mental health, Thoughts

Forgive yourself

What is your biggest success and biggest failure?

In a discussion around the nature of success with my Year 9 students, they asked me this question. After some consideration, I replied as honestly as I could that in essence my biggest success has also been the source of my biggest failure: my family. They were surprised by my answer, but I was not, because this is something I have reflected on extensively over the past few years.

I love my husband and our two girls unconditionally and I feel blessed everyday to have so much love in my life. My family is absolutely my biggest success and the thing I am the proudest of. It is, however, inextricably linked to some of my gravest failures.

I have made massive mistakes as a wife and a mother and despite my best effort I continue to make them every day. I can be grumpy, irrational and distracted in all my relationships, but often the people I love the most are those that bear the brunt of my behaviour. For a long time I used these failings and far worse as ammunition to add to the other accusatory voices that had taken root in my mind.

You are useless. You are such a horrible person. You are worthless. You are nothing. Everyone would be better off without you.

I lived in a state of shame for a long time. I was disturbed by my failures and used them to torture myself and push me further and further into my box. Shame around my mistakes was disabling and it kept me sort of stuck for a long time, believing I was so bad that I was worthless and refusing to get really close to people because I was convinced that if they really knew me they would realise that I was worse than nothing.

(Incidentally, Brene Brown gave this remarkable TED talk on the topic of shame and if you have yet to watch it, I highly recommend it).

As I have grown older and slowly started to change my mindset, I have gradually come to a place where I am no longer disabled by shame and I no longer feel crushed under the weight of my mistakes. I have come to understand the pivotal role that forgiveness plays in the quest for emotional peace and believe with all my might that forgiving ourselves can set us free.

Forgive yourself. Of course this sounds easier that it is – so my aim is to share my thoughts around how this has been possible for me, in the hope that it can help someone else.

1. Process: To forgive yourself for mistakes you have made, you need to process them. My default is to try and bury my mistakes in the dark recesses of my mind in the hope that they will go away, because they bring with them feelings that are hard to feel. When I think about my mistakes I get hot and sweaty, I am nervous and my heart rate goes up so that it feels easier to try and bury them or push them away. The problem is though, that when these mistakes are buried without being processed, they keep trying to make their way back to the surface and they try to bring attention to themselves by shouting loudly and being abusive.

2. Accept: Whatever mistakes you have made, big or small, you need to accept that you have made them before you can move on. Own your story. Accept your mistakes and accept yourself. Accept that you are a human being and that you are not perfect. Accept that while you have made mistakes, these mistakes do not define you. Always remember that you are more than your mistakes. What is done is done.

3. Release: Once you have accepted your mistakes, you need to let them go.                    This doesn’t mean forgetting them and it doesn’t mean you won’t think about them anymore. What is does mean, is that you need to release the emotion that your mistakes generate within you. Cry, shout and be angry but then let it go. You cannot change the past – so learn from it and let it go as you move into the future, striving to be the best version of yourself.

The turning point for me came when I stopped using my mistakes to reinforce the abuse raging against me in my own mind and instead, saw them for what they actually are. Mistakes. I still make mistakes all the time but I no longer let them define me. Yes, I have regrets. Yes, I often feel the need to apologise – but that is okay. I am simply trying my best everyday to be a better version of myself than I was the day before and want to encourage you to do the same. You are more precious than you know x

close up of dandelion against sky
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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