Forgiving ourselves isn’t always an easy thing to do. We have regrets, feelings of guilt, wishing or thinking we should have done this or that differently. Sometimes we think that if we had acted differently or made another choice, that somehow situations might have turned out better. Sometimes that’s true, but nothing can change the past. We have to learn to forgive ourselves for things we can’t change or undo, whether it’s for intentional actions or otherwise.
One of the hardest things to forgive ourselves for is the feelings of guilt over what might have been or could have been. Often we think that if we had done so and so differently, that perhaps the outcome would be different. And while often it’s possible there could have been another outcome, more often than not the outcome would have been the same. But even if it wouldn’t have been the same, we can’t change the past. So why do we beat ourselves up over things that can’t be undone? Why do we allow ourselves to experience such guilt over things? And most of all, how do we forgive ourselves for what our minds perceive as unforgivable?
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The first step to forgiving ourselves is to realize that whatever we did or didn’t do can’t be changed. It doesn’t matter if the thing we are having guilty feelings over is something we actually did or something we think we could have done differently. Hanging onto feelings of guilt won’t change the past. Holding onto guilt over something will not undo the past or things that happened. It’s time to let it go, to move on, and to live again.
Some people find it difficult to leave the past in the past. They need something physical to get rid of or throw away, and memories simply are not physical. One idea is to make the thoughts and memories physical, giving something tangible to throw away, and in a way this shows that ‘something’ was gotten rid of. But how do we make thoughts and memories tangible?
Get a small box, such as a shoe box. Make sure it has a top or can be closed and sealed. For every bad thought, for every feeling of guilt or feeling or what you feel you cannot be forgiven for, write it down on a piece of paper. Put the paper in the box. Once you are finished, close and seal the box. All the guilty feelings you carried in your heart are now in the box, out of your heart, no longer able to burden you down with feelings of being unforgivable.
What you now do with the box is up to you. You can choose to hold onto those feelings, leaving the option to reopen the box and letting the guilt out and back into your heart. Or you can choose to throw out the box, throwing away all of the guilt that you carried. Some people actually bury the box, laying to rest the past and all the hurts. Some throw it out with the trash, tossing out all of the bad. And some keep the box, reopening it and allowing all the guilt to come back inside of them to live again.
We don’t have to live with guilt. We can control our own thoughts and actions. We choose to do this or that. But we cannot control the choices that others make or the things they do. We can choose to live with guilt, never forgiving ourselves, or we can choose to move on, admitting that we are just human and that sometimes humans do fail and do mess up.
Forgiving yourself, letting go of the guilt, it won’t change the past. But it can change your future.