Am i cray cray?
Maybe. Possibly. More than likely.
But is forgiving yourself really as crazy as it sounds?
According to research it’s not. (Thank God for that otherwise this would be a really awkward conversation). In fact research, what little there is i may add, suggests that self-forgiveness leads to better psychological well-being including perceptions of a better quality of life, life satisfaction, being able to trust yourself and more emotional stability.
But what exactly is self-forgiveness?
Enright and the Human Development Study Group have defined it as:
” A willingness to abandon self-resentment in the face of one’s own acknowledged objective wrong, while fostering compassion, generosity and love toward oneself“
I like this definition. I really really really like it *cue the music for Carly Rae Jepson’s song about really liking someone so much she needed extra reallys*.
There is also a really important word in that definition. That word is willingness.
In order to forgive yourself you need to be willing to do what is necessary to get to that point.
This is because, as researchers Marilyn Cornish and Nathaniel Wade have argued, self-forgiveness isn’t just an outcome, it is also a process.
This has led to them furthering the definition of self-forgiveness put forward by the Enright and Human Development Study Group into a four step process which involves:
• An individual (like moi or you – I’m saying you because i can’t remember what you is in French) accepting responsibility for having harmed another. Like that time i let an (ex) friend’s personal information slip to one of their other friends who then blurted it out in front of a whole geography class. Not my finest moment by a long shot.
• That individual then expresses remorse. In simple terms, feeling crappy for having a moment of stupidity and making someone else feel like crap in the process.
• This said individual then takes on a quest of restoration and tries to make amends. Like apologizing. Definitely a good place to start. Although, there is the argument that different people respond to different apologizing styles, but i think that’s another post for another time. Brain meltdowns in the first week would not be a good start. That would not be cool and incredibly awkward for both of us.
• And after all of that? Well this individual, in theory, should end up feeling like they have more respect for themselves, more self-compassion and are more accepting of who they are. In other words they will feel fucking awesome.
But in order for us to feel fucking awesome, we need to do the work. Yes, work people.
And yes, unfortunately i am asking you to adult today. I know, i’m sorry.
So the first step in this adulting (i’m pretty sure this isn’t a word but i really think it should be) process is taking responsibility.
As Cornish and Wade have argued, us humans have a knack for excusing or blaming outside causes for the dumb shit we say and do. For example, “Oh, well, it was a Tuesday, i don’t like Tuesdays” or “My second cousins, best friend’s sister’s friends goldfish died”.
Really? You seriously going with that?
The reason we do this is because when we actually start to adult and finally (OMG finally!!!) accept responsibility for our bullshit it can feel threatening, especially to our social status within our social groups.
However, the researchers Hall and Fincham argued that without taking this step we run the risk of developing a ‘pseudo self-forgiveness’. This fake form of self-forgiveness means that rather than taking responsibility we tend to justify what we’ve done or blame the other person/people involved.
In other words, you/we need to recognize that you/we acted like an arse and probably could have handled the situation way better than you/we did. And realizing that you/we are not perfect.
Unfortunately, when you get to this part you are probably going to feel like shit. Mainly because you’ll feel guilty and ashamed.
Adulting can be so hard sometimes. Sigh.
These feelings of guilt and shame then lead us into the remorseful stage of self-forgiveness.
* I will stress at this critical juncture that you not run away from your negative feelings. This is because as the philosopher professor Christine Holmgren has argued, if we don’t fully acknowledge how we are reacting emotionally to the situation then actually truly resolving the indiscretion may prove to be a difficult task. *
Generally, when we’ve fucked up we normally feel both guilt and shame. However, it is important to keep in mind they are different from one another. For example, guilt relates to regret about one’s actions, whilst shame on the other hand relates to the negative feelings being focused on ourselves.
As the shame researcher and author Brene Brown argues, acknowledging and working through shame is necessary when we are on our path to well-being.
