Forgiving Yourself the Small Things

Small Things Must Be Forgiven

I just woke up and was lying in bed thinking of random things. What flits into my brain, but a small memory of a time when I embarrassed myself. I hate even writing about it because I’m afraid the person I said it to will read this, remember what I said and relive it in her own way. It was a relatively minor thing: a joke gone bad. But to this day, I feel stupid for having said it and still, embarrassed.

It was a friend’s wedding day and we were all getting ready and even though we all knew this couple was perfect for each other, I joked that she still had time to run. Nobody laughed. So awkward.

Stupid, right? Who says something like that?

I’ve got more examples of that. Times when I said something that has probably only remained in my memory, but remained nonetheless as a flub, a slip-up or a faux pas. When I remember what I’ve done, I feel bad all over again. I relive the moment supremely. Nonetheless, these embarrassing little moments will not go away. I feel like I’ll be fifty years old at an anniversary party for my friends and my brain will remind me of my past indiscretion. I’ll feel embarrassed all over again.

I’ve contemplated asking my friend’s forgiveness, but I’m afraid that she wouldn’t remember it and in asking for her forgiveness, I would then tell her of my stupid little deed and then she would know and remember what I’d done. She’s still my friend, so she must have let it go. I don’t feel like it comes between our friendship, or I’d address it right away.

On my side, I forgive my friends for major flubs and I don’t hold it against them. I certainly don’t remember the little things they’ve done to me or against me. They’re my friends because they love me, support me and are there when I need them. Everyone makes mistakes. I forgive theirs; I assume they forgive mine. So, why can’t “I” forgive mine?

If you’re like me, you may suffer with moments of shame. I want to wake up free and clear of this guilt that I’ve put on myself. So I did a little internet research on forgiveness and I found most sites were focused on helping others forgive themselves for major indiscretions (cheating on a partner, stealing, lying, etc.) and I think that is an important topic too. But, I don’t have that problem, which is interesting because I think I’ve had to forgive myself for major indiscretions and those never crop up as reminders. It happened, I found a way to forgive myself and I move on. When I relive major foul-ups, I don’t feel guilt anymore so I ask again, how can I forgive myself for these minor embarrassing moments I’ve caused myself?

First, I need to ask myself why I am holding myself to a higher standard on these issues. I don’t think I have to be perfect, but I think I still feel embarrassed because I acted in a way that I knew better, in a way that is out of character for me and I hope no one else remembers and attributes that one instance to my character as a whole.

I read this: “Self-forgiveness is very hard to do because it seems like acceptance of a sub-standard you.” I thought: this is the nail hitting it right on the head. These little memories waft up as reminders that I am a better person than I was in that moment and not to get caught doing something like that again.

So, if you’re reading this and thinking, I’m right there with you Susanna, then let’s do this: let’s agree to accept our past mistakes as moments which help us refine and not define our character. The memory crops up as a way to say, “Don’t do that again; it doesn’t suit you.” We may not be able to forget what we’ve done, and we certainly won’t be able to say that what we did was ok, but accepting our past mistakes doesn’t mean we forget or condone our action. It’s just a way of living with it. We can say to ourselves, “When I did this, it really embarrassed me. I’m not proud of it. But, it is not a reflection of the true me. The true me says I’m never doing that again. I’m moving on from that behavior.” This only works, naturally, if you do truly move on. If you continue to make the same mistakes you’ve always made, you’ve missed the important step of learning from what you’ve done in order to never repeat it.

David Niven, author of The Hundred Simple Secrets of Happy People wrote, “As a forgiveness technique, self-acceptance allows you to acknowledge that you’re a good person, faults and all. It doesn’t mean that you ignore the faults or stop trying to improve yourself but it does mean that you value yourself above those elements and cease to allow your faults to halt your progression in life.”

Sometimes we need reminding and sometimes it’s up to us to do it for ourselves in a private way. It’s a little “Stuart Smalley” (google if you miss the reference), but there isn’t anything truly wrong with looking yourself in the mirror and saying, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and people like me.” When you’re feeling a moment of shame and beating yourself up over a misspoken word last July or a stepped-on toe from six years ago, stop. Take a moment to remind yourself of all the good you do in the world, recognize that you aren’t perfect, but accept who you and everything that you’ve done in your life has led you to be the person you are today. We continue refining ourselves daily in order to live the best life we can. Living our best life in the moment is what brings us happiness, joy and fulfillment. Enjoy all the positive things in life and remember that what makes you who you are is wonderful.

