In my very first Forgiveness Friday post I shared that I find it hardest to forgive myself. This is true whether we’re talking about actual, bona fide mistakes (like a fender bender I caused 14 years ago) or just imagined shortcomings. For example, I’ve been beating myself up a lot lately because I talk a lot in class. I’m worried that I’m dominating the conversation in my tutorials, and that my fellow students are having a hard time getting a word in edgewise. It’s important to note, however, that no one has actually expressed to me that they would like me to listen more and talk less – not at all. I’m taking it on all by myself, and I’m not cutting myself any slack over my chatterbox ways.
I find that I spend a lot of my time passing judgment on myself, and listing all the things I should have done differently. Three days after a conversation, I’ll still be thinking about what I should have said. Fifteen years after I put my foot in my mouth in front of my friend, I still cringe thinking about it. There is no statute of limitations when it comes to mistakes I’ve made – or mistakes I may have made.
Is it so bad, to hold yourself to high standards, and to re-examine your past behaviour with the aim of improving? Perhaps not. However, I would argue that the critical point is to re-hash the past with the aim of improving. Re-hashing the past constantly, and beating yourself up for each and every perceived slight, over and over again, actually isn’t productive. It’s simply self-flagellation. High standards are one thing, impossible standards are another. What’s more, I suspect that they way I treat myself is reflected in the way I treat others.
When you hold yourself to impossibly high standards, and you’re unforgiving with yourself, it’s difficult to learn how to forgive others. In my own life I tend to either excuse or hold a grudge. That is, I deny that anyone has hurt me until they’ve really, really hurt me, and then I’m angry for a really, really long time. I don’t have much experience with acknowledging that someone has hurt me a little, and then finding a way to move on from that hurt. I think one good way to gain that experience would be to learn how to acknowledge my own shortcomings without resorting to beating myself up endlessly.
One of the fears that I have is that if I forgive myself, I will be a bad person. I will engage in bad behaviours without feeling any remorse. I will hurt other people, without recognizing how my actions have impacted them. I don’t want that. I doubt anyone wants that. However, it’s a long way from beating yourself up for talking a lot in class to blissfully going through your life hurting other people without any regard for their feelings. I’m engaging in some black or white thinking here. I suspect that this stems from, in large part, my confusion over what it actually means to forgive someone – including myself.
It feels a little self-indulgent to type this out, but I can see that if I’m going to learn how to forgive other people, I first need to learn how to forgive myself. That means being willing to acknowledge that while I am not perfect, I am still a worthwhile human being. My hope is that when I learn to accept my own imperfections, and hold myself to account in healthy ways, I can do the same thing for others. It’s not an easy lesson to learn, but I’m trusting that it will be worthwhile.
Are you also prone to beating yourself up for all of your mistakes – big and small, real and imagined? Are you able to forgive yourself when things don’t go as you would have liked? I’d love to hear your thoughts and your suggestions.