Forgive yourself

 Written by Heather Hymas

I always love to hear from readers. I actually reached out with my last column and asked if anyone had a topic they would like me to share about. I received this message today.

Dear Heather,

Thank you for being you and showing up for those of us struggling. Would you write about forgiving oneself? I find it to be one of the hardest things to do as I try to walk out of my darkness. Sending you love and light. A

Dear A,

For those of us that have experienced struggles, or obstacles in our life we have had to overcome (darkness), whatever that might look for you, forgiving oneself can be one of the hardest things to do. Often, overcoming our dark parts, or what we view as mistakes or flaws is accompanied by some type of shame, expectations, or “shoulds” we have put upon ourselves.

For me, it has been a process of learning how to let go, changing some of my beliefs, and ultimately, giving myself the permission to be human, to make mistakes, and to have flaws.

These things don’t happen all at once, and they don’t usually happen overnight. For me, it has been a process and a journey. Sometimes taking ten steps forward, and then five steps back… I cannot tell you what you need to do for you, I can only share my experience and what has helped me to forgive myself.

The number one thing I had to accomplish was COMPASSION. Compassion for myself.

I was able to give every other human a pass, a second chance, understanding and empathy; but, I was not applying the same principles to me. For some reason, I held myself to a higher standard. If I made a mistake, or did something I felt bad about, it often felt unforgivable. I would use it as proof to say, “See, you are stupid, unlovable, or deserve the bad things that happen to you.”

I walked around craving and needing everyone else’s love and approval, but it was never enough. It will never be enough as long as you don’t love and approve of yourself. Until I could fill that empty place in my heart with self-approval, no amount of approval from others would fill it. The compliments, the good jobs, the love of others was never truly believed. It was always followed by the thought, “Ya, if you only knew…”

In order to truly live a life with purpose, you must forgive yourself and others. When we hold onto shame, anger, hurt, or guilt of any kind, it keeps us from being able to truly accept and love ourselves. If you cannot love and accept yourself, you can not truly love and accept others. It must start with ourselves. You will not be able to function at a higher level, and your reactions will be controlled by these negative emotions. I speak from experience.

The list of things that has helped me to forgive myself is long and arduous. Like I said, it has been a process and a journey. I have had many teachers and people who have loved me in spite of myself. I am forever grateful to these amazing souls.

I can tell you this, if you have trauma or issues from your childhood, get a therapist and stick with it. Go and talk about the hard shit and don’t give up! I would go when things were really hard, and/or I felt really awful about myself. Then, as soon as the problem was solved or I began to feel better, I would stop. I wouldn’t go back again until there was another crisis. This is like yo-yo dieting, I never got to the root of the problem, or should I say the solution. I had to be willing to admit and voice my true feelings about myself before I could change them.

Secondly, I had to start treating myself the way I treated everyone else. As uncomfortable and weird as it felt, I had to start giving myself some credit. I was so used to only criticizing myself, that it was literally torture to say something good to myself. Today, I can write a list of my good qualities and really mean it; but, back then, I couldn’t see any of them. Sometimes it takes seeing yourself through other people’s eyes until you can start believing it as truth for yourself.

Mirror work is an amazing tool that I recommend to you. Stand in front of the mirror and say the words to yourself that you need to hear. Tell yourself you are ok, good enough, lovable, or whatever you may need to hear. Tell yourself you forgive yourself over and over until you really do. Tell yourself you love yourself until you can actually say it truthfully, and feel it.

Forgiveness is about honesty. If there are things that you don’t like about yourself, or you want to change, then change them! It will be very difficult to forgive yourself if you keep repeating the behavior that needs forgiving. Also, be honest about the good things. It is just as dishonest when you lie to yourself about what you are doing right. When you do something good, tell yourself. Take time to recognize all the things you do right! I used to be the “its never good enough”, and “but”, person. No matter what it was that I did right, or could have felt good about, there was always a “but”…but I didn’t do this other thing, but I should have done it sooner, etc… 

You deserve to be happy. You deserve forgiveness, kindness, compassion, and unconditional love just as much as any other human on this planet. The path to forgiving yourself is most likely different for everyone, but I can tell you that it starts with awareness and a willingness to do things differently. I had to change how I thought, in order to change how I felt.

You reached out to me, so I believe you are ready to do something different. I hope any of what I have shared will be helpful to you, but I will leave you with this adaptation of my favorite Mother Theresa quote:

You are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive yourself anyway.

If you are kind you may accuse yourself of ulterior motives. Be kind to yourself anyway.

If you are honest people may cheat you. Be Honest with yourself anyway.

If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy with yourself anyway.

The good you do today, you may forget by tomorrow. Be good to yourself anyway.

Give the world your best and it may not feel like enough. Give your best anyway.

For you see, in the end, it is between you and (insert your own belief system here) God.

It was never between you and them anyway.

Heather Hymas has been a teacher in one form or another for the past 14 years. She has taught fourth grade, intermediate school, and college English, both at Dixie State University and Southern Utah University. She currently works as a teacher in a residential treatment center for troubled youth. She has a B.S. in elementary education, a master’s degree in education, and is currently working on her doctorate. She lives in St. George with her teenage daughter.