Self-forgiveness is a choice to let go of negative feelings toward oneself for a perceived wrong we’ve committed. Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for health and this connection increases with age: lowering the risk of heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression and stress.
Self-forgiveness can also be very liberating and empowering as it frees up enormous amounts of mental energy for things we actually have some influence over – after all, we can’t undo what’s already been done. We can’t relive the past. However, if we are open to seeing the truth of our situation clearly, with kindness and compassion, there is a chance we can learn from our mistakes and prevent them from reoccurring. Toward that end, there are a number of qualities we can cultivate and actions we can take to increase our capacity for self-forgiveness.
When we decide to forgive ourselves, this doesn’t mean we are letting ourselves off the hook. It takes courage to truly and squarely face the suffering and pain we’ve caused another – and the resulting pain we’ve carried ourselves in terms of our own guilt, shame or remorse. It’s only when we’re willing to face the truth of our actions and their consequences that we can gather the information needed to respond with wisdom.
Recognizing Our Common Humanity
We also have to let ourselves acknowledge that this experience is part of the human condition. When we live in relationship and in community, it’s inevitable that we will collide with one another from time to time. Since there is no manual for living, we have to make it up as we go along and sometimes we get it wrong. It’s important to recognize that everybody makes mistakes and everybody experiences the painful feelings that result. This acknowledgement brings with it a sense of acceptance, making space for the possibility of growth and change.
Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is made clean again. — Dag Hammarskjold
Understanding Causes & Conditions
We must also acknowledge that circumstances are always a lot more complicated than we’d like to think they are – there are multiple factors, many causes and conditions that come together to create a situation. Some of these factors are within our awareness and control and some are not. Though we’d prefer things to be simple, nothing is as black and white or as cut and dry as we’d like it to be.
Including Ourselves in the Circle of Kindness
Once we’ve been willing to face and accept the presence of these complex and universal human experiences, we can choose to offer ourselves some kindness for the mistakes we’ve made and the pain we’ve carried. This is the balm that makes the harsh glare of truth bearable. Without it we might find ourselves shrinking and withdrawing like a bug under a magnifying glass. We can say to ourselves, “May I be kind to myself” or “May I accept myself as I am, knowing that I’m only human”.
Setting an Intention to Forgive
Though the possibility of self-forgiveness can sometimes feel out of reach, we can at least set an intention to forgive by saying to ourselves, “May I begin to forgive myself for what I did that caused this person pain.” We can connect with our basic humanity and the honorable wish to be happy and free from suffering.
Making a Vow
Having faced the truth with kindness and having offered ourselves forgiveness, we can then close the circle by vowing, as best we can, to never let it happen again. Of course we will make other mistakes – after all we are only human. But, we can learn from this mistake and do our best to avoid falling into the same trap in the future.
Summary of Steps to Self-Forgiveness:
- Opening to the pain, both of the one we hurt and the pain of our own guilt, shame, or remorse.
- Acknowledging that this is part of the human condition and we are not alone.
- Realizing that many causes and conditions came together to create this situation.
- Offering ourselves some kindness.
- Setting an intention to forgive ourselves.
- Making a vow to not let this happen again.
May all beings, seen and unseen, be well, happy, and peaceful, including ourselves.
May there be peace in the world, peace in our hearts, peace in our minds.
May we use this wonderful opportunity of human life to awaken.
May we be grateful for wisdom and compassion,
this infinite boundlessness that surrounds us,
waiting to be used by us, to open our hearts and minds
so that we may see things as they truly are,
how brief our lives, how dependent upon others we are,
and so with each act may we bring wholesomeness, humility,
and the courage to do no harm, not least of all to ourselves.
As we journey through this life may we move deeper into insight,
and see things as they truly are,
this wonderful opportunity to awaken.
May we be grateful for the teachers in all their guises who appear before us.
May we love those who are hardest to love, including ourselves.
May leaders who will work for the peace of the planet step forward,
and may we support them.
May those who have gone before us rest in peace, rest in comfort, rest in joy,
and may we remember to remember them.
May the next life be a happy one.
May we cultivate in our hearts, in our minds, here and now, here on earth,
generosity, a land of plenty for all.
May our wish for peace spread like a mother’s soothing hand
and reach the distressed, fevered places of the world
and protect each child the right to be fed, to be sheltered, to be schooled.
The right to go to sleep without fear.
May we journey safely, work contentedly, and return home to loved ones well and happy.
May the path of forgiveness and acceptance
be the path of peace,
and may we find it.
May we use this wonderful opportunity to awaken
and together find true happiness, open spaciousness without borders.
– Cathy Song, This Love Without Borders