoid feeling like this in the future. If you carry old bricks from your past experiences, you can only build the same house that fell apart in the first place. You are more likely to repeat a mistake if you don’t learn from it, and learning requires empathy and compassion. When a child falls over, it is lifted up with love, empathy and compassion to try again. We must practice this with ourselves.
4. Atone for the error.
Remind yourself that the greatest way of forgiving yourself and overcoming all your pain, doubt and guilt, is transforming your behavior. Real atonement is change in our intentions and actions.
5. Appreciate your progress.
Take time to appreciate that you can overcome your guilt, self-blame and feelings of pain. Appreciate that you can make changes in your life to avoid similar experiences in the future. Appreciate that you can create a new way of living.
Need a little more help? Check out the video clip below for a helpful meditation on forgiveness from Agapi Stassinopoulos, author of Wake Up to the Joy of You.