How to Forgive Yourself

Because no one is going to do it for you.

I can vividly remember nights when the anxiety became too much.

I would clutch my stomach, clench the sheets and gasp from the accelerated beat of my heart. I’d hear my thoughts, circling around in my mind. They would hit me. Berate me. And I felt powerless to stop it.

For the better part of three years, I have been fighting this battle. Regret, sadness, grief and self-loathing have cycled in and out of my life. Therapy helped. Friends were there. Family understood. But one thing stopped me from making progress every time: forgiveness.

We talk about forgiveness a lot when we’re growing up, particularly if you were raised religious. We are supposed to forgive our friends, neighbors, co-workers and past lovers. We are supposed to ask a higher power to forgive us for the wrongs we have committed. But when were you ever taught to just forgive yourself?

And that’s a bit of an uncomfortable idea for young people, I think. In school they taught me how to draw a perfect graph or construct a proper Latin sentence. There was no class on emotion. And when you’re living in a white middle-class world for so long, nobody wants to talk about their feelings. We talk about the weather, our new cars or last week’s Grey’s Anatomy.

But as soon as someone is having a difficult time, we create space. When I lost a family member to cancer five years ago, I falsely assumed family and friends would be closer to me and my family. What we have learned is everyone says they are going to be there for you, and they might be, until you remind them you’re grieving.

“We so actively try not to feel that when we eventually do, we explode.”

Someone once told me I was responsible for my own happiness. I was livid. For my entire life, everyone else had determined my happiness. Teachers, lovers, friends. How could I be expected to do this myself?

I won’t pretend I learned this over night. It took years of emotional turmoil, a whole lot of reading and multiple yoga classes. What I discovered, eventually, are the ways our modern life is built upon having others determine whether we are enough.

Think about it. Many delete their Instagram photos when they don’t get enough likes. If someone makes a negative comment about our outfit, we never wear it again. We tell each other our grades so others think we are smart, but play it off as simply being competitive.

Practicing self-forgiveness is a conscious choice I make each day. There is no way around it. Meditation has helped me learn to let go of thoughts when they are not important and stay present in the moment, but self-forgiveness catches me when I fall. And I think it’s an important key to all of this.

We are all going to fail. It just matters how we bounce back from it.

The results speak for themselves. In the past 8 months of my life, I have battled some demons. Monsters whom had awoken before, but were put to sleep before I fully learned how to tame them. Giving myself the room to confront these feelings and learn from them, has been life changing.

Our modern world presents us with enormous, valid, and life-altering mental challenges. I will never tell a depressed person not to be depressed. However, our minds are one of the biggest, if not the most valuable weapons at our disposal and so many of us are fortunate and privileged enough to live in spaces or communities where we can conquer our challenges each day.

We can practice self-forgiveness in an ever increasing number of ways. Taking five minutes each morning to meditate. Going for a walk and, along the way, naming everything you are thankful for in your life. Writing down a list of ways in which you can improve the next day and committing to it. And probably most importantly, giving ourselves the room to fail and feel okay about it. Because we can. We really can.

It all begins with a commitment to self love. And there’s no better day to start.

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