What If You Forgive Yourself?

Most of us are carrying around a lot of shame.

It builds up over the years, sneakily, silently, without us even noticing how large the burden becomes. We blame ourselves for many things, large and small, not realizing we are doing it. Then we end up feeling heavy, desperate, and discouraged. We don’t always see where it comes from.

For me, it is an accumulation of all the mistakes, from miniscule to monumental, that I have made over the years and held inside. I never quite realized how much guilt and shame I carry, how much I cling to missteps and miscalculations that have come back to bite me in the ass later.

I’ve always told myself in the moment that I’m letting them go, but the truth is that they linger there in the background, adding to the weight of my shame. The fear that I will continue to make mistakes, over and over again, and never learn anything. The anxiety that even if I do learn from the mistakes I make, there will always be new ones to make, and that the pattern will never end.

I’m in a situation right now where it feels as if several errors are coming back to haunt me all at once. I’m dealing with the repercussions as calmly as I can – at this point, I have no choice but to deal with them and move forward with as little collateral damage as I can manage. It hasn’t been easy, and after several days of staying mechanically calm because I felt like I had no choice … I finally took time to sit with myself today.

I’m quite pressed for time lately, trying to play catch-up and return some semblance of peace to my life. I finally took some needed space today to acknowledge to myself that I’m internalizing a great deal of resentment towards myself for making these mistakes in the first place. I’m angry with myself. Why was I so rash, so foolish, so stupid as to rush into big decisions like these? Now I’m paying the price for all of it – and yeah, even though I’ve repressed it so I could survive, I’m pretty pissed at myself.

So after a frustrating morning and early afternoon, I realized that even though time is precious, my mental health is even more important. I went to the ocean. I curled my toes into the warmth of the sand and let the shockingly frigid foam crash into my ankles. I sat, and I breathed, and I acknowledged to myself the depth of the shame and the guilt that I’m holding. I meditated, and I cried. I wrote, and I cried some more. There under the midday sun, I admitted what I was holding on to, and therefore allowed myself to release at least some of the pressure.

What did I say to myself as I sat there weeping? “I forgive you. You did the best you could at the time. You didn’t know any better. Now you do. It’s okay. You are safe to make mistakes. You didn’t hurt anyone. This is a learning experience. You’ll do something differently next time. You are okay. You are safe. I love you. I forgive you.”

And when I spoke that into existence, when I forgave myself – even if I couldn’t do it completely quite yet – a knot in my chest began to loosen. I focused in on the feeling there, letting myself experience it, going inward. Sensing all the deep shame and guilt and self-flagellation that lives there, clenched tightly, years in the making. That knot contains a lifetime of buried toxicity. But today, with one simple act of forgiveness towards myself, I began to unwind it. It’s a small progression, but it’s progress nonetheless. Somehow afterward I felt better, even if nothing else had changed.

Life is complicated lately, and I have a lot that I’m holding on to that I want to release – but this journey of self-forgiveness requires patience as well. What if you started by just forgiving yourself for one little thing, something that you’ve been carrying, perhaps without recognition? What if you sit with yourself and ask your body where it’s holding shame, and then focus in on that sensation? Use your breath and see if you can begin to release some tension there. The truth is that we are all burying shame and we could all use a good dose of self-forgiveness.

If you can begin to let go of the burdens that are crushing you, little by little, day by day, I promise you that you will feel happier and lighter. Sometimes you have to slow down and take stock of what’s going on with you in order to realize how much you carry, so take a moment. Pause. Breathe. Listen. Feel. You got this. Sending you love. You are so very brave to do this work.

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