Love yourself. Like yourself. Be yourself.
These seem to be the buzzwords all over social media, in the form of quotes, memes, pictures, and poems. We are constantly bombarded with these messages and the importance of loving ourselves to improve our self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-image.
What we are never told is exactly how to do that.
I mean, come on, if it were that easy don’t you think we all would be doing it? Who wants to put themselves through so much upset, distress, and unrest out of choice? As enticing and magical as it sounds, looking at our reflection in the mirror, maintaining intense eye contact, and saying “I love you” just isn’t going to cut it—not only does it feel insincere, but it’s a tad creepy, too. (And that’s my opinion as a therapist!)
Instead, what you need to be saying to yourself is: “I forgive you.”
Let me explain:
In life, we experience events, situations, and relationships that can hurt us. This hurt, left unhealed over time, can (and usually does) develop into anger, bitterness, or resentment. These three feelings can be seen as shields, put up to stop us from being hurt again in the future.
These shields, however, are like a double-edged sword. They may create a psychological barrier of safety, protecting us from being hurt, but what they also do is create a block to new opportunities, new relationships, new experiences, and the chance to meet new people.
We stay in a little bubble, repeating the same patterns, doing the same things, attracting the same people into our life because, just like a bad habit, it might not be good for us, but it feels comfortable. The irony is that this comfort zone, if examined closely, is actually a cage that keeps us trapped, stuck, and limits us from being fully happy, healthy, and stress-free.
Of course, we can still continue and carry on living life “comfortably,” but it will not be a brilliant life. If we want to live a brilliant life, one where we are able to unlock our full potential, then we have to get rid of these shields that give an illusion of protecting us but in reality prevent us from living.
In order to get rid of these shields, we have to let go of the feelings of anger, bitterness, and resentment by forgiving ourselves. More often than not, when we are upset, it might seem like we are angry at the other person or the situation that hurt us. However, when we stop, reflect, and get honest with ourselves, we are usually angry with ourselves and carry the burden of thoughts such as:
“I should have known better.”
“Why didn’t I see it sooner.”
“I feel like such an idiot.”
“I feel so stupid.”
“The writing was on the wall.”
“The signs were there all along.”
“Why didn’t I say or do something different.”
“I should have stopped it.”
We have to stop doing this. We gain nothing from giving ourselves a hard time, as hindsight is 20/20. When we look back at any given situation in our lives, the luxury and benefit of hindsight gives us the ability to think of alternative solutions or outcomes. We are able to critically analyse the situation and often enter the “should have/could have” dialogue that keeps us stuck, trapped, and prevents us from moving forward.
In reality, however, when we take ourselves back to that exact point in time that hurt us and reflect on the resources, knowledge, insight, or people that we had around us, could we really have done differently? Or did we do our best given the circumstances?
It’s time to stop living in the fantasy version of the past and what it should have/could have been like. Be honest with yourself when answering those two questions. In most cases, the answer will be that given the circumstances, you did the best you could have.
And you know what? I have news for you: your best is usually good enough!
So, forgive yourself for not changing your situation sooner. Forgive yourself for not leaving that job sooner. Forgive yourself for staying in that relationship longer than you wanted to. Forgive yourself for not taking action sooner. Forgive yourself for not speaking up. Forgive yourself for what you didn’t do, should have done, or could have done.
Close your eyes. Place your hand on your heart. Take a deep breath in and out. Think about what is hurting you and what you are angry about. Acknowledge that you did your best. Accept that your best was good enough.
And when you are ready, whisper to yourself: “I forgive you.” Now repeat it three more times, but every time saying it out louder, with more conviction and resolve.
As you do this, you will begin to feel forgiveness take shape. This forgiveness takes place within different people in different ways: it might be a release of tension, a sensation of a weight being lifted off our shoulders, a sigh of relief, an emotional outburst, or in some cases one single tear being shed. It doesn’t matter what our reaction is, all that matters is when we tell ourselves these three words, they have the power to release the unhelpful feelings that can be blockages to love, happiness, and success.
It is only once we forgive ourselves that we can look in the mirror at our own reflection, say “I love you,” and actually believe it.