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Love Your Life Series, #10: Forgive Yourself

Black and white, boy with head in his handsIn yesterdays Post, I wrote about how forgiving someone else had big implications for your health. I didn’t plan to write this post, but I realized after writing yesterday’s that I only wrote half of the story. The other half is that most of us need to learn to forgive ourselves. If we’re carrying around our anger, hurt, bitterness, and resentment toward other people, maybe we’re also carrying some bad vibes aimed at ourselves in the form of would’ve/could’ve/should’ve guilt. Or maybe we’ve made some big mistakes. Or maybe we’ve gotten to a place where we take ownership of “stuff” that isn’t even ours to own. Or maybe we just feel like we aren’t enough, didn’t do enough, or in some other way are found to be lacking.

I think there are hundreds of ways this can play out, but you can bet whatever your variety– these feelings are lurking in your brain and body, and impacting the quality of your life.

As a part of something I was filling out, the question was asked about what mistakes I’ve made that I wouldn’t if I knew what I know now. But then it said something else. “We don’t use the word regret. We use learn or grow.” That kind of got under my skin in a good way. We’ve all made little and big mistakes. It’s part of the human condition, and ultimately how we learn who and how we want to be. (And also how we learn who and how we do not want to be.) But when we can learn from these mistakes, it becomes much easier to set them down. Groundhog Day is not my favorite movie and it kind of annoys me, but it’s got an important lesson to offer. The Bill Murray character is a weatherman who is always sent to cover Groundhog Day, despite having a hatred for the goofy holiday and the town celebrations. But one year there is a freak snowstorm that he didn’t predict correctly and he is stuck reliving Groundhog Day over and over. The only way he can ever get out of this time loop is by finally learning from it.

It seems like many of us have the same problem. We keep reliving our mistakes over and over, and beating ourselves up for them until our spirits are black and blue. And then, we start beating ourselves up because we can’t let it go. It’s a nasty little cycle. But once we are able to learn from whatever we did wrong, we can finally be free from it– and use what it taught us in other areas of our lives.

Forgiving ourselves takes as much work, if not more work than forgiving other people. We set high expectations for ourselves, and the worst disappointment is feeling like we’ve let other people, or ourselves down. But maybe our expectations are part of the problem too. Sometimes we expect waaaaaay more of ourselves than anyone else expects of us. When things don’t work out, something wasn’t perfect, or we look up to find our super-hero cape tattered, we put our high expectation and deep disappointment onto other people. We assume they are as bugged as we are, whether or not that is the truth.

Forgiveness is also a relevant topic when it comes to our bodies and goals. Who hasn’t had a binge fest, and then felt hugely guilty? Or bailed on your workout? Or you know, just bailed all together for a while? Hey. It happens. Sometimes the guilt we carry actually makes us repeat the same behavior. Think about it. You beat yourself up for it– which in turns creates stress…which in turn makes you crave more sugary, crappy comfort food. But say you had your slip up on Tuesday. What do you tell yourself? “Oooooh, I’ve already shot this week. I might as well just start over next week!” And then you proceed to fully enjoy this week, because your certain you will have to beat your cravings into submission next week. This also becomes a nasty, ugly cycle. But when you forgive yourself your momentary lapse of goal seeking instead of wallowing in your “yet another screwup”, you get right back on track.

The stuff we carry about ourselves may also cause the mistakes we make with our bodies and health. When we feel crappy about ourselves, we treat ourselves poorly. We treat ourselves like we aren’t worth the effort, like we don’t matter. We start slumping. Maybe we don’t keep up with our appearance. We feel beaten, so we’ll act beaten. Then we eat anything we can to help numb the pain of not liking ourselves very much– which of course, makes the problems infinitely worse.

When we can begin to practice grace, gentleness, and forgiveness with ourselves like we work to practice with our loved ones, who we are changes. We begin to see a slip up/mistake as a tiny snapshot, not a defining quality, which allows us to simply start again. We begin to realize that we have something amazing to offer. We begin to trust our skills and gifts, and offer them up more freely. We see that it’s ok to take off our super hero capes for a little while. Maybe, we even begin to see the beauty in being an ordinary person.

Pudge says

How do you need to be forgiven? Is it for big mistakes, or little ones, or for the feeling that you haven’t done or given enough? What one thing can you do today to start forgiving yourself?

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