Back to the Future, or, Forgiving our Mistakes
What if you could go back in time and change the past? Like Marty McFly, what if you could erase the mistakes you've made? Perhaps you would decide to take the road less traveled. You could buy the Apple stock you considered. Maybe you'd choose a completely different career. The regrets are different for everyone.
Short of having the means to time travel, how do we let go of our mistakes? Do we say, I forgive me for flunking that exam because I partied and didn't study, for going to law school when I really wanted to join the Peace Corps, or for not playing my best game because I allowed myself to be distracted?
How do we move from believing we've done something wrong to accepting our imperfections? I'm not saying we abandon responsibility and behave irresponsibly. Rather, I'm suggesting that often we must accept that what's done is done, and it's time to let go and move into the future.
I'm interested in self-forgiveness because it's something we rarely consider. It can be even more difficult than other-forgiveness. You may act nice to someone because you've forgiven, but hold back just that little bit because you haven't forgotten. When it comes to self-forgiveness, it often seems even more difficult to forget. And there's no one apologizing and begging you to forgive them. You have to notice the self-blame and take action to forgive yourself.
Some thoughts about the internal changes we need in order go back to the future and forgive:
First, you have to admit that you've done something forgiveness-worthy. It has to be something wrong or unhealthy. You didn't stick to your diet even though your blood pressure is running dangerously high, you stayed in the relationship way after recognizing its toxicity, you yelled at your kids after vowing never to raise your voice unless the situation was life-threatening.
Next, you must experience the feelings of shame, guilt and regret. Accepting responsibility is required: I messed up and I have no one (really) to blame but myself. No one forced you to have that 4th slice of pizza, you could have ended it sooner even if he did have your iPod in his car and you were afraid you'd never get it back, the kids might ignore you at first, but a deafening threat to ground them until college is not the only way to get your message across.
Finally, you must try for understanding and acceptance. It was a bad choice. No one's perfect. This doesn't make me a worthless person. As Scarlett said, tomorrow is another day. Or try AA's one day at a time. Instead of self-blame and recrimination, you have to figure out what you're going to do about it now. How can you move toward staying on that diet, having the big talk that might end that relationship, treating your kids with the respect you believe, most days, they deserve? It's not forgetting, but remembering to do something different.
Research shows that self-forgiving people, like other-forgiving people, have better health and mental health. It's not surprising, since guilt, shame and self-criticism are stressful. It feels good to let go of self-blame. But it's not like the movies where Marty's parents fall in love, he's born after all, and everyone lives happily ever after. So take a few deep, cleansing breaths, and consider something you need to let go of. Check out the blooper sites below to get you in the mood. Maybe you can laugh about your own mistakes a little and know that you're not alone. Take a step into your self-forgiving future.
Coaching uses tools to move people into areas like forgiveness. Get in touch with me for a complimentary coaching session. We coach by telephone--you can be anywhere.