How to forgive yourself
In this blog post, I’m going to talk about how to forgive yourself. For most of us, when we are looking to forgive ourselves, it’s basically because we feel guilty about something we did. We feel anger toward ourselves or we feel sad or bad about something we did in the past.
Often times, when we feel this way, it can seem impossible to stop feeling our guilt. It seems as though our feeling is directly created by what we did in the past and that there’s no way to escape it. But, I am here to tell you that it’s not just possible to stop feeling guilty… but that you can forgive yourself by the time you’re done reading this blog post.
You don’t feel guilt in every moment
Let’s take a moment to examine our guilt. If you look at your life, do you feel guilty and bad about yourself in every moment? Do you feel guilty about what you did in every moment of yourself? Or, are there some breaks here and there when you don’t feel the guilt?
For example, when you’re watching TV, watching a movie, listening to music, playing with your kids, or doing something fun, in those moments you’re not feeling guilty or bad about yourself.
The reason why you don’t feel guilty in every moment is because your guilt was created by thoughts and not by what you did
The reason why you don’t feel guilty in the moments when you are having fun is because in those moments you’re not thinking about what you did. You’re not thinking about how bad it was. And you’re not thinking about how you’re to blame for something.
The real reason why you feel guilty and angry toward yourself is not because of the past action itself, but only because of the thoughts you have in this moment. In other words, your past action or life circumstances doesn’t directly create your feeling of guilt or shame. When you have certain thoughts in your mind, they create certain feelings. In any moment that you don’t have those thoughts, those feelings naturally don’t arise.
The specific thoughts that create your guilt or shame
What thoughts are creating this anger, guilt, and shame? Well, these emotions are created by two major thoughts.
1) The outcome of what I did is bad
2) I am to blame for that bad outcome.
If we don’t feel like we’re to blame we won’t experience guilt. And if we don’t think that the outcome of what we did was bad then there’s obviously no reason to feel guilty about it.
How to forgive yourself
Now that we know the specific cause of our guilt, let’s look at how to forgive yourself. In order to forgive yourself, you just need to discover 1 of 2 things. 1) That the outcome of your action isn’t bad or might not be bad. 2) That you’re not to blame for whatever happened. Now let’s just take a moment to look at an example of how this could happen.
You can’t know that an outcome is “Bad” because you don’t know all of the future effects
First, let’s look at how what you did might not end up being bad. For instance, imagine that you are driving a car and hit a pedestrian, and they end up breaking their leg. When you hit them, they were walking through the cross-walk, so it is completely your fault. How do you think you would feel?
Well, you would almost certainly feel guilty and bad about it because you would believe you are to blame and that what happened to the victim was “bad”. But, now imagine that you talked to the victim of this accident 6 months later, and it turns out that while they were in the hospital waiting for surgery on their leg, they met somebody who gave them their dream job. Now they are much happier than they were before the accident.
Now, if you look at this event, would you still feel bad about what you did? No, probably not. This is because what you did somehow ended up making the victim happier in their life. You no longer believe that what you did has lead to a “bad” outcome.
Any time that we have decided something is “bad”, we’re looking at one little effect of what we did. But, we’re ignoring all the possible future effects of that outcome.
So, if we break someone’s leg, we automatically think “Oh, it’s bad. I broke their leg.” And it seems so obvious that it’s bad because they are in pain and will have some inconveniences. But, then the simple question that we have to ask ourselves is do I know what all the effects are of this outcome? Do I know what all of the million effects are of this one small outcome in their life? Is it possible that they could wind up happier in life somehow because of this event?
Are you absolutely sure that the “bad” outcome won’t lead to some “good” effects in the future?
Now it is time to look at your particular situation. Please ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I know what all of the future effects are of what I did?
- Can I think of any possible “good” effects that could come from what I did (short-term or long-term)?
- If I don’t know what all of the effects are, and some “good” effects are possible, then can I admit that it’s possible that the victim could wind up happier in the long-run because of what I did?
- If the victim could end up happier from my actions, then am I sure that it was “bad” that this happened?
If we don’t know that the outcome of what we did is bad then there’s nothing to feel bad about. So that’s the first way to for how to forgive yourself about something that you did.
If you aren’t to blame for a “bad” outcome, then there is nothing to forgive
The second way for how to forgive yourself is to see that you’re not to blame for what you did. It certainly seems that if you committed some action, then you’re obviously to blame for it, right? But if you weren’t to blame for what happened, then you wouldn’t have this guilt, this anger toward yourself. To demonstrate what I mean by that, let’s look at an example.
Imagine that you look outside your bedroom window, and as soon as you look out the window, you see a car accident happen. The drivers of both cars seem to be in pain and suffering. This outcome would clearly be seen as “bad”. But, would you feel guilty about it? No, of course not. So why wouldn’t you feel guilty? Because you don’t consider yourself to blame for the accident. If you’re not to blame for what happened, there’s no reason to feel guilty about the “bad” outcome.
Are you sure that you are to blame for what you did?
