Most of us understand the logic behind the famous saying, “the past is the past”. We could never go back to the past, so why bother about the past?
It makes sense for someone who is hurt to let go of the past so that they don’t suffer.
But what if you are the one who caused the suffering? Could you still be that righteous and say the past is in the past?
Forgiving yourself is an integral part of loving yourself and setting yourself free. When you are unable to forgive yourself for hurting someone, you create an obstacle that prevents you from receiving love.
So instead of beating yourself up, why not forgive yourself and let go of the past?
Here’s how to forgive yourself for hurting someone.
1. Understand that you cannot undo what you have done.
Everyone makes mistakes:
- You lost your cool when you had a bad day,
- You said something that you regret later,
- You did things that you are ashamed of,
- You got your friend into trouble, or
- You cheated on your partner.
Even being yourself sometimes could hurt someone unintentionally. But can you undo what you have done? Can you take back the words you have said? No.
Acceptance is the only way out.
You can blame yourself for all you want or dwell on your past mistakes, nothing is going to change. You are not going to make the other person happier. All you do is make yourself more miserable.
Every time, you go back to the past, you are doing it from the NOW. You are wasting your time NOW. The present that you are wasting can be used to do things which can be changed.
So accept your mistakes and move on. That’s not the best way out. That’s the only way out.
(Read Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now for more insights).
2. Realize that going back may not make things better.
Recently, there was a local TV drama in Singapore, If Only I Could. The two main female characters did not have a good life. One had issues with her family and was later diagnosed with breast cancer. The other had marital problems and suffered a miscarriage. So they went back to their past 10 years ago and tried to amend their life. However, their life didn’t get any better. It only got worse.
Drop the if, should and could.
One reason why it’s not easy to forgive ourselves is that our minds keep telling us what we could have or should have done instead. Our minds fill us up with regret and tell us what could have been if we didn’t hurt another.
But could we really be so sure that if we didn’t do what we do, things would have gotten better for the other person?
Perhaps your actions had given others the opportunity to grow. As a result of being hurt, they might have:
- become stronger,
- set better personal boundaries,
- learn how to accept and let go of their negative feelings,
- learn how to forgive someone, or
- know more about themselves and others.
And even if, you didn’t do what you did, someone else could do the same and hurt them even more. So catch yourself whenever you used words such as “what if”, “should” and “could”. You are just trapping yourself in the past.
3. Separate what you had done with who you are.
What you had done has nothing to do with who you are as a person. Often, people suffer as a result of identifying too much with what they had done.
When you make a mistake, it just means you make a mistake. It’s not because you are a mistake. When you hurt someone, it just means you hurt someone. It’s not because you are a bad person.
You are not what you do.
Sometimes, when we are unconscious and taken over by our ego, we do not know what we are doing.
I am usually quiet and have a gentle demeanor. But when I was young, maybe once or twice a year, I would get really angry and explode. It’s worse than those who get angry frequently. However, shortly after my explosion, I would come to my senses and be very apologetic and sorry.
We are all doing the best that we could with our level of awareness at any given moment. At times, we just don’t know why we do what we have done.
No one is perfect. If we aren’t careful and alert, anger and ego could easily take possession of our awareness and make us do things that we might regret later. Even so, the best you can do is to acknowledge your mistakes and apologize.
(Read A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle to learn more about ego).
4. Get to the core of your emotion and release it.
If you grew up in an environment where punishment is frequent, it’s highly likely that you develop an inner critic that punish you whenever you do something wrong. As kids, we saw how punishment can dissolve the anger in our parents and we are conditioned to believe that punishment is the right thing to do.
People punish themselves because subconsciously, they think it will make them feel less guilty and make the other person less angry. They see punishment as a form of relief. In their subconscious, it’s like: “I’ve already received punishment. I don’t have to feel guilty anymore.”
But this is an illusion created by the mind.
Know that punishing yourself doesn’t make you feel less guilty.
When you are punished, your sense of guilt seems to dissolve at that moment. However, the mind will always make you guilty again some other time, so that your inner critic could punish you again. It’s a never-ending cycle because you didn’t let go of the underlying feeling of guilt. You just suppressed it.
Instead, go deep to the core of your emotion — guilt or regret, in most cases, and let the feelings go. Letting go of guilt doesn’t mean you are a bad person or you forget about your mistakes. It means you have recognized what you had done previously and decide not to carry the past into your future.
(Read The Sedona Method by Hale Dwoskin on how to release your emotions).
5. Ask yourself, “Do you want to hold onto your suffering or let it go?”
It’s easier to forgive someone because you don’t want to make yourself suffer. But with regards to forgiving ourselves, sometimes we want to suffer because we think we deserve it.
If you feel trapped and not sure whether to forgive yourself, ask yourself: “Do you want to hold onto your suffering or let it go?”
There’s no right or wrong answer for this question. It’s your choice.
If you decide that you have suffered enough from guilt, great. Let your guilty feelings go.
But if you decide that you can’t let it go and want to hold onto your suffering, that’s okay too. Give yourself the permission to suffer as much as you want. Know that it’s what you have chosen and live with it.
Because what’s worse than suffering is creating more suffering on top of your suffering. I need to let go, but I can’t. I want to be free, but I don’t deserve it. On top of your guilty feeling, your mind has just created another layer of suffering that demands you to do what it thinks is right.
If you couldn’t let go at the moment, just continue to feel guilty and suffer. There will be a point when you can’t suffer anymore and you would let go of your suffering anyway. Like what Buddha says, “Life is suffering.” Some of us have to suffer to be spiritually awakened and enlightened.
6. Learn from your mistake.
When you hurt someone, rather than dwell on the mistake which you cannot change, why not extract the lessons from your mistake and apply them to the future?
I believe that there’s a lesson to be learned from each experience. If you want to go back to the past, make good use of it. Go back and reflect and extract the lesson you can apply to your life now. Get insights into your behavior and start anew.
Ask yourself questions such as:
- What makes me flare up at the moment?
- How can I do better if the same situation arises the next time?
- Are there any books or resources which I could read to help me understand my behavior?
Making mistakes is part of growing.
Know that you are growing too. Allow yourself to grow. If you didn’t get the message that the Universe is trying to send you, then you haven’t learned and grown from the experience. Making a mistake isn’t as bad as making the same mistake over and over again.
Whether the other party forgives you or not is beyond your control. What you can control is your own action, so learn and grow.
Featured Photo Credit: April 1, 2012 – Self Portrait / Bernard Walker