How do you manage to forgive yourself after a failed relationship?
If you were the person who left a marriage/relationship it can be hard to forgive yourself. You had an idea that marriage was forever, yet you couldn’t make yours last.
It is hard to feel okay about the hurt caused to others – your ex, your children, family, and friends. It can be tough knowing that you have chosen your own happiness and hurt people who were very important in your life.
But it will feel even worse if you cheated on your partner. In this case, you can feel a lot of guilt and shame that is hard to move on from.
Let’s talk a little about guilt to help you understand and forgive yourself.
Guilt does serve a purpose; it is actually a signal that you have done something that doesn’t align with your values. Guilt helps you to develop a sense of your behaviour and how it affects yourself and others. It is an emotion that you can learn from and maybe stop you from making the same mistake twice.
The problem with guilt is when you allow it to continue in your life after the lesson has been learnt. It can be too easy to be plagued by guilt.
“Guilt is anger directed at ourselves – at what we did or did not do.”
~ Peter McWilliams
Let’s look at the difference between guilt and shame.
- When you feel shame, you are feeling that your whole self is wrong.
- If you feel guilty, you are making a judgment that you have done something wrong.
Guilt will show up in your life in many different ways. A couple of examples are:
- You don’t think you deserve to be happy so you behave in ways to self-sabotage your life and any future relationships.
- Isolating yourself and refusing to date at all.
- You date people who treat you badly as you don’t think you deserve any better.
- Dating unavailable people.
- Finding yourself closed to love.
Whatever way guilt shows up for you, it is not healthy and does not enable you to move on. It causes you to stop yourself from accepting love. Your guilt affects your self-esteem and the end result is you don’t believe you deserve to be happy.
The only way you can move forward is to be able to forgive yourself. In fact, the key is to forgive yourself – to give yourself the compassion, kindness, and empathy that you would give someone else.
Forgiveness may be tough but it is a choice.
12 Tips to Forgive Yourself
1. Be Aware of Your Emotions
The first step is to be aware of the emotions you are feeling. You need to allow yourself to recognise exactly what you are feeling and accept the emotions. It may feel tough, especially if you are done something you feel is unacceptable.
2. Accept What Happened, Make Amends and Move On!
When you have hurt someone else, be clear about what the best course of action is. Do you need to say sorry, is there an action you can take to rectify the issue? It is easier to forgive yourself if you have made amends.
Guilt can be draining, depressing, and feel like a huge weight is on your shoulders. It will affect your future decisions and exhaust you if you continue to be stuck in it.
Take action to fix the problem with the behaviour. If you did something wrong or hurtful, you will need to apologise and make amends for your behaviour, if and when it’s appropriate. In a lot of cases, the issue cannot be fixed so all you are able to do is apologise.
3. Shame grows in Secret
Shame and guilt thrive and grow when you keep them secret and hidden. Even if you only acknowledge and say what you have done out loud it can help.
When you say something out loud it is different from thinking the thought in your head. By saying the thoughts, you are stewing on in your head and the emotions that engulf your heart it allows you to let it go. Doing this allows you to process what you have learned from your actions and consequences.
4. You Can’t Change the Past
This sounds cliché but is the key to letting go. Being stuck in the past will prevent you from moving forward. Remorse is healthy, but what’s done is done; you cannot change it. Realise this without hating or judging yourself. Either you can make amends or you can’t. Dwelling on things past this point is just self-destructive. Holding onto guilt will negatively affect your life, self-esteem, and relationships with others. You’ll find yourself getting angry and resenting others in order to justify your behaviour. Sometimes there is nothing more you can do. You just have to let go.
5. There is no Perfection
Perfection does not exist! Nobody is perfect, even your friends or family members who you think have a perfect life don’t. Striving for perfection in any part of your life is a recipe for disaster since it can never be attained.
Everyone makes mistakes and many people go down a path in their lives that can make them feel guilty later on when they finally realise our mistake. The key, however, is to realise the mistake and accept that you’re only human. Don’t engage in days, weeks, months or even years of self-blame or battering your self-esteem because you should’ve known, should’ve acted differently, or should’ve been an ideal person. You’re not, and neither am I. That’s just life.
How you think about something matters. If you have acted inappropriately it is important to learn from your mistakes. The sooner you “learn the lesson,” e.g. make amends and work to not engage in the same hurtful behaviour in the future, the sooner the guilt will disappear.
Often you can’t know better until knowing better is useless. It is important to know that you acted how you did with the knowledge you had at the time. You did the best you could at that particular time.
7. Are You Hard on You?
Notice how you are talking to yourself. Are you being hard on yourself? Notice your inner dialogue and think about what you might say to a friend who was in the same situation. I am sure you would not be so hard on your best friend! I recommend journaling your thoughts so you can recognise what they are and to how they are getting in the way of forgiving yourself. Try this exercise – Write down the harsh critical statement you are thinking and then write a rational, self-compassionate response for each statement.
8. Follow Your Own Advice
It is always easy to give advice to others. If your friend came to you suffering from guilt and shame what would you say to them?
Take your own advice.
If you’re finding this hard to do, trying role-playing with a friend or professional. Get them to take your mistake and tell you about it and how they can’t seem to forgive themselves. Then you give them advice and tell them how to move on. This is effective as it allows you to logically and unemotionally see the situation.
9. Stop Telling the Old Story
It is easy to get caught up in your story, replaying your mistakes over and over. You may need to talk about it to deal with the situation but staying stuck in the story will only keep you STUCK! Retelling that story stops you forgiving yourself.
When you find yourself telling that old worn-out story – ‘I’m am a terrible person and don’t deserve to be happy as I hurt someone’. Break the pattern – trying saying ‘hairy balls’, it is so unexpected it will stop you in your tracks.
Then take a deep breath and say, I forgive you. When you interrupt that well established thought pattern it allows you to change it.
It may be easy and even automatic to be hard on yourself but try to show yourself compassion instead. This is the way to move into forgiveness. You may feel uncomfortable, but it is important to realise it takes patience but will work if you allow yourself to be kind to YOU.
11. Seek Professional Help
Guilt can be difficult to get past and you may need some help to do this. I recommend getting a coach or counselor to help you break the unhealthy way of thinking and patterns that keep you stuck in shame and guilt. As well as finding healthy ways to deal with your feelings. ways of coping with mistakes.
Forgiveness is a huge part of being able to heal so that you can move on and allow yourself to love again.