I thought I had no regrets. I thought I had forgiven myself for the professional and personal mistakes I’ve made. But it turns out I was wrong. Today, I want to tell you how my coach uncovered old wounds that hadn’t yet healed, why it’s so important to forgive ourselves for the past and how to recognize that a lack of self-forgiveness might be holding us back.
My story of uncovering the need for self-forgiveness
I was recently on a call with my coach (yes, coaches have coaches!) and she said to heal something deep, meditate with my left hand over my heart. I shifted my hands into place as she asked what I was feeling. Remorse or regret? I said, “No, I don’t think so. I’m actually feeling calm and at peace.”
The next morning, I woke up early and while I was still in bed, I put my left hand on my upper fourth (the fourth chakra belongs to the heart). I was thinking about what she said and suddenly, I had this revelation about forgiveness. I went into this deep place, asking myself, “What am I remorseful for? Is there something I’m regretting?”
What came to me is that most of us walk around blaming others for circumstances and/or sometimes judging and it doesn’t solve anything because we never take a look deep down inside.
Looking inside helped me realize that I was judging myself over the past. Other people weren’t judging me, I was judging me—even in the situations where it was manifesting outwardly as somebody else’s fault. I realized that when I was “wronged” by another person, I could forgive him or her, but I was still judging myself for getting into that situation. And I had to really go deep down and look at what prevented me from forgiving myself for all those years.
What a morning!
Why is forgiveness important?
I’m telling you this story because I coach women all the time. Judgment often comes up, but my clients usually talk about someone else judging them. But that’s often not the reality; instead, it’s us judging ourselves.
Being able to forgive ourselves isn’t being fluffy or self-absorbed. It allows us to heal our deep wounds and dissolve the barriers that keep us from showing up as our authentic selves at work and at home. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Forgiveness can lead to … improved mental health, less stress, anxiety and hostility [and] a stronger immune system.” And that’s only half the list of mental and physical improvements associated with forgiveness.
How can a lack of self-forgiveness show up?
As my story shows, it’s not always easy to realize we’re dealing with unresolved issues that hold us back. I needed help to see this, and I’m not embarrassed to share that with you.
Embarrassment and criticism are symptoms of a lack of self-forgiveness. For example, if you’re a skilled cyclist and you take a fall, you might be embarrassed and chastise yourself for a rookie mistake. This is a clue. On the other hand, if you fall and think about how it happened so you can move forward and learn from the experience, this is a sign you practice self-forgiveness.
A lack of self-forgiveness can show up in many ways including resentment, guilt, shame or lack of acceptance. When I do the Energy Leadership Index (ELI) assessment and debrief with my clients, we look into where resentment, for example, might come from and what role my client plays in holding onto something that needs to be released.
Another thing I see regularly in my coaching practice is comparison. Whether it’s comparing ourselves to other people we know in real life or what we see on social media, this exacerbates feelings of “not enough” and can be devastating. It’s especially hard for driven, high achievers to forgive themselves for not stacking up to their peers. But this is a false premise because everyone is dealing with their own battles, no matter how perfect things look on the surface.
The bottom line is if you’re not regularly experiencing joy and you’re feeling stuck in your personal or professional life, you may need to forgive yourself with all your heart. You’re worth it.
What happens when you forgive yourself?
Once you’re able to forgive yourself, the real transformation begins. When we take responsibility for what happens and make peace with it, it’s such a relief. We truly accept that we can’t change the past and we decide to focus on the present. Everyday, our philosophy is, “From this day on, I can choose who I want to be and how I want to show up in the world. It doesn’t matter what I’ve done in the past.”
When you release the baggage of self-judgment, you’re freed up to experience more joy and live a happier life. Doesn’t that sound worth it?
4 ways to forgive yourself (and others)
Forgiveness isn’t always easy, especially self-forgiveness. Whether you work on self-forgiveness on your own or get some help, you’ll reap the rewards. Let’s look at some activities you can do to forgive yourself and anyone else.
4 ways to practice forgiveness:
- Assess your baggage – Part of the work of self-forgiveness is self-inquiry about past mistakes and regrets. Gently ask yourself, “Do I want to carry this baggage around? Or am I ready and able to release it so that I can move forward freely?” You might be surprised at what you find.
- Apologize – If you need to apologize to another person, do so. Call them up or send a note saying something like, “Hey, I’m working on learning from past mistakes and making amends and I want to apologize to you. When we worked together on that transformation project, I didn’t show up as my best self. How I showed up wasn’t what you needed at the time and I’m sorry for that.” This script also works if you need to apologize to the person in the mirror.
- Write a letter – Write a letter to yourself or the person you’d like to forgive. Pour your heart out, apologize or simply say what you need to get off your chest. Then burn that letter. The emotional and spiritual work of forgiveness happens in the writing, not the mailing.
- Work with someone who will poke the bear – If you think your past is in the past, yet you’re still not experiencing as much joy as you’d like at home and work, you might need some help. I thought I had dealt with my regrets until my coach poked the bear with one simple question. Then I realized I still had some work to do! Working with a coach can help you discover and work through whatever is holding you back.
Forgiveness, including self-forgiveness, removes a huge weight from our shoulders. When we forgive ourselves (and others), it opens up new possibilities and makes it easier to show up the way we want to with our family, friends and colleagues.
If you’d like to practice awareness, forgiveness and a positive mindset in a supportive community environment over the next 12 months, become a member of the WIL Empowered program today!
Hi, I’m Vicki Bradley, an executive coach in Toronto and the Founder and CEO of Women in Leadership Empowered.
I work with women pursuing success in executive leadership roles and the presidents and CEOs who understand that strong businesses are built with strong, diverse leadership.
WIL Empowered is a year-long program where we use all four aspects of leadership development: coaching, networking, peer to peer mentorship and skills development. Our mission is to help women develop the skills, motivation and accountability required to succeed in their business and personal lives.
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