One of the most important skills that you’re going to develop throughout your life, is the ability to forgive. In order to understand the root of forgiveness and everything it encompasses, it’s important to examine forgiveness from several angles including how to forgive someone who has hurt you and perhaps even more importantly, how to forgive yourself. Forgiving someone may be one of the hardest things you do, but it also has the chance to be one of the most rewarding.
When it comes to talking about forgiveness that you impart on other people, we are going to break it down into two categories: Surface, and deep. Surface forgiveness is something that you may experience on an everyday basis.
Perhaps your barista makes your coffee wrong, but instead of cursing them out, you’re understanding that mistakes happen. If you find yourself constantly getting frustrated or annoyed with stranger interactions, it may help to imagine they are having one of the worst days of their life, because they just might be. Would you really berate a barista whose mother is in the hospital with cancer? Maybe that driver who cut you off is racing towards his wife who is giving birth? Or maybe she’s just an awful barista, and maybe they’re just a jerk, but you’re never going to know. And if this situation really is so minor that you may not even know the person you’re holding anger towards, taking a deep breath and giving them the benefit of the doubt will lead to a much happier sense of self.
Deeper forgiveness comes from forgiving someone who has seriously wronged you, even in situations where the person may not deserve it. That doesn’t mean those negative feelings you once held towards — say a scorned ex — were not real, but just that you realize it is time to move on from holding that grudge. When you can forgive them, you may also find that you will be able to forgive yourself for the mistakes you may have made.
As important as it is to learn to forgive others, it is also critical that you learn to forgive yourself. Both for things in your life that you wish you had done differently, as well as for the active mistakes that you feel you have made. No matter how successful you may or may not feel you’re in your life, there are always going to be things that you wish you had done differently when the opportunity presented itself.
But you aren’t Marty McFly and unless you have a DeLoreon kicking around, you probably aren’t going to be able to change your past. What you can do, is love who you are today. Just also remember that who you are today, comes with a past that is full of moments that you or others may deem have deemed mistakes. But don’t beat yourself up or think that everyone else’s life is all peaches and cream.
If you can allow your past to be your past and not be afraid to embrace your past failures in a healthy way, then they may stay failures. If you forgive yourself for when you think you may have dropped the ball, you’re going to be all the more motivated to pick it up the next time it comes your way.
Even if you feel there are areas of your life that you wish you had explored sooner, what about all the amazing things that you did get to explore? Personally, have not had the opportunity to travel to Europe but in my 20’s, got the opportunity to foster friendships that will last me the rest of my life. And if a group of my friends ends up in Europe in our 40s? Fine with me. What’s not fine is sitting here and spending years regretting the decisions that I did make.
If you feel you’re constantly second guessing your past decisions, it’s also vital that you don’t create a life that the current version of you would be impossible to live up to. Things may seem particularly bleak if you’re sitting at home and you’re feeling down on yourself and start envisioning a life where you go to university, get that magical well-paying career job and everything is perfect.
Similarly, if you feel for example that you wish you went back to school sooner, make sure that you also remember the hardships that would have come with that path. There are positives and negatives to every decision we make, and you have always just done the absolute best you can with the information at hand. And if you know that to be true, then it’s time to make sure you remember to forgive yourself for what you deem were past missed opportunities, and instead be grateful for all the other opportunities that did come your way.
The most important thing you’re ever going to do in your entire life is learning to love yourself. If you’re happy today, it becomes a heck of a lot easier to forgive your past mistakes. Even if you had to go through some rocky roads, when you got through those rocks, you came through them all the stronger.
Unemployment is a struggle for many people, but what happens when the next job you land ends up being the one you stay at for 20 years? That’s not to say there was not a justifiable reason to be sad when things were hard, you had valid reasons, but it will hopefully help hammer home the point that something amazing may always be right around the corner.
While it can be great to sit here and talk about all the value of forgiveness, we all know that it’s easier said than done. Karen Swartz M.D. and director of the Mood Disorders Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital has helped break forgiveness down into several key steps.
- Reflect and remember: It is important to know that you don’t have to shy away from those hurt feelings, but remember how you felt then and how you ‘re feeling on the current day. Tell yourself it is time to let those hurt feelings go.
- Empathize with the other person
- Forgive deeply: There is more to forgiveness than just saying the words. Empathizing with the other person is a huge step towards being able to forgive deeply.
- Let go of expectations: This includes the expectation that you may get an apology back.
- Decide to forgive: Swartz recommends talking about the experience of forgiveness with someone else you trust, or to write it in a journal. Remember that this is an active choice and praise yourself for that.
- Forgive yourself: You cannot control the actions of others, or change your past decisions. What you can do, is love yourself.
Forgiveness, especially deep and self-forgiveness is not something that happens overnight but is a skill that you can practice every single day of your life. It never hurts to throw more positivity out into the world, and if you can forgive people for their smaller transgressions, it may also remind you that you are also human and prone to mistakes. There is no shortage of avenues in life to help offer you happiness and if you’re struggling to forgive others, don’t get frustrated with yourself. Remember the steps that forgiveness requires before it can have that difference in your life.
Instead, put the focus on the most important relationship you will ever have, the one with yourself. Even if the path to loving yourself starts with forgiveness.