You’ve probably read countless articles about how forgiving others can help you feel better. Of course you have — there are a ton of them out there. But forgiving yourself? This is an oft-avoided topic because, put simply, people prefer not to acknowledge their negative side.
Most people have no problem pointing out the flaws or mistakes of others but are less willing to look at their own. Self-forgiveness doesn’t interest them, because it requires them to acknowledge that they’ve made mistakes.
We tend to think acknowledging the “shadow self” (more on that later) equates to criticizing or punishing ourselves. It makes us feel like hypocrites for pointing out the world’s problems while living with our own unresolved issues.
What we don’t see is that we can shine a light on all the world’s problems, including our own, without showing hate to those responsible. Since we’re often the source of our own problems, this means we must also be the source of love and forgiveness for ourselves.
The following are seven ways acknowledging your past mistakes and forgiving rather than condemning yourself will noticeably improve your life.
1) You’ll Realize Everyone Has a “Shadow Self”
The “shadow self” or “shadow side” is a term used to describe the negative aspects of the human personality.
It represents the part of ourselves we prefer to ignore or hide under the surface. If suppressed or overindulged, it can make life miserable. Despite this, it’s a key player in the evolution of the mind, heart and soul.
Forgiving others will help us accept the shadow in the world, and forgiving ourselves will help us accept that we have a shadow, just like everyone else. We’re not immune to negativity or selfishness, and neither is the rest of the world.
The most “enlightened” people out there wrestle with the temptation to feed this low state of mind, because like the rest of us, they still have something to learn. Once you accept, address and heal the shadow self, you’ll become aware of its presence in the world. As we’ll get into later, forgiving others for it will be easier.
2) You’ll Remember You’re Human (and Prone to Making Mistakes)
Self-forgiveness helps you remember you’re a human prone to error.
This can be difficult for spiritual seekers to acknowledge, because we don’t want a sense of worldliness; we want a sense of divinity. We want to touch the heights of meditative bliss, discover higher states of consciousness and consider ourselves nothing less than enlightened spiritual beings.
The suggestion that we’re still human and likely to make mistakes might draw criticism for its seeming lack of spiritual awareness. “We’re not just humans”, many would say, “we’re much more! We are spiritual beings, incapable of error in the eyes of our creator”.
Indeed we are, but we’ve taken on human form so we can learn and evolve out of the lower state of consciousness this world represents. We’re supposed to make mistakes, because they teach us invaluable lessons we can’t learn anywhere but here.
The problem is that most us are unwilling to learn from our mistakes. Instead, we get upset or deny our flaws. Admitting to imperfection is too humanizing; especially if we have a big ego.
This tendency to ignore the shadow self is just as pervasive in the spiritual community as it is anywhere else. In my opinion, the solution is to learn to see lower and higher states of consciousness as one. Then, we can see that being human and making mistakes is as natural as the meditative state.
3) You’ll No Longer Carry The Weight of Your Mistakes
Has someone ever wronged you in such a way that forgiveness seemed impossible? While it may seem righteous, you volunteer to carry an unbearably heavy emotional weight when you refuse to forgive them. You’ll feel an undeniable sense of relief if you can learn, in one way or another, to let it go.
The same will happen if you forgive yourself.
The subconscious makes it easy to stuff thoughts, feelings and memories deep down, but it’s akin to stuffing yourself with food. It might be gone from your plate, but it’s still there in your stomach. Suppressed feelings might not affect you at the surface, but deep down, they get more powerful by the minute.
One day, you might have a sudden outburst without knowing why. It’s then that suppressed feelings or memories come rushing back to the surface for you to try your best to deal with.
These volcanic outbursts are inevitable for anyone who suppresses their feelings. Some people feel better after they get it all out, however, because after accumulating over time, those emotions had become a heavy weight on their mind, heart and soul.
It doesn’t have to take an outburst for you to forgive your past mistakes, but like an outburst, self-forgiveness helps you release the weight of guilt or shame you were feeling and suppressing.
