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Forgiving Yourself: The Key to Regaining Self-Love

Before you can completely regain a 'childlike' love for yourself, the table has to be clean, so to speak. If you are harbouring misgivings about any past mistakes or unfinished business, let it all go and forgive yourself. You may regret having angrily broken up with an ex you’ve never seen since. They will have moved on, so you should, too. If it really is something you need to talk about, find their number, call them and then let it go.

I’ve already mentioned how you should never put yourself down and criticise your every action but a trait with which many people feed their self loathing is looking at every situation as if it were black or white and never subjectively assessing it. Yes, people make mistakes, we all do, but that doesn’t make you a bad person who should be hated, especially not by yourself. Say for example you accidentally dented your car. Does that make you a bad driver? No, of course not. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, either. Instead simply see it as a small mistake which can easily be fixed and then smile because it wasn’t any worse. What would a person who truly loved themselves think?

Okay – I know that there are many worse things that could happen and some things aren’t quite as easily righted by subjectively assessing the situation, claiming it was an accident and telling yourself you’re still a good person. But that’s just it, the worse the situation, the more important it is to dedicate time to forgive yourself, because if you don't it you will ruin your life. Let’s say – and God forbid it ever happens – you’re at a party in a high rise building when you accidentally knock a bottle of wine off the balcony, which falls to the ground below, hitting and knocking out a passer by. What do you do? Straightaway you will feel remorse and regret for your actions, but you didn’t intentionally knock it off, you were just being clumsy, so you’re still a good person, aren’t you? How can you go back to how you were before the accident took place? Situations like this cannot and are not meant to be easy to reconcile but it is totally possible to come to terms with it, as will be discussed in more detail a little bit later.

Until you forgive a friend or a family member for a past grievance that caused you an emotional pain, you’re never going to intimately love them again; you can’t, because it will always be hanging over you. On exactly the same premise, until you learn to forgive yourself for past wrongs, you will never regain the fond love that you should have for yourself. There are situations far more serious than a drunken argument with your spouse, ending in you calling her a worthless shit-stick, but however severe the incident, you will never regain a devout self-love again until you have learned to forgive yourself.

I recently went to a friend’s thirtieth in central London and decided to hire a Boris bike on the way home, to ease the surmounting costs in this cost of living crisis. It was quite late so my concerns about safety on the roads was quite low as there was very little traffic about. I left the party and headed back to where I was staying after enjoying a splendid evening of frivolity.

I was cycling at a medium pace along the embankment when I reached a narrow straight run and noticed a young woman walking by herself heading in the same direction as me. As I approached her to pass from behind, she appeared to open up a space for me to pass on her left hand side, so instead of slowing I decided to plough on through. At the moment I was about to pass her, I suddenly got this terrible feeling that she was going to unintentionally walk into my cycle path and sure enough, at that exact moment, she stepped to her left and then crumpled to the ground as the bike and I hit her from behind, at a fairly rapid pace. She let out a pitiful yelp before falling head first onto the path.

She lay motionless for a few seconds before regaining consciousness and then, in clear confusion, started checking herself over. I took one look at her, noticed a massive gash on the side of her head, which was bleeding quite profusely and told her that I was taking her to hospital.

‘No’, she said determinedly, ‘I need to catch the last train back home and it’s leaving in a bit’.

I didn’t want to argue with her, seeing as it was her decision and seeing as I was the guy who had just completely ruined her evening.

‘Well, let me give you some money for a cab’, I said, reluctant to leave her like this.

‘No, that’s fine...I’m getting the train...I guess I could have some for the other end’.

‘OK.’ I replied. ‘Let me walk you to the station’.

I helped her up, picked up the bike and we began slowly making our way to the station, which was only five minutes away.

‘I am so sorry’, I repetitively announced to her over and over again. ‘I’m such a prick, I’m so sorry’.

I suddenly realised that I didn't have any cash on me (who does anymore?) so I told her to stay where she was while I quickly ran to find a cash point. She told me that she was going to wait in the central reservation.

“Great’, I said, ‘don’t go away’.

I assumed I knew where one was but it was definitely a little further I had anticipated so by the time I had finally collected the cash I realised I needed to get back ASAP. I hurriedly made my way back to the central reservation with a hand full of notes to give her and to apologise yet again for my foolish cycling.

She was nowhere to be seen; she had completely vanished. I had no idea in which direction she could have gone. I then remembered that she needed to catch the last train home, so realized that was what she must have done.

The guilt and shame that swept across me in that instant, and continuously for the bike ride home, convinced me how careless I had been. I arrived back to where I was staying and all I could think about was how she was and if she’d got home safely. I looked down at my arms and shirt and saw they were splattered in blood, which made me feel even worse. I showered before getting into bed and then lay awake lamenting the night’s events.

Why didn’t I get her number? I asked myself. I hope she’s okay. I didn’t even get her name. She must hate the thought of me. Why didn’t I ring the bell so that she knew I was behind her? All her friends must think that I’m evil. Why didn’t I just pass her slowly? All of these thoughts and many, many more kept resounding in my head when I realized that there was absolutely nothing that I could do. I couldn’t contact her to tell her how sorry I was and how bad I felt. I also had absolutely no way of finding out how she was. I was lying in bed and I suddenly realized that I was completely helpless in the matter.

