Updated: Dec 21, 2020
Sometimes, when we think we did something wrong in the past – or think we failed to do something that we should have done – we beat ourselves up for our past (in)actions because we think we have to “hold ourselves accountable” in order to make up for whatever we think we did wrong.
But so often, “holding ourselves accountable” translates into mercilessly blaming and shaming ourselves, over and over, long after our supposed misdeeds or failings took place.
Nothing good can come from this. Whatever you think you did wrong in the past, I guarantee that continuing to beat yourself up about it isn’t going to make anything better. It won’t retroactively change things. It won’t improve your life, or anyone else’s. I know you know this already, at least on some level, but the past really is over… even if you’re reliving it over and over again by thinking about it in the present.
Continuing to blame and shame yourself for whatever happened in the past won’t absolve you of anything. Doing this will only reduce your capacity to engage in the present moment, and detract from your ability to create the future you desire. Worse yet, your fixation on the past is probably robbing you of your ability to believe in your own self-worth. It’s probably draining your capacity to even imagine a future in which all good things are available to you.
So forgive yourself. Whatever you think you did wrong, or think you should have done differently, let yourself off the hook. Stop spending your precious time and energy on mentally punishing yourself. Forgiving yourself doesn’t mean you don’t hold yourself accountable. It doesn’t mean you just keep repeating the same old behaviors that you feel bad about having engaged in. But beating yourself up isn’t really accountability, even though it might seem like it is.
Continuing to punish ourselves doesn’t help anyone.
If you wish to make amends for your past actions, act differently in the present. Make positive changes now. Be a person who learns from their experiences – or “mistakes” – not a person who is so bogged down by shame and self-loathing they can’t see straight. If it makes sense for your situation, you can make amends or reparations, directly or indirectly. There are so many ways for us to come into a better relationship with our fellow humans, and with the infinite.
Forgiving ourselves requires us to embrace the complexity of our natures. So often, we desperately want to be “good,” and are terrified of being “bad.” Forgiving yourself means having the courage to love and respect yourself just as you are right now.
It means claiming your right to be a person worthy of love and respect and belonging, even if you did some things you don’t feel great about. It means you’re strong enough to claim your own self-worth, not in spite of your shadow qualities, but because of them. It means being brave enough to embrace your full humanity, and not just the parts that other people congratulate you for, or that are fit for boasting about on social media.
Forgiving yourself means claiming your right to be at peace, even though you aren’t perfect. It means claiming your capacity to create a future of your own choosing, no matter what happened in the past. It means saying yes to your power to learn and evolve and be intentional about who you want to be and how you want to live your life. It means recognizing your potential for transformation and growth, rather than focusing on instances when your actions were motivated by confusion or pain.
Forgiving ourselves for whatever we think we’ve done wrong in the past helps us engage in close, connected, deep relationships with other people in the present.
When we’re caught up in old stories about how bad we were (or maybe still are), it’s hard to be present in the present… which good relationships require of us. And when we’re beating ourselves up about the past, we’re clinging to a story of unworthiness that doesn’t provide much of a foundation upon which healthy relationships can flourish.
When you can forgive yourself for any past mishaps or missteps, you provide an example to others that it’s possible for them to do the same, too. We’re all making our way through life as best as we can, and we need as many positive examples of what it means to be compassionate towards ourselves as we can get. So forgiving yourself isn’t simply a matter of freeing up your own energy to more fully inhabit your life, it’s a matter of setting an example for the rest of the world.
Imagine what the world would be like if we all had a little more compassion for ourselves.