In my work as a therapist, I've worked with many clients who can't let themselves off of the hook. Sheeeit I myself have a hard time letting myself off the hook sometimes. Carrying a burden of guilt, anxiety, or feeling ashamed can really get in the way of enjoying this life we're here to live. Sometimes we hold ourselves to an unrealistic standard, expecting perfection of ourselves and shaming ourselves when we don't meet unrealistic expectations. Or minimizing all of our magical qualities and magnifying our flaws. We can be so hard on ourselves sometimes!
Don't get me wrong, we shouldn't ignore guilt. All emotions that come up are messages; guilt isn't necessarily bad. If we've made a mistake that doesn't correlate with our personal values, we may feel guilt, and that can be motivation to make amends or to change our behavior in the future. However SHAME, that's where we start to hurt ourselves in ways we don't deserve. Shame is that sneaky voice that tells you that you're bad, you're not good enough, that you are undeserving as a person.
We are all inherently worthy and whole, and healing is about remembering that (sometimes we forget). Healing to remember is a process, it isn't a straight line, and it takes shedding (false) stories that we may have internalized over time. It isn't 1,2,3, I have forgiven myself; it's incredibly hard work. But you know what's even harder? Living life with negative thoughts about yourself swirling around in your beautiful head.
Check Your Narrative:
Your narrative is the way you have storied your life to yourself. Believe it or not, we are actually really inaccurate sometimes and need to "fact check" what our brains tell us about ourselves.
I truly believe we are all doing the best we can. If you're having a hard time forgiving yourself for an action or decision you made, let's operate off of the assumption that what we do is the best option we consciously saw available at the time, and that decision was based on either love or fear. Determine what was driving your decision making, and allow yourself some grace for being a beautifully flawed human that made the choice they felt was best (or the only available to you) at the time.
Conversely, if you are guilting/shaming yourself for something that was done to you, that maybe you felt you "put up with" or "should've stopped" or "should've known better" about, halt that narrative. Give some compassion and understanding for the person you were at the time, for the struggles you may have been going through at the time, and release the burden of being responsible for how another person behaved. If this is in the context of an abusive or toxic relationship, know that the cycle of abuse is complex and that so many intelligent, highly capable people fall into abusive and toxic cycles. Release the narrative that you are bad, stupid, naive, or unworthy by developing a new narrative: one that is understanding of who you were at that time and how things came to be the way they are, and develop this narrative with compassion for the main character: you. Also keep in mind, sometimes we have to repeat interactions until we take a lesson that is needed for our growth. That can take some time. Don't fault yourself for that!
Meditate/Journal on Compassion Towards the Self:
Maybe you write love letters to yourself. Maybe you send loving thoughts to a younger you, where you were around the age of whatever experience you are having a hard time forgiving yourself for. You can even take a picture of yourself at that age and send loving thoughts and energy to that younger you. Whatever way you choose, the point here is to be very kind to yourself and to practice restructuring your thoughts towards yourself away from negative and shameful to loving, compassionate, and accepting. It'll feel weird at first, but over time you'll realize it feels SO much better than the cycling negative thoughts.
Sometimes, we hold beliefs about ourselves inside for so long they become a part of who we are, how we think, and how we behave towards ourselves. Try saying these thoughts out loud to a close trusted friend. See how they land; you may need a reminder from others that you are deserving and worthy of forgiveness, simply because you are you. Ask close friends to write you the lovable qualities about yourself and put these in a self love notebook whenever you need a reminder.
Know Your Triggers:
Notice when the shame and guilt narrative are set off, and make sure you have something to replace them with. Whether it's positive affirmations of self love, practicing acceptance of you in the here and now, or your compassion meditation/journaling, get intentional about your thoughts.
Self forgiveness isn't easy and it's not "one and done". It's an ongoing process. It's noticing when the anxious thoughts or shameful thoughts come up, and redirecting our attention to our core, which is love. If you're working on healing yourself, give yourself credit for doing something incredibly uncomfortable, and know that it will pay off and that you deserve healing and to feel free. Random reminder related to self-forgiveness: none of us have it all together. Sending you a hug.
Love and light,