Whenever we say something or we do something, we generally believe that we are to blame for what we have said or done. It almost seems obvious. To put this in other words, we believe that we are to blame for our words and actions because we believe that we are in control of our words and actions. If we weren’t in control over our words or actions, then we wouldn’t blame ourselves for them (just like we wouldn’t blame ourselves for a car accident happening outside).
The assumption is that we do control our words and actions. But let’s take a moment and really examine that assumption.
Do you control the thoughts that arise in your mind? Take a moment and look. Do you control the thoughts that arise in your mind? Do you want to be happy? Of course, right? So do negative thoughts create happiness? No. Do judgments create happiness? No. Does thinking and worrying about the future create happiness? No. But yet you still do it don’t you? You still have all these negative thoughts you don’t want to have.
Right now, just ask yourself “What will the next thought in my mind be about?” Do you know what it will be about? You have no idea. It could be about past, future, comment, judgment, question, or anything else. If you picked the thoughts that arise in your mind, you would know what the next thought to show up would be.
If you controlled your thoughts, you would always think positive, and never think negative. Maybe you wouldn’t even think at all if you could control your thoughts. So it’s clear that you don’t control the thoughts that arise in your mind.
Thoughts determine actions
Okay, so now you recognize to a certain degree that you don’t control the thoughts that arise in your mind. Now, what determines your actions? What determines whether to say something nice or to say something mean? What determines that? Who determines that? Thoughts.
If we think something negative about them, we’ll say something negative about them likely. And if we think something positive about them we’ll probably say something positive. If we have judgments about someone and hate them we’ll do something hurtful or unloving towards them. And if we have positive thoughts about them and think they’re so wonderful we’re likely to act lovingly towards them.
But as we already discovered, we don’t control the thoughts that arise in our minds. So, therefore we don’t determine our actions. Right? I know that’s a big statement and I don’t want you to believe me. Look for yourself. If you don’t control the thoughts that arise in your mind and your actions are determined by thoughts then do you determine your actions?
Another way to discover that you don’t control your actions
You could also discover that you don’t control your action by looking at it in another way. If you controlled your actions, you would clearly always do what you want to do, right? But, do you always do what you want to do? Are there some moments you really want to do something and you just can’t get yourself to do it? If you controlled your actions you would just always do what you wanted. Are there some things you want to stop doing so bad yet you just can’t? If you controlled your actions and your thoughts you would be able to. So the fact that we can’t always do what we want is another indication that we really don’t control our actions or the thoughts that control our actions.
If you don’t control your actions, then you aren’t to blame for your actions
If you don’t determine your actions, if you don’t control them, then you’re not to blame for them. Really! And don’t believe me. Look. “If I don’t control it, then I’m not to blame for it”. Just like the car accident that we watch outside the window. If we didn’t control the accident, we wouldn’t think we were to blame. So if we don’t control our own actions then we’re not to blame for them. And if we’re not to blame for it… aaaahhh… we can finally feel some relief.
The thoughts that arise in our mind are just a product of what we were taught and our own life history and unique set of experiences, our conditioning. There’s nothing we can do about it. So we’re off the hook.
Why guilt doesn’t mean you care – and happiness doesn’t mean you’re bad
It doesn’t help to feel guilty. We tend to think that feeling guilty means “at least I care about what I did. Guilt means I care.” Guilt doesn’t mean you care. Guilt just means you’re believing that what you did was bad and that you are to blame for it.
Guilt would only be useful if it stopped you from acting in the same way again in the future. But, does it? Look for yourself. You may feel guilty about what you eat sometimes, what you say, or what you do, but does that stop you from acting in the same way over and over again? No, of course not. Why not? Simply because you are not addressing the cause of why you acted in the way that you did.
If you want to stop acting the way that you did in the past, you need to discover what thoughts made you act that way, what thoughts or stories were going through your head when you chose how to act. And then you need to stop believing those thoughts. Figure out why those thoughts aren’t true. Then, when the same situation arises in the future, if those same thoughts pop up in your mind, you will not feel the need to act on them because you recognize that they are not true.
The quick summary of how to forgive yourself
To review, the answer for how to forgive yourself is to discover that the 2 major assumptions you have aren’t true by questioning them.
1) “The outcome of what I did is bad”. Do I know for sure that what I did will end up being bad for the victim in the long run? Do I know all of the future effects? Is it possible that they’ll wind up happier because of it? If so, then am I sure the outcome was bad for their life?
2) “I am to blame for that bad outcome”. Am I to blame for what happened? Did I control the thoughts that arose in my mind? Did I control whether I believed them or not? Did I control the thoughts that determined what actions I would commit? Am I in control of my own actions? Why would I act unlovingly if I was in control? I wouldn’t. If I am not in control of the factors that determine my actions, then am I sure that I am to blame for my action?
These questions can help us to discover we don’t know whether what happened was bad and that we’re not even to blame for what happened. So, you’re not to blame for what happened and you don’t know whether what happened was bad for you, the victim, life, or the world. We don’t know. So you can take it easy on yourself. And if you want to make sure that you don’t do the same thing again, look to see what thoughts caused you to commit that action and then examine those thoughts.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post about how to forgive yourself and found it helpful. If you have some questions or you’d like some help with this, please feel free to contact me. I’ll see you around. Bye.