Self-blame is a human dilemma. We may blame ourselves for shouting at our kids or not protecting our siblings from abusive parents when we were young, or hating ourselves for something we wish we hadn’t said. But blame creates a destructive amount of continual stress that holds us back from learning from our mistakes and also uncovering a real happiness.
So, assuming many of us agree that forgiving ourselves and learning from past mistakes is important for our health and well-being, the next question is how do we actually go about forgiving ourselves?
Know that you are not the first or the last
One of the first things to do is understand that you are not the first person who has made this mistake; it has likely been made thousands if not millions of times before you by other people. I am not condoning the action, but simply letting you know that you are not alone and that many people have made this mistake in the face of common human challenges. One of the common things we do as humans is taking things personally to a fault. When we come to understand that no one is immune from being unskillful, we can begin to take it a little less personally. This helps us in the process of forgiveness.
Understand that it’s in the past
Another thing to remind yourself of is that this act you may have committed is now in the past, it is not present, and you are not currently doing it. Notice when the mind trap of blaming yourself for past events arises, see if you can acknowledge its presence and then remind yourself that you did make mistake, but that was the past and you are going to learn from it. This practice of blaming does not support you or others in any way at all. Allow the process of forgiveness of this past event to surface and begin to see it as something that you can learn and grow from moving forward. This will free you up to be more skillful in the present.
What we might do is say “In the past, I had done or been xyz, and now I am (connect with positive intention).” For example, “in the past I had an affair, today I am a loving and committed husband/wife and the love I feel for my children sustains me.”
Adopt a learning mindset
We are always going to make mistakes in this life. Everyone does. But the key mindset that turns this on it’s head and catalyzes growth and happiness is the learning mindset.
This is a single thread that weaves throughout Uncovering Happiness and also the newest release MBSR Every Day: Daily Practices from the Heart of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
Every single experience in life contains information to help us get better and better with our intentions in life.
So forgive yourself for the past, but investigate how you made this error or if it was even an error on your part at all. If it was ask yourself, “What might I do differently next time?” Then invite yourself to begin again.
This is a practice I call Forgive, Investigate, and Invite.
We can begin to let go of our grievance stories of the past and begin to build new ones with more conscious intention on how we want things to be moving forward. This will be a process and will take patience, determination, and persistence as the old stories and habits of self blame will keep creeping back into the mind leading us back toward our old unforgiving ways that don’t serve us. See if you can notice when this happens and then invite yourself now to begin the process of self-forgiveness again.