So this is just the first part of a series I put together on the subject of forgiveness. It’s something that many people struggle with, no matter what age. Simply my point of view on forgiving yourself, friends, family, and others people in your life — and how learning how to forgive can make you happier in the long run.
Lesson #1 – Forgiving Yourself
I’m not going to act like I know everything about forgiveness because I definitely don’t. I’m not going to pretend like I understand all types of pain that warrant or don’t warrant forgiveness either. However, I do know a bit about coping. I know about resilience. I know about growth. I know about strength. Everyone has their own experiences, but I really believe that if you want to be able to forgive others, you must be able to forgive yourself first. Of course, while forgiving yourself is important, you still want to own up to your actions and take responsibility. Don’t be a dick and blame others for your own poor decisions. Understand why you did what you did, make amends, put a plan in place for the next time you find yourself in a similar situation, make peace with it, and move forward with your life.
Here’s my recipe for forgiving yourself in outline form:
- Feel Your Feelings
- Take Responsibility
- Understand Why You Did What You Did
- Accept that Some People Won’t Forgive You
- Put a Future Plan in Place
- Make Peace With It
Whenever I had a disagreement with someone in the past, I would only see red. There was no room for empathy, just blame and resentment. Whenever I did something wrong (and I knew I was wrong), I’d go to the complete other end of the spectrum and wholeheartedly blame myself, sometimes burying myself in self-hate. There was no deep reflection, there was simply blame, anger, sadness, negativity, and a feeling of entitlement almost…and all of that was suffocating. It led me nowhere.
FEEL YOUR FEELINGS.
I used to have an issue with cheating on my partners. In one relationship, the entire affair blew up in my face, and I was forced to tell my boyfriend at the time that I cheated on him. No surprise, but we broke up, and I felt…EVERYTHING. I felt remorse, sadness, guilt, anger, self-pity, and most of all, I felt shame. It was the first time in my life that I had to directly deal with the consequences of my actions. It was a reality check! It haunted me, and I think it was supposed to haunt me. The look on his face. The judgement and humiliation I felt from my friends. His friends. The overwhelming feeling of shame that kept me from talking about it for many years. The anger I felt towards him for telling my friends and family about how I cheated on him. The sadness and regret from losing someone important to me for something so fleeting. All that good stuff.
Make sure you feel all your feelings. Just feel, don’t act.
Many people will tell you that it’s not ok to feel angry, especially if it’s your fault. Some people might even say that you deserve to feel shitty. I’m telling you, feel whatever the fuck you want to feel for a few days, get that out of your system, and then start looking at the bigger picture. You fucked up, so stop making excuses, stop feeling bad and harping on it, what’s done is done. It’s time to pick yourself up.
TAKE RESPONSIBILITY, and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.
This was never the hard part for me. I’ve always been pretty good at owning up to my mistakes and taking responsibility for my actions.
I grew up in a strict Chinese household, where every “mistake” made was harshly punished. There was no room for cockiness, clap backs, excuses, smartass comments, or disobedience. If you lost your cool, you’d get hit — even if you showed remorse. Because you’re willing to “take your punishment,” it built character and humility. I’m not knocking on my Chinese heritage, but that mentality truly fucked with me growing up, especially going into adolescence and adulthood. It affected all my relationships and made me look at the concepts of right and wrong in an unhealthy and extreme, black-and-white kind of way. Ironically, it also made me look at things that were “morally wrong,” such as cheating, lying, or stealing, in a “well, if I don’t get caught, it’s fine” kind of way. Of course, when I got caught, I’d react the same way I did as a child…I’d cry, accept my punishment, blame myself, and never talk about it again. BLAH.
Anyways, I was so good at taking responsibility, I’d even start putting myself down. Blaming myself for everything, even on faults that weren’t mine. This self-punishment helped me feel better. People react differently to each situation, but my method only took me so far. What’s the point in taking responsibility for my actions if I might just do it again in my next relationship? I needed to do something about it.
UNDERSTAND WHY YOU DID WHAT YOU DID.
Instead of pretending those weak moments never happened or drowning yourself in self-pity, you need to dig deep. Remember all those feelings you felt earlier? Look at each of those feelings, and try to understand why you felt that way. I could see why I felt remorse and shame, but why did I feel anger? Why did I cheat on my previous boyfriends before? Was I bored? Were they assholes? What brought me to that point in the first place? When did I start feeling differently about my boyfriend?
