I’m not the person I used to be, and that’s not a bad thing. I am so much more, and so are you. Our past doesn’t define us.
There’ve been many versions of me through the years, each of which has contributed to the person I am today. I’ll bet the same is true for you.
I’ve had great successes, yet I’ve made many mistakes and bad decisions. I’ve been kind and caring, yet I’ve also been unskilled and acted poorly. I’ve made great decisions, yet I’ve suffered from poor judgment at times. I’ve been good to many, yet I’ve also hurt people along the way.
There’s been the good and the bad, yet it’s usually the negative that I remember the most. This is because of the brain’s inherent negativity bias, or the tendency for our minds to be “teflon for the good, and Velcro for the bad”, according to Dr. Rick Hanson, psychologist and senior fellow of UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center. We can change this with practice.
For many years, remembering my mistakes and mis-steps caused me to suffer. It was like a bolt of lightning going through my body when I’d remember something I wasn’t proud of. The simple memory of them could plunge me into painful places. It was hard and I suffered, as I was dragged down the rabbit-hole of painful memories and self-judgment. I had to do something, and learning about self-forgiveness was essential.
Let’s be clear, forgiveness isn’t about minimizing or condoning what happened, it’s about letting go of the pain of carrying past hurts. This is true whether we’re speaking of forgiving others or forgiving ourselves. Forgiveness isn’t about excusing past mistakes; it’s about letting go of our own pain and suffering because of what’s happened.
While forgiveness practice can be challenging, the practice of self-forgiveness is routinely the hardest for people to engage in. It certainly was for me; I could forgive others much more quickly than I could forgive myself. I held myself to a higher standard and felt I must continue to pay for what I’d done wrong by holding myself more accountable. This wasn’t true, as it only caused me to feel defensive and shut-down.
When it came to my internal dialogue, I wouldn’t have spoken to a stranger as poorly as I spoke to myself. This had to change, so in addition to formal forgiveness practices, I also began a practice of becoming my own best friend. When painful memories of past mistakes surfaced, I’d simply ask myself what I’d say to someone I cared for deeply. I’d then offer myself the same care, wisdom, and consideration I’d give to another.
Practicing self-forgiveness has helped me apologize and make amends along the way, take responsibility for things I’ve done, and free myself from the limiting burden of guilt and shame. Self-forgiveness allowed me to view myself as a human-becoming, wiser and kinder from the experience.
Self-forgiveness has offered me a bird’s eye view of my life.
I’ve been able to put things in a truer perspective, to be able to see the good, and to realize that the mistakes and challenges in my life have offered me the best learning opportunities when I’m able to hold myself in compassion and practice self-forgiveness.
All forgiveness practices are processes, not events. With willingness and time, we can change the inherent negativity bias. In learning not to hold myself hostage and to forgive myself and my past, I’ve been able to heal and grow and become a better person.
I love this quote by Arielle Estoria: “Be kind to all the past versions of you. They are the soil in which you now bloom.”
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.