Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes…if we are human, we have all made them. We may have compassion for other people, yet too frequently we refuse to stop punishing ourselves for past missteps, indiscretions, poor planning, lack of judgment, etc. The list could go on forever. Too often we examine our own actions under a relentlessly unforgiving spotlight, long after the event has occurred. Yes, we have all experienced hurtful behavior and may have been the responsible person, yet for the most part it is possible to make amends or corrections.
What is it about holding onto those memories that make us squirm? Most people think of memory as a vault for storing information, however it is more like a tailor stitching together logical threads into a pattern that makes sense. Recent research looking at the accuracy of memories, suggests that the only true memories are those held by amnesiacs. Apparently each time we revisit a memory, we tweak it a bit. In this view, a positive memory separates what is useful from what could upset or distract us. Forgetting is therefore an important part of memory and thought which is critical to our emotional wellbeing. While revisiting bad memories may not be a formula for happiness, we may have a tendency to do this.
From this moment going forward, put a statute of limitations on your mistakes. Stop punishing yourself. Give yourself a deadline. According to Dr. Alan Zimmerman, you might even create a short script for yourself like, “After this date (specify), I will not put myself down or beat myself up for this mistake or that failure (specify). It’s done. It’s over. I refuse to spend any more energy ruminating about it.” Moreover, hold yourself accountable for doing it. The blame game is so de-energizing and once you release yourself from the fatiguing dance; your confidence will improve, oftentimes dramatically.
With respect to the question of forgiveness, a bolder step is posited by Stanford University consultant, Dr. Fred Luskin, author of the book, “Forgive for Good”. He says, “You can let go of a grudge you’ve held against someone even if you never see or speak to that person again. Forgiving takes place inside the person who has the change of heart, not the person who is forgiven.” He never suggests that the behavior was okay or that the offender gets a pass on their actions. Rather, it is about taking care of oneself and not being the person who takes poison and waits for the other person to die. In fact, in the act of forgiveness you are the person who has taken back their power.
The same truth applies to self-forgiveness. When you forgive yourself for past mistakes, you also free yourself from the attachment to them. It takes a conscious effort to change old patterns of behavior. However, when you can take even a small step towards shifting your thoughts from blame and hurt to self-healing and peace, you are achieving a new level of self-care. Greater self-knowledge begets greater self-confidence and an opportunity to give “self-punishment” a rest.
ACTION: • Who do you need to forgive? • Write the script? • Speak it aloud as many times as you find necessary • Stop and give yourself a BIG hug!
©2015 Maureen Weisner