As I nestle back under the covers, I purposely return to the moment that makes my cheeks go all red and my heart sinks into my stomach. This time I’m remembering that moment with acceptance. I’m thinking to myself that it was a growing period; that I came to better recognize when to joke and when not to. Unfortunately, it took my own embarrassment to make that leap, but I accept that it has made me who I am: a more sensitive person, willing to let a tender moment pass without feeling uncomfortable and needing to make a joke in the middle of it.

I’m sure if I called my friend now and asked her about this moment, she’d tell me I was nuts and she didn’t remember it at all. So, while I can’t seem to forget it, I can forgive myself for it.

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7 thoughts on “Forgiving Yourself the Small Things

  1. This is an issue most people struggle with (I know I do sometimes!), and learning to forgive yourself for past mistakes is a huge part of being a confident, free, happy individual. I love your advice to look in the mirror and really remind yourself of the incredible amount of good in you when negative memories intrude. Taken literally, this really does help. I learned to do this on sort of a spiritual level while reading Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now”, and I feel so much happier now without allowing those past mistakes to gain control over me. Thanks for sharing this–implementing your advice is SO much more freeing than one would guess!

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve done it to myself, and now I see others doing it too (funnily enough only women, though). Yet when I ask them what they’d do if it was one of their friends that had said/done it, unanimously they say they’d tell them not to worry, it wasn’t a big thing, and would support them to get over it.

    The curse of Perfectionism can be insidious, can’t it?

    Congratulations on stepping away from it and remembering you’re human. It’s never the perfect idealized you that your friends and family love, it’s the whole living, breathing, package. If you didn’t come with faults, flubs and all, you wouldn’t be who you are.

    PS if something’s really bothering you, I’ve found sometimes it helps to write out a letter to the other party: put it all down on paper, include what you’ve learnt from it and what you’d do differently, end it by thanking them for their forgiveness and then burn it in a little ceremony to let it all go.

    • I think that once the error is acknowledged, all we can do is accept it and learn from it. Then every time we are reminded of our indiscretion, we feel less guilty about it because we know it is part of who we were that made us who we are.

  3. Thanks for being brave enough to write about this. I have a couple of these little mistakes I have difficulty forgiving myself for as well. They both involve a time I said something without thinking that I perceived as hurtful to another person. I can forgive myself mistakes that affected only me… stupid relationship choices, not putting my focus on school in the early years of college, etc. Those mistakes are part of growing and I learned from each of them, and realize that they have helped shaped me into who I am today. since I generally like who I am today… I’m grateful for all those growing mistakes and can let them go. But the mistakes that hurt others, or that I perceive as having hurt others… those are hard to let myself off the hook for. Like you, if I force myself to be honest I realize that I would have long since forgiven someone who said such inconsequential things to ME with no malicious intent… but I struggle with forgiving myself. Something else you said, that I hadn’t considered is that it is likely the other person has long since let it go and forgotten it. If not, there would have been an end to our friendship or at least a noticeable cooling or distance. I hadn’t really thought of that. Tonight I am going to journal about these two incidents one more time, and then let them go once and for all. In both cases, the “injured” party seems to have done so long ago. Thanks again for this blog post!

    • Honestly, I felt like now that I’ve written about this incident and put it out to the world, I don’t think about it the same way any more. I hope your journaling has the same effect for you.

  4. I found you just when I needed you. I literally JUST said something stupid to someone. What I said was completely out of character and I feel terrible. I have been working on a particular project for over a year and every time I think I have made progress, by doing everything I was asked to do, I hit another wall. I finally snapped and said something that I don’t even usually say but because I had just heard it recently I guess it was right there in my brain for me to use it. Without a support system it is difficult sometimes to take a moment to calm myself before reacting. I have always fought against bullies and abusers and because of what I said, for a split second, I felt like I was a bully and deserved self-loathing. I didn’t bully anyone, I just said something that was completely out of character and beneath me. But as I read your story I realize that because I have tried to do so many things right, this mistake can’t and will not be the end of the world. Crystalquest’s comments above are so on target: Perfectionism can be insidious…Thanks again.

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