Once we have waded through the shitty feelings and flushed them down the emotional toilet we will hopefully emerge into the renewal stage. At this point we can finally release those negative feelings and recognize that we are a worthy person.
But how do we actually work through these stages?
I mean it’s all well and good explaining all of this, but how do we actually do it?
Cornish and Wade have suggested that a useful first step would be to explore what was going on in our lives at the time we did whatever we did.
Were you under a lot of stress? Going through a breakup? Had you lost a loved one? Were you depressed or angry or hurt? Understanding what was going on for you can help you to place what happened into a much broader context.
It would also be beneficial to think about what your motivation or need was for acting like that. Did you want to feel less insecure? Did you want revenge? Did you want to feel superior? Did you want to feel loved or important?
It is also important at this stage to identify what the consequences of your actions were.
When moving to the next stage and beginning to express remorse for what you’ve done, dealing with the negative feelings is important.
Yes, you feel bad, but that doesn’t mean you are a bad person.
Making a mistake does not make you some horrible evil monster. It makes you human.
If you are feeling ashamed then developing compassion for yourself would be helpful.
Being able to be compassionate towards yourself means that you would be able to observe your faults without falling down the staircase of shame head first. Because if you don’t that shit will seriously hurt.
We are all imperfect. We all fuck up. You are not the only person who has ever made a mistake.
Another suggestion that may be helpful is to write a letter to yourself about the pain and anger you may be feeling towards yourself and why you feel like that. Did you have overly critical parents? Do you expect better of yourself?
A twist on this exercise could involve writing a dialogue between your self-condemning side and the side that you believe is worth being forgiven.
By undertaking this process it may help you to gain a better understanding of why you feel so ashamed and are punishing yourself so harshly. Do you really deserve all that punishment you are inflicting upon yourself?
Maybe it is your expectations of yourself that need to be adjusted. And there is nothing wrong with that.
You are a valuable person despite your mistakes.
When you realize that you will probably want to make things right and there are countless ways you could do that, like apologizing or asking whomever was involved what they need from you to make up for what you did.
However, i want to make it clear that if they are making incredibly outrageous, demeaning or illegal requests, run to the hills and apologize from afar. Some people, because of their own issues and insecurities, may use your reparations as a way to manipulate you. so please be careful.
If you can’t directly approach the parties involved you could always write a letter expressing your wish to repair the damage that has been caused.
Cornish and Wade have also stated that when in the repairing stage, individuals need to recommit to the values that are important to them. You may need to own up to the fact that you got lost in a moment of selfishness.
In other words, your adulting went out the window.
One way of doing this could be to act ‘as if’. Maybe you need to feel loved and supported. By acting as if you are already loved and supported by those around you, when you are having moments of vulnerability you could gently inform them of what you need from them. Or maybe you could call your bestie when you need some extra support.
The point here is that you are in charge of getting your needs met. And if you don’t ask you ain’t gonna get!
Finally, (yes we are finally here yaaayyy!!), to encourage renewal there are several things you could do. For example, you could re-frame the incident. What lessons did you learn? What positive changes have you made as a result of what happened?
You could also write a letter of self-forgiveness just for yourself. You could write down how you can move forward in a positive way. And definitely include somewhere ‘I forgive you’.
And if you are still feeling shitty and finding it hard to overcome your negative emotions about what happened just remember this:
You are human. We all have limits. We all have weaknesses. We all make mistakes. We all do and say really dumb and hurtful shit. We’ve all been there. Look at the people around you. They’ve all made mistakes. Look at the people on the TV or in magazines. They’ve all made mistakes. There are over 6 billion people on the planet. Every single one of them has made countless mistakes. You are not the only one.
I hope this helps in some small way.
About Kelly: I am a light worker/coach in training, child trafficking researcher, self-love advocate and lover of fairy lights, crystals, POP figurines, raw cake, smoothie bowls, lavender and spiked clothing. Find Kelly on Instagram: http://instagram.com/kelly_rose87