Mistakes happen. You argue with a partner. You work late and forget about a friend’s event you said you would go to. You double book yourself. You forget to water your plants for a month. You burn the toast. You show up late to a meeting. Instead of beating yourself up about the mistakes you have made and thinking you’re a terrible person, what if, instead, you practiced self-forgiveness? Forgiveness is defined as a conscious decision to release the feelings of resentment or anger toward a person or group who you believe has hurt or mistreated you. Self-forgiveness is letting go of the anger or resentment you feel towards yourself for an offense, flaw, or mistake. It’s the process of learning from your mistakes and acknowledging the guilt you may feel without placing value on it.
When you hold on to anger and resentment, your body remains in a heightened fight or flight response, which can take a toll on your health and well-being. It can cause things like high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and weakened immune response. Good news is, research has shown that individuals who engage in self-forgiveness live healthier lives. Their blood pressure is lower, they have better sleep and report physically feeling better.
Practicing self-forgiveness isn’t a walk in the park. In a society where you place a lot of pressure and stress on yourself to perform perfectly, the thought of accepting your mistakes, learning from them, and ultimately moving forward can sound a bit daunting. People also tend to get hung up on the idea that if you forgive someone, or yourself, that the mistake or hurt will be forgotten, that you (or they) are no longer in trouble. Research suggests that framing forgiveness as a way of letting go of the negative emotions surrounding a mistake provides you with a way to move forward. It’s not about forgetting what has happened but addressing it with a different lens that allows you to take ownership of your own process of forgiveness. One component of self-forgiveness is understanding that you can’t change what has happened, but you can take a healthier approach of working through your feelings.