Forgiveness is a process. It does not happen over night and the process will be different for everyone.
But no matter how long it takes, there’s hope! Here are some steps you can take toward that journey:
1. Become clear on your morals and values as they are right now.
The reason most of us feel guilt or shame for actions done in the past is because those actions are not in line with our current morals and values. Our past wrongs can actually clue us in to what we hold important. By identifying our morals and values, we start to get a clearer picture as to “why” we’re hurting over what we’ve done, or what others did to us.
2. Realize that the past is the past.
This seems fairly straightforward, but when we can really wrap our head around the fact that we can’t undo the past, the past is done, those things happened, we open ourselves up to more acceptance. Increased acceptance can lead to the emotional healing we are all looking for.
3. Create a “re-do.”
Never underestimate the power of a “re-do”. Write down how you would have done things differently if you could go back and do it again. In doing so, we affirm that we not only learned from our past mistake, but that if we had the skills we have now, back then, we would have done things differently.
4. Realize you did the best you could at the time.
The way we respond depends on the skills we have, the frame of mind we’re in, and how we perceive the situation at that moment. Maybe we didn’t have as much objectivity, or acted out of survival or protection mode. Maybe we’d let stress build up, which put us at a higher risk of responding poorly. Whatever the factors, cut yourself a break. If you learn from it, it was never in vain.
5. Start acting in accordance with your morals and values.
The best thing you can do for yourself in order to forgive is start replacing the negative behavior and thoughts with more appropriate ones that are congruous with your morals and values. By so doing, you reaffirm to yourself that you can handle situations in the way you want to. This can lead to a sense of pride, which is a huge part of building self-esteem.
6. Identify your biggest regrets.
When I work with clients on moving on from their past, it can be very overwhelming for them because they see so many regrets. It’s often helpful to categorize these things because people often only hold on to a handful of big categories/patterns. Working on patterns of behavior is often more helpful than working on individual regrets.
7. Tackle the big ones.
There may be some regrets that don’t seem to improve, and they’re going to require some extra work. I call it “clearing your conscience.” This means it might take bringing this regret into the room and apologizing for your past mistake.
8. Turn the page.
At some point, you have to accept that the past has happened and you’ve done everything in your power to amend past mistakes. It’s now time to turn the page and accept those events as part of your story. They’ve all contributed to making you who you are. Being grateful for those experiences allows you to move on and truly forgive yourself.
9. Cut yourself some slack.
When we learned how to ride a bike, most of us realized it would probably take a few tries before achieving perfection. New behavior and thinking patterns are no different. They’re both skills. Cut yourself some slack while you’re on a new learning curve. Realize that you’re going to make mistakes. We all do.
10. Move toward self-love.
The last step in building self-esteem is moving toward loving yourself. Think kind thoughts toward yourself and show yourself some compassion. If we can learn to think of ourselves as our best friend, to speak to ourselves with love and kindness, and put ourselves as a priority, it reaffirms that we believe we are worth it. Engage in psychotherapy or coaching if you need some outside perspective in this area. Seek books on this subject. Surround yourself with supportive people.