Forgiveness – the Cornerstone of Self-Love? [Feature Friday]

When most people think of “self-love” they might think that it’s a bunch of nonsense. But, the act of self-love is definitely a crucial part of mental health and well-being. Psychological research has found “that forgiveness is linked to mental health outcomes such as reduced anxiety, depression and major psychiatric disorders, as well as with fewer physical health symptoms and lower mortality rates“.

It would stand to reason, then, that forgiveness can enhance self-love, perhaps even, that forgiveness is an act of self-love because it helps us be healthier mentally. Forgiveness along with self-love help us to let go of negative feelings and thoughts such as distress, bitterness, anger and resentment towards those who have hurt us or even towards ourselves.

Forgiving ourselves and others is extremely difficult for most people, me included. I would argue that everyone, at one point or another, has faced a situation where they just can forgive themselves or others for something that was done. However, as an act of growth and moving forward in self-love, forgiveness is key. Not only will it give you peace, it will also help you live in the present and, ultimately, live life forward. Embracing forgiveness has certainly helped me live a better life, it’s a day to day journey, even challenge sometimes, but I choose to move forward not backwards.

Forgiving Yourself

One of the most difficult aspects of forgiveness is being able to forgive yourself. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes. Whether it’s in our relationships with others, our work, our school or even in our personal choices. For impulsive people like me, making mistakes was a part of my daily life for a very long time until I learned to think before acting. Again, I’m a work in progress but I’m learning the lessons I need as I grow and making something positive from my previous mistakes.

It’s hard not to beat ourselves up or overthink our actions. However, you need to give yourself permission to be upset about what you did but it’s also important to admit to yourself that mistakes happen and part of loving yourself is loving every part of you, even the part that isn’t your favorite. Acknowledge what you did and how it made you and others feel. If you can, make reparations for what you did. Learn the lesson and don’t repeat it. Besides, when we forgive ourselves and let go we can redirect our energy to new things, better things.

How to do forgive yourself? One method I find helpful is outlined in this article and mentions 4 steps to self-forgiveness: 1. Responsibility, 2. Remorse, 3. Restoration, 4. Renewal. Essentially, you need to accept responsibility for your actions which means NOT “making excuses, rationalizing, or justifying your actions in order to make them seem acceptable“. Next, while it’s normal to feel guilt and perhaps shame over your actions, “understand that making mistakes that you feel guilty about does not make you a bad person or undermine your intrinsic value“. After that, it’s on to repairing the damage and restoring trust which both helps the person you hurt and yourself (even if you only hurt yourself). Lastly, renewal means “finding a way to learn from the experience and grow as a person” in order to make better choices going forward.

Forgiving Others

Forgiving others can sometimes be even more of a challenge than forgiving yourself. While letting go can be easy to say, it’s not always easy to do. It can eat away at you for a very long time and affect your quality of life as well as the way you interact with others. This is why it’s so important for your self-love journey that you learn to forgive. This doesn’t mean re-establishing a relationship with the person who hurt you. It means releasing the power and hold their actions have on you and psychological healing. You don’t need to carry that extra weight, know your worth and lighten your load!

How to forgive others and heal our deep wounds? I read this great article that I found helpful which outlines 8 keys to forgiveness from a psychological perspective:
1. Be aware of what forgiveness means and why it matters (“working on forgiveness can help us increase our self-esteem and give us a sense of inner strength and safety [and] can reverse the lies that we often tell ourselves when someone has hurt us deeply“),
2. Be “forgivingly fit” by working your “forgiveness muscles” incorporating it into your daily life (“giving love when it’s unnecessary helps to build the love muscle, making it easier to show compassion toward everyone. If you practice small acts of forgiveness and mercy—extending care when someone harms you—in everyday life, this too will help.”) 
3. Be aware of your inner pain (“it’s important to identify the kind of pain you are suffering from and to acknowledge it. The more hurt you have incurred, the more important it is to forgive, at least for the purpose of experiencing emotional healing.”)
4. Be empathetic (“recognizing that we all carry wounds in our hearts can help open the door to forgiveness.”)
5. Finding meaning in your suffering (“we should use our suffering to become more loving and to pass that love onto others“)
6. Call on your strengths when forgiveness is hard (“try to develop courage and patience in yourself to help you in the journey … help end the cycle of inflicting pain on others.”)
7. Forgive yourself (“in self-forgiveness, you honor yourself as a person, even if you are imperfect … move toward self-compassion. Soften your heart toward yourself.”)
8. Develop a forgiving heart (“If you shed bitterness and put love in its place, and then repeat this with many, many other people, you become freed to love more widely and deeply. This kind of transformation can create a legacy of love that will live on long after you’re gone.”

So, is forgiveness the cornerstone of self-love? I would say yes it definitely is. We all need to forgive ourselves and others as much as possible. When we let go of the power that our experiences hold on us we can begin to LIVE and see things as they ARE not as we have made them out to be. Things happen. Even really crappy things. People can be awful. That’s life. What’s more important, however, is your resiliency, the learning of the lessons, and forging a better path forward. Stop looking back, you don’t live there anymore.

What do you think? Is forgiveness the cornerstone of self-love? Share your thoughts in the comments below!