We’re our own worst critics. It’s a tale as old as time, older than humans have existed. But for as long as being human has existed, so have making mistakes, errors in judgment, and regrets. So, if these unsavory events are just a part of life that everyone goes through, why are we so hard on ourselves when they occur?
It’s hard to say why, and I could sit here and try to come up with a list of the ten most common reasons for self-loathing or the five best ways to forgive yourself. But doing so would imply that I’ve somehow found the answer or, better yet, have found a way to implement it in my own life. Instead, I’ll give you the copout answer that you probably don’t need a stranger to tell you, that healing is an ongoing process that never stops, that we’re all works in progress, that we should cut ourselves some slack.
Speaking from personal experience, which is, albeit, limited, I know there’s a tendency to hold ourselves up to incredibly high standards. We may expect a lot from the people we associate ourselves with, family members, friends, mentors, coworkers, etc. But nothing compares to what we expect of ourselves.
I have had to work on trying to forgive myself for hurting people who love me, pushing people away, lying, or even just staying home and in bed all day because I was experiencing a wave of depression. This task feels exactly like that—a task. When we know how we wanted to act or how we should have acted but fell short in some way, we beat ourselves up.
Something I’m working on in therapy, on my own, and through the support of friends and family is acknowledging that I am not always defined by my actions. Having done or experienced bad things in the past does not inherently make me a bad human, and vice versa. In fact, by definition, being human is sort of a mixed bag of good and bad. And, to paraphrase a recent episode of Netflix’s Bojack Horseman, the best we can do is to try to do more good in our lives than bad. I have the power to not only learn from my experiences and actions but to use those lessons to inform my future actions. Every day is an opportunity to implement those lessons, and the very acts of reflecting and trying to work on these changes are part of the healing process.
We all have things about ourselves that we’re ashamed of, some of which we did and didn’t have control over. But I genuinely believe that we don’t have to carry those clouds of shame with us in our lives. As long as we’re here and, we can learn, we can change, and we can forgive ourselves over and over again for as long as we need.