5 Ways to Forgive Yourself and Move Forward
We all have caused harm in our lives. We hurt others, make mistakes, and act in ways that cause harm to ourselves. Often, we don’t intend to cause harm, and we may not even realize we’ve hurt someone until much later. The pain that comes with knowing we have hurt someone can be powerful. Although it’s a slow process, you can learn how to forgive yourself with practice.
What Does it Mean to Forgive?
Forgiveness can be a daunting word. When I first started working on forgiveness practices, I pictured a whole and complete forgiveness coming smoothly. However, forgiveness is a journey and not always a straight shot. Forgiving takes work, and is a gradual opening of the heart.
Sharon Salzberg reminds us:
“Whatever decision we come to about action in daily life, in the end, forgiveness is a path to peace and a powerful and important component of love.”
When we forgive, we free up space in our hearts to allow love and kindness to shine through. As we work to extend loving-kindness toward ourselves, the practice of forgiveness allows us to fully engage the heart. Without forgiveness, we are holding space in our minds, hearts, and bodies for resentment and judgement.
When learning how to forgive yourself, you may find that it feels uncomfortable. The self-resentments may be deeply rooted or serve us in some way. Sometimes, forgiving can feel like we are giving ourselves permission to cause harm again or act unskillfully. It’s important to recognize that forgiving is not about being permissive or allowing ourselves to behave poorly. Instead, forgiving means letting go of the anger and judgement we have toward ourselves.
Forgiving ourselves offers great freedom. Whether you’ve caused some harm to yourself or made a mistake in harming another, letting go of the self-resentment can be quite liberating. When you forgive yourself, you give yourself the opportunity to care more deeply. Rather than being stuck in the stories about the ways you’ve messed up, you can move forward and grow.
Forgiveness allows us to see more clearly. When we’re stuck in stories, we become reactive. As we forgive ourselves, the past mistakes and harms have less of a charge. In my own practice, I’ve found that my forgiveness practice has helped me deeply look at past behaviors with more clarity. Rather than reacting with self-judgement and a tensing body, I am growing able to recognize the harms I have caused with a compassionate awareness.
Although we live with self-judgement as if it is normal, forgiveness practice shows us that there’s another way to live. Learning how to forgive yourself, you can cultivate the ability to meet the self-judgements with mindfulness and patience. As you let go of the resentment, it will free space in the heart for kindness, compassion, and metta.
There are many ways to cultivate forgiveness, and meditation is certainly not the only one. However, there are many useful practices you can use to work toward forgiving yourself. Whether you’re a beginner to meditation or have years of experience, these practices can help you to work toward a more patient and kind relationship with yourself.
Traditional Forgiveness Meditation
The traditional forgiveness meditation uses the repetition of phrases to cultivate the intention to forgive. You can find a comfortable meditation posture, and a few minutes to set aside.
Accepting Forgiveness Meditation
You can take the practice above, and adapt it to receive forgiveness as well. I often lead students through this practice in mindfulness coaching sessions, and people sometimes find it easier than offering themselves forgiveness.
Although not directly a practice in learning how to forgive yourself, self-compassion can be deeply beneficial. Self-compassion can help you respond to your pains and difficulties with care whether it’s judging, , or anger. It incorporates intimately with self-forgiveness as it allows us to be with the suffering with a tender awareness.
Daily Forgiveness and Compassion
During the day, you can bring mindfulness to the moments when you’re suffering with judgements. Using an awareness trigger (we cover awareness triggers more in our post 17 Ways to Be More Mindful in Everyday Life), you can recognize the moments where you need forgiveness. When you see that you’re beating yourself up or judging yourself harshly, take a moment to pause.
Resting your hand on your heart for a moment, offer yourself a few phrases of forgiveness and compassion:
- This is a moment of pain
- May I care about this pain
- I forgive you for causing harm
You can offer these phrases for a minute or two, just re-connecting with intention to care for ourselves and let go of the harms caused. Even if you don’t feel fully forgiving, this practice can help you recognize the discomfort and work to let go of the past.
Mindfulness of Resentments
A final practice you can use is mindfulness of the self-judgements and resentments in your life. As the mind falls into the stories of the past, watch the thoughts come and go. Use a noting practice and simply notice the thoughts. If you’re judging, recognize the judging thought and say in your head “judging.” This practice gives us the ability to see these experiences clearly without being sucked in.
With mindfulness, you can watch the thoughts arise and pass without being controlled by them. As you continue to bring awareness to the the thoughts, you can recognize them with a patient awareness. Every time you see the thoughts arising, you are cultivating the ability to see them clearly without allowing them to control you.
If you are interested in working more in-depth with forgiveness practices, you can work one-on-one with a teacher at One Mind Dharma.
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