What do you say to yourself when you make a mistake or fail to reach a goal? If your inner monologue consists of a carousel of condemnation and cursing, then perhaps you should drop an F-bomb on yourself—forgiveness, that is!
Forgiveness is a superpower you can unleash on yourself and others. It can help you overcome fear, guilt and pain. It can improve your professional and personal relationships. And it can help you become a “bigger” person—one who rises above external circumstances and inner criticism to occupy stronger, higher ground.
Forgiveness seems like a simple concept, but it is often complicated by the unrealistic expectations we set for ourselves, the standards society sets for us, and even by gender roles.
For example, because society often judges women through the prisms of youth and beauty, women frequently do the same. This disproportionate focus on superficial qualities can lead women to judge themselves harshly and to embark on an exhausting search for external validation.
“Women are craving support in their lives and yearning for deep connections,” says fitness celebrity and self-love expert Lori Harder, author of “A Tribe Called Bliss” (Gallery Books, 2018). “Sometimes they seek that connection on social media, but they wind up feeling emptier than ever because they compare themselves with impossible standards of success and beauty set by ‘influencers.’ It would be more productive to fill that emotional void by loving and nurturing ourselves, but first we must forgive ourselves for our imperfections and failures, whether real or imagined.”
“In our society, men have gotten the repeated message that to be considered strong, valuable and powerful, they need to hide their pain and emotions—in other words, put on a mask,” Howes says. “I felt dumb and worthless in school because I was dyslexic and really struggled to read and study. So I channeled all my energy and self-worth into my performance in sports, and that became the mask I presented to the world. But masks can destroy our relationships over time; they especially destroy our relationship with ourselves. When we aren’t willing to take off the masks even when we’re alone, we forget who we really are.”
So how do you learn to master forgiveness so that your validation comes from the inside out versus from the outside in?
According to experts, you should first overcome the fear that forgiveness is a sign of vulnerability that others might take advantage of. Rather, it is an act of bravery from which everyone benefits—especially you.
Second, embrace accountability. Sometimes we make legitimate mistakes, and when we admit errors, make adjustments and acknowledge that we are human, it clears the emotional space needed to move ahead.
Finally, just as you should practice forgiving your own faults, you should strive to do the same for others. After all, sometimes people don’t intend to hurt us, they just act thoughtlessly. When we take the high road to forgive them, we are actually releasing the power that pain has over us.
On the other hand, sometimes people do intentionally hurt us. And when they do, it is helpful to remember that while we can’t control their behavior, we can control our response to it. When we release the feelings of anger and bitterness that accompany a transgression, it allows us to regain control of our own well-being. When we operate from this position of strength, we become more confident and all our relationships inevitably become stronger.
“The most successful relationships are the ones with healthy boundaries,” Harder says. “And forgiveness, for me, is one of the most important and loving boundaries we can set for ourselves. We cannot enter into a relationship with anyone without first forgiving ourselves for the painful things that we are carrying from our past and without forgiving others who have perhaps hurt us deeply.”
As with fitness, the more you practice forgiveness, the stronger you get. According to Harvard Health Publishing, here are some proven methods for increasing your self-acceptance and your ability to forgive:
Comfort Your Body – Eat healthy food. Take a power nap. Take a walk in nature. All these things are good for your body, good for your spirit and reinforce your respect for yourself.
Write Yourself a Letter – Think of a situation that caused you to feel pain—a breakup, a job loss, a poorly received presentation. Now write a letter to yourself describing the situation but without blaming anyone. Objectively assess your role in the situation, and reinforce your value and your ability to improve. This exercise will nurture your resilience and your ability to break the chains of shame.
Treat Yourself as You Would Treat a Friend – So often we treat other people with more compassion than we do ourselves. So flip the script. Think of what you would say to a good friend if he or she was facing a difficult situation and apply the same compassionate conversation to yourself. Seeing yourself from this perspective will help you see that you deserve the same kindness you share with others.
Practice Mindfulness – It can be all too easy to react to negative situations with negative inner chatter. So stop. Reflect. And Reset. Even a quick meditation break can be a great way to regain positive perspective and nurture yourself when you are in pain. If you need additional help breaking self-defeating thought patterns, you might consider cognitive behavioral therapy, the goal of which is to change the thinking behind people’s difficulties so they change the way they feel.
Learning how to forgive yourself and others requires practice, perspective and perseverance. It isn’t always easy—in fact, sometimes it seems impossible. But it’s worth the effort.
As a wise man once said: To err is human; to forgive divine.
Photo credit: Maria Teneva, Unsplash