This self-exploration took a long time to figure out. In short, I was a very passive aggressive and nonconfrontational person. I was a coward. If a boyfriend didn’t treat me well, instead of communicating with him or breaking up with him, I’d cheat as my sort of secret “revenge.” Cheating is much easier than having to deal with a difficult and real conversation. However, after dealing with the fallout, I realized the consequences weren’t worth it. I needed to stop being a wuss and have that difficult conversation instead. Hurting someone by ending a relationship is a much better alternative to hurting someone by cheating on them. Having real talk means you’re being fair to yourself and to the other person, but doing so also takes a lot of balls.
People respect good ole’ integrity and balls. They don’t respect cheaters. That brings me to my next point.
ACCEPT THAT SOME PEOPLE WON’T FORGIVE YOU.
I lost a lot of friends during that time I went through that cheating fiasco. At first, I was sad and thought I deserved it, and maybe I did. Then, I was angry and held a grudge, telling myself that these people who don’t forgive me don’t deserve my friendship anyways. Eventually, I learned to let go of all the spiteful thoughts, and simply accept it. Some people might judge you for your transgressions for the rest of your life, and that’s perfectly fine. People have the right to their own opinions. Their decision to not forgive you may even be justified. In the end, you gotta let these things slide.
You cannot control the actions of other people, you can only control your own.
The point of forgiving yourself is that you do it, not others. At this point, you should already know in your heart that you will be a better person moving forward. That you will NEVER go backward, in fact, you’ll work on being better with every day. If other people can’t see that right now, that’s just the way it is. As long as you know that you’re going to change.
And how will you know that you won’t make the same mistake again?
PUT A FUTURE PLAN IN PLACE.
I’m going to emphasize this part. You need to follow through on your future promises or else you’ll find yourself repeating the same bad decisions over again. You already know how to put yourself in a bad situation, now, the plan is to avoid getting yourself in that situation ever again. In my case, I already knew I was never going to do that to someone again. But how did I get there in the first place? There was a point in my relationship when I started accepting friend requests, a guy would message me, and I’d flirt. That was the beginning of it – and that was the part I needed to stay alert about.
I put together a freaking mantra ya’ll. Seriously. I repeated to myself, “The next time I’m in a relationship, and it comes to the point where I find myself craving attention from someone else, it’s time to either communicate and try harder OR break up.” I made that promise to myself, and I’ve kept it ever since. There’s nothing worse than lying to yourself, so you must honestly commit to yourself first. Use your mistake as motivation to be stronger and better in the future.
Finally, MAKE PEACE WITH IT.
I didn’t realize I was over my cheating shame until I started dating my current boyfriend. I told him I had cheated before, but that I had stopped forever (something like that). At first, he got mad, and did the whole “how will I know you won’t do that to me?” ma-jig. Understandable question, but I wasn’t that same person from before anymore. I knew who I was, and I knew all the hard work it took for me to get here. I also knew the role that cheating thing played in my life and how it’s shaped the person I am today.
I didn’t feel the need to defend myself, and I didn’t feel the need to explain the entire situation. I told him, that person was a different me. I paid my dues, put myself through hell already, and if he can’t get past judging me for who I was 10 years ago, then he can move along. I told him early on during our dating phase. It was a delicate conversation, but he let it go right away. He could see and hear my conviction when it involved my self-improvement, and best of all, he still trusted me because I was honest about it.
If you actually want to follow through and become that best version of yourself, you’ll understand that change doesn’t just happen overnight. I’ve struggled with the concept of forgiveness for a long time. Whether it’s being forgiven or forgiving someone else, conquering the art of forgiveness is an essential step towards moving forward with your life, letting go of resentment and grudges, as well as pushing yourself towards growth and improvement. The whole ordeal can be frustrating and nerve-racking, but at the same time, it can also be strangely cathartic and empowering.
*Note: This post addresses “regular” life stresses and should not be applied to serious traumas, such as rape or murder. The reason I bring up those particular traumas is because many rape victims tend to already take responsibility (when they don’t need to), and many murderers are very good at forgiving themselves (when they should take responsibility). You can see how that might conflict with several of my steps. If you find yourself in a super traumatic situation and don’t know how to deal with it, I strongly suggest seeing a professional to help sort out your feelings.
*Second Note: I have no idea how to match images with captions, so some of them might not really make sense.