As perfectionists and codependents, we tend to be overly self-critical.
Sometimes we make significant mistakes, we hurt others, we screw things up in a big way, and need to apologize and make amends.
However, often we’re harsh with ourselves for even the tiniest of mistakes, like being late to a meeting. We tend to blame ourselves for things we didn’t do or couldn’t control. And we ruminate about things we might have done wrong: Maybe I offended her. I’m the worst friend ever. We can’t seem to let go of even small mistakes.
What makes self-forgiveness so hard?
Because we demand a lot of ourselves and are constantly disappointed in our imperfect performance and behavior, we tend to hold onto our mistakes and continue to criticize ourselves for things that we think we did wrong.
Intellectually, we know that everyone makes mistakes (big ones and small ones), but we still can’t accept our flaws, forgive ourselves, and move forward. Instead, we end up in a cycle of self-criticism, being unnecessarily hard on ourselves to punish ourselves. We don’t know how to forgive ourselves or we don’t think we deserve it.
What is self-forgiveness?
Self-forgiveness is a way to give yourself compassion and accept your mistakes.
Self-forgiveness isn’t letting yourself off the hook. It doesn’t mean you disregard your mistakes or excuse your poor choices. On the contrary, forgiveness requires that you take responsibility for your actions and believe that compassion will allow you to move forward towards better choices.
Does self-criticism help us do better?
Self-criticism can become a bad habit. But, beating ourselves up for our imperfections and mistakes does not ultimately serve us well or those that we may have hurt.
The best way to make things right and feel at peace is to acknowledge and take responsibility for our mistakes, apologize or repair any damage caused, and commit to learning from them. It’s much harder to do these things when we’re bogged down with self-loathing or depression than when we’re practicing self-compassion.
Note: You can read some of the research indicating that self-compassion increases motivation here.
Self-forgiveness is a process. It’s something that you will practice over and over again in order to gradually release your self-criticism and the belief that you deserve to be punished for your perceived imperfections. Self-forgiveness happens when bit by bit we believe that we truly did the best we could and understand why we made the choices that we did.
An affirmation can create a positive mindset and energy that can help you start to think about yourself differently and then ultimately treat yourself differently. Below are some examples that you can try. You don’t have to believe them completely. You can think of them as intentions or goals if that’s helpful.
- I accept that I’m human and I make mistakes.
- I forgive myself for the hurt I’ve caused.
- I am worthy of forgiveness.
- Forgiveness is a gift I give myself.
- I forgive myself for not knowing what I know now.
- I will not judge my past behavior using all that I’ve learned since then.
- I will treat myself with compassion.
- Everyone makes mistakes.
- Self-forgiveness is a process. I will continue to take small steps towards making peace with my past.
- Self-criticism and self-punishment do not help me learn and be my best self.
- Self-compassion encourages me to learn and grow.
- I can simultaneously give myself grace and accountability.
- I believe I did the best I could with what I knew, who I was, and the resources I had at the time.
- I accept myself completely.
- I accept my shortcomings and forgive myself.
- Dwelling on the past and beating myself up for my mistakes isn’t helpful. Instead, I will stay focused on the present and use what I have learned.
- Now, I would do things differently, but I did the best I could at the time and I forgive myself for my mistakes.
- Today, I start fresh.
Is it possible that you’re being too hard on yourself? Is it time to start forgiving yourself? Might your life be better with more self-compassion? If so, I hope you’ll start seeking your own self-forgiveness.
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©2020 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. Part of this article was adapted from the author’s book The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism (New Harbinger Publications, 2019).
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Do you hold yourself—and perhaps others—to extremely high standards? Do you have a nagging inner-critic that tells you you’re inadequate no matter how much you achieve? Do you procrastinate certain tasks because you’re afraid you won’t carry them out perfectly? If you’ve answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, chances are you’re a perfectionist. And while there’s nothing wrong with hard work and high standards, perfectionism can take over your life if you let it.
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