Forgiveness, as most of us think of it, is a tall order. We tend to think of it as a one-and-done, case closed, never to be opened again.
That’s pretty daunting and fairly unrealistic. When faced with the proposition of forgiving ourselves or someone else, the most common reaction is, “I don’t think I can.”
I wonder if this really means, “I don’t know how."
Let's start by asking why we would want to forgive ourselves.
Speaking for myself, I spent a few years feeling regret about decisions I had made in the past. I couldn't go back and change them. I also couldn't seem to let it go. I just kept thinking about how if I had only made some different decisions, I would've experienced less emotional pain and had a better life experience. I was really stuck on this.
Two realizations helped me get over it.
One, I really made myself look at the fact that I can't change the past. This was uncomfortable. I was radically honest with myself, which means no beating around the bush, glossing over, or softening the edges. Just the facts- we cannot go back in time and change the past.
Ouch. Part of me really, really wants to find a way around this, or fantasize about what would have happened if I had just made a different choice… but that's not possible. It’s done and gone.
Which leads us to right now.
Right now is when we can exercise our free will. Right now is when we are making decisions that will affect our future.
And right now is when we can find compassion for our past selves.
Let’s face it. We did the best we could with what we had. It’s not fair or kind to look back from our current vantage point and judge our past choices. We did not know then what we know now.
We had not lived through the experiences that gave us our current perspective.
So. Be easy on that past self. See that they were doing the best they knew how to do and that you can make different choices going forward.
That is where you have power- you can decide and follow through with awareness and action so you do not repeat that particular regret.
This was my second realization: As long as you are alive, you have the chance to do your best with each new decision.
There is something magical that happens when you consciously do your best:
You have less regret.
Even if five years from now you look back and wish you made a different choice, you will also remember that you did your best at the time, and that will have the effect of you being able to much more easily let go of judgment and regret.
To circle back:
Self-forgiveness is made of self-compassion.
Self-compassion is made of perspective.
Perspective is made of awareness and time.
Doing your best right now is all you have power over.
Doing your best leads to less regret.