Traditionally, forgiveness is thought of as something you apply to someone else—someone who has wronged you or hurt you in some way.
But there is another, very empowering perspective—forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.
Harvard social psychologist Ellen Langer has done some wonderful research on mindfulness. In one of her writings, she describes regrets as illogical emotions. What she means is that it’s illogical to regret what — in a particular moment — we had a good reason for whatever it was we did. It’s only later that we add a story that says we shouldn’t have done it or should have done something different. The regret is an add-on after the fact.
Forgiving yourself is a path out of that story. Life happens, mistakes are made, but the danger lies in getting stuck in the past. Life is tough enough without carrying that baggage. Airlines let you carry on only so much baggage. We should follow the same advice.
One of my favorite reminders in life comes from Mary Karr, an American poet. It’s a line from a piece she wrote on depression.
Your head’s a bad neighborhood: Don’t go there alone.
Perhaps it’s time to pull out a pen and paper and look at where you might need to move on.
What do you need to forgive yourself for doing?
What do you need to forgive yourself for not doing?
What is the cost of continuing to carry these regrets?
What will forgiving yourself allow into your life?
By writing these down, you can acknowledge what happened in the past and then declare that you are starting fresh. This is completely different than trying to convince yourself that you or someone else deserves to be forgiven. This is about saying, Enough already! I’m moving forward.
One of the powerful things that forgiving yourself provides is access to being mindful in the present moment. People often aren’t present or attentive because they’re either worried about the future or regretting something about the past.
Here is an excerpt from an enlightening book, Little Book of Forgiveness by D. Patrick Miller:
Forgiveness replaces the need to anticipate fearfully with the capacity to accept gracefully and improvise brilliantly. It does not argue with fate, but recognizes the opportunities latent within it. If necessity is the mother of invention, forgiveness is the midwife of genius.
To find your missing creativity, release a little of your attachment to the worst injury ever done to you…then celebrate the opening of a door through which your childlike nature can come back to you.
One last comment: The word regret can throw you into a world of thinking about big events, but the smaller, everyday moments or actions can also linger longer than they should as regrets. We wish we would not have wasted that evening or said what we said to a loved one or hit that bad golf shot. The point is that when the last experience lingers, it impacts the current moment. So forgive yourself and move forward into better moments.