4) You’ll Appreciate The Lessons Learned
I mentioned that forgiving yourself helps you see that the world is basically a school for spiritual growth.
As you become more open to the lessons you learn here, you’ll begin to appreciate the unique ways in which they help with the problems that prevent you from moving forward. You’ll also begin to learn the identity of the force in control of your life.
Realizing life is coordinated by an unknown force will cause you to seek answers as to what this force is and why it has so much control. Eventually, you’ll realize you’re the one in control. This will help you appreciate the lessons the shadow self brings because you’ll see that it’s a part of you, just like the higher self.
These positive and negative qualities come together to form you: a human and spiritual being with a lot to learn from both your higher and lower self.
5) Forgiving Others Will Be Easier
Forgiving others is difficult if you can’t forgive your own past mistakes, and the acknowledgment that the shadow self is a collective rather than individual phenomenon will bring empathy for everyone’s mistakes because, as I mentioned, you’ll see that we’re all human.
Along with helping you see that everyone occasionally embodies the villain archetype, self-forgiveness will help you to be more understanding when confronted by it in others. If you encounter a rude or nasty person, you can remember that you too have been rude at some point in your life.
If a newcomer at your job makes a mistake you have to deal with, you can try to remember what it was like to learn the ropes. Forgiveness will be easier because you’ll have forgiven the aspects of your personality that bring rudeness, cruelty and a cold heart.
6) You’ll Free Yourself From Undesirable Behavior
Self-forgiveness doesn’t just help you feel happier, lighter and more understanding of the world; it can also prevent you from continuing the behavior for which you had to forgive yourself.
If you’re unwilling to acknowledge the behavior responsible for the negativity in your life, you’ll never break away from it or create anything new. When you realize it might be part of the problem, forgiving yourself will help you heal and release it so you can finally move forward.
Imagine yourself unrestrained by behavior that used to keep you down. What could you achieve in this limitless space outside your comfort zone? The possibilities would be as endless as the inspiration you’d feel, and your achievements would reflect your inspiration and the lack of inner demons holding you back.
Self-forgiveness frees you from the desire to follow a destructive path and replaces it with the highest path your mind can conceive.
7) You’ll Have a Brighter Outlook.
Becoming aware of our collective shadow will help you see that people are just as capable of good as evil. Most of us don’t consider ourselves inherently bad people, and yet, on more than one occasion we’ve let our shadow side get out of control.
Since forgiving others becomes easier when you forgive yourself, you’ll no longer see the world as such a bad or hopeless place. You’ll be aware of the rampant negativity in the world, but you’ll see that most of us are good people who try to maintain a life we think is best.
Forgiving yourself will provide a balanced perspective on the good and bad. This will help you to forgive the bad, appreciate the good and develop compassion for a world that seems worse than it is. With a clean slate, you can enjoy the beauty in the world instead of focusing solely on the awful things people are capable of.
If you don’t forgive yourself, you might be quick to criticize someone for their mistakes. If you embrace forgiveness, you’ll find it just as easy to see their positive qualities. Forgiving people and noticing the good in them before you notice the bad will become second nature.
In a world where people are more concerned with condemning others than embarking on a deep introspective journey, forgiveness and compassion are the only things that can help us soar instead of sink.
When life’s challenges stretch you to your limit and you see no light at the end of the tunnel, consider that you can change your response into something positive by forgiving yourself (thus freeing you from the weight you’re carrying) and developing compassion for those who have it worse than you.
The shadow self is in us all to an extent, but we can eliminate suffering on an individual and collective level by shining a light on it, understanding it’s a natural part of our personality and forgiving ourselves for occasionally giving in to it.
It’s best to focus on moving forward rather than dwelling on our mistakes. This can be achieved through forgiveness, so let’s take it easy on ourselves and everyone else who’s doing their best to get by in a rough world.