It was at this point that I understood how much I needed to somehow put it all to rest. If she knew how bad I felt, would that have made me feel better? If I had seen her again and given her the money for her taxi at the other end, would that have paid off my guilt slightly? If she had vocally forgiven me, would that have made me feel any better? And the answer to all those questions was 'NO'. The only way that I have managed to accept the events of that night is by forgiving myself for being such an arse. How was I going to do that?”

To begin with, I was in a bit of a dilemma. I knew it wouldn’t have been possible but I wondered, if I could have erased the accident from my mind so that I stopped thinking about it constantly, would that have been the right thing to do? It would have relieved my severely troubled mind but it would have been one of the most callous ways to go about it. I was not meant to forget that the accident took place, I was meant to mindfully assess the malevolent, unnecessary thoughts that were hijacking my mind and systematically replace them with positive ones that accepted the errors of my ways. In a bid to somehow make this possible, I got researching.

Psychologist Dr. Frederic Luskin, director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects, has been conducting research into forgiveness for many years, and has worked alongside a whole host of ‘wrong doers’ ranging from unfaithful spouses to parents excommunicating their children. He found that the biggest obstacle to self-forgiveness is people’s tendency to wallow in their own guilt. Straightaway I can relate to this, given how I felt after knocking that poor girl to the ground. The guilt was immeasurable and wallow in it I certainly did. There was nothing else I could do. I couldn’t contact her or progress the situation in any practical way; the only thing left for me to do was feel irreconcilably guilty. It’s like I had to, at least mentally, bear an element of the pain she was experiencing. I almost felt like I deserved it.

Dr. Luskin points out that instead of taking responsibility for whatever wrong has been committed and trying to repair the damage or make things right, people unconsciously instead bury their heads in the sand and feel guilty for the rest of their lives. When I read his findings, I made the decision to never cycle like a lunatic again and have consequently found a small positive in what happened that night: the fact that I will never again let it happen to anyone else. It’s not an instantaneous feeling of ease, nor should it be, as explained in this excerpt, written by Dr Luskin:

"Forgiveness is a tool with which we face what we’ve done in the past, acknowledge our mistakes, and move on, it does not mean that you condone or excuse what happened. It does not mean that you forget. Remember the saying, ‘For everything there is a season’? Well, there’s a season for our suffering and regret. We have to have that. But the season ends; the world moves on. And we need to move on with it.”

Having researched the plethora of suggested ways to learn how to forgive yourself, I have compiled a list of the most beneficial techniques that have enabled me to find compassion for myself after cycling into the poor girl. These have all proved to be significantly advantageous, so instead of just regurgitating some researched tripe, I have tried and tested these very methods and can honestly tell you that they do work. Having followed this structure, I’ve now come to terms with what happened that night.

Recognise your misdemeanours: By acknowledging exactly what it is you have done wrong, you can break down what you did, get a little perspective and distance on the whole thing and begin the healing process.

I mindlessly rode my bike into the back of a girl, causing her harm and a lot of pain. I found the sooner I just admitted fault, instead of looking for excuses, the easier it was to move on (I didn’t want to be blaming her for not looking before she stepped into my path).

Talk to someone: Define and give reality to the wrong you committed and the harm it caused, by telling a few close friends or confidants. Sharing reminds us that everyone makes mistakes. Confessing what you’ve done also prevents you from slipping into denial, suppression, repression and forgetting.

I told a close friend, who said even though the accident had happened and there was nothing that I could do to change it, I had done everything right after the incident and I should not wallow in guilt for not doing enough.

Understand what you want: Although the incident has occurred and you may never see the injured person again, what do you want to happen?

I want her to make a full recovery and I want to be free from the guilt and shame.

Identify the hurt: Realise that the hurt feelings, guilty thoughts and tummy-clenching stress you feel whenever you think of your offence is what’s actually making you feel bad – not the incident itself. It’s your reaction to it today that’s causing a problem. It’s a habit that has to go.

I simply have to understand that it happened and there is nothing I can do about it.  I need to stop reliving the crash. The thoughts that I have are generated entirely by me. Knowing that I had the power to change my thoughts – and only I could do so – empowered me to gradually put an end to those thoughts.

Hit the stop button: Reliving the crash over and over again in my head was not helping me in the slightest, nor was it helping the girl. It simply made me feel worse. Every time I caught myself ruminating the accident, I mindfully observed how I was feeling and how my body was reacting. The very act of focusing on and exploring the exact feelings that were preventing me from putting it to bed, allowed me to reach a position of clarity and understanding that softened and dulled the feelings immeasurably.

Write about it: As I have found with all of my problems, not just this, writing them down and putting them into meaningful words has a way of helping me come to terms with them and put everything into perspective. It is one of the most cathartic ways to help yourself. You don’t need to start writing a blog or a book (although maybe you’ll want to, because it really helps!), but if you need to forgive yourself for a particular negative situation, write it down and let it all out.

Meditate on positive affirmations: Go back to the my 4 core mindfulness, meditation techniques blog and meditate on positive affirmations to bring about forgiveness.

I find myself often worrying about the girl and if she got home safely. I remind myself that if she was strong enough to go to the train by herself and compos mentis enough to know she had a train to catch, she was well enough to get back safely to her home, where she would have been looked after and taken to hospital if needed.

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