how to forgive yourself

There's a sort of safety that comes with holding grudges. There's no obligation to do or say things to make the other person feel better and there's no internalized force to offer forgiveness or support. You are allowed to build walls to protect yourself from whomever you're resenting and no questions will be asked.

These grudges can last up to a lifetime and most of us know that holding that kind of resentment isn't healthy for our emotional states of being. Eventually, most of us come to push past the grudges we hold and offer grace to one another.

But... when is the last time you offered that same branch to yourself? When is the last time you've taken a good, hard look at yourself in the mirror, recognized your own decisions and mistakes for what they really are, and forgiven yourself?

If you've never done it, or if it's been a while, I suggest taking the time to have a moment with yourself. A moment consisting of nothing but you and what you've done.

It's a lot harder than it sounds, believe me. Working up the courage to talk to myself, out loud, in front of a mirror made me sick to my stomach. My face burned with embarrassment even though I was the only one home, and I caught myself glancing in the mirror only to roll my eyes and think, "this is stupid".

It took more time than I'm willing to admit, but when I really looked at myself and thought about all of the hard decisions I've had to make, I was able to see how vulnerable I really was. I could see my own eyes willing themselves to focus in and out of the scene in front of me. I was able to see how tired I was -- not because I hadn't gotten enough sleep, but because of how much my sleep consisted of nightmares.

I could see it all right before my very eyes, and out of nowhere, I felt guilt rise in my chest for the things I had done.

I was determined to go through with this exercise, but I knew what I needed for myself. I needed to hear myself admit to everything I had done.

So, I did. I stood there and I apologized to my own reflection for everything I held myself accountable for. Cognitively, I knew that most of what I was apologizing for really wasn't my fault, but we tend to hold ourselves to higher standards than we do others, don't we? Was it my fault my younger siblings were placed in foster care? Was it my fault my ex-stepfather was horrendously abusive? Was it my fault my mother lost sight of who she was?

No, it wasn't, but knowing that never stopped me from feeling like it was. Knowing that never stopped the shame from reminding me that I could have done more to fix it.

Taking the time to apologize to myself was draining and it left me clutching the bathroom counter and sobbing into the sink. It left me red-eyed and sniffling, heartbroken and in grief. As much as my chest ached then, I needed to hear myself apologize for the actions I committed against my own body in the wake of my life being torn apart. I have apologized to everyone involved a million times and I'll probably do it a million more, and each person has said the same mantra of "it was never your fault".

Each time felt like another stab wound and I often got angry or upset because even if they didn't.... I knew. I knew I was not blameless and I often felt like I was manipulating people into believing that I was a better person than I was.

But I wasn't. I was simply angry at myself for not holding on tighter. I was angry for not being there to protect my siblings. I was angry for going away to college when I could have found a way to take them in as my own (re: I couldn't, but I was blind to the fact that I was a poor 18-year-old with no job and five younger siblings). I was angry for not reminding my mother that we deserved more, that we deserved better.

Hearing the apology from myself took a weight off of my chest that I wasn't aware had been there. I was finally letting go of the resentment I held for myself. I was letting go of the sadness I felt for my younger self, a soft-hearted child who didn't think they'd live past the age of sixteen.

We are all our own worst critics. Often times, there is no explanation for our critiques other than the impossible standards we try to hold ourselves to. We deny ourselves so much during these periods of our lives and we fail to realize how much we are sacrificing to keep our inner-grudges stewing.

When my sobbing session was over, I fell very quiet as I stared at my reflection. It took me another long while, but I eventually whispered, "I forgive you. For everything".

A change didn't come quickly and I wont lie to you. I didn't feel anything. There were no chills, no inner peace, no relief. Nothing alighted inside of me and I simply kept staring at my reflection. It wasn't until I realized that direct forgiveness from myself wasn't the only thing I needed. My way of forgiving myself, to be able to start my own healing process, stemmed from needing to believe that what had happened wasn't my fault.

It almost felt like another apology. I reminded myself of how young I had been, of how hard I tried every single day, and of how little I had to keep us surviving with.

I talked to myself like I was consoling an old friend, and in a way, I was. Forgiving my present self for what my past self did to survive didn't work, and I had to reach the root of my grudge. I had to comfort and forgive my younger self because they didn't know any better - they couldn't do any better. I had done the best I could have with what I had, and it was more than anyone should have ever asked of me.

Doing this helped me find a sense of safety and comfort. Forgiving who I was gave me the chance to continue with my recovery, and I wish that sense of wholeness on everyone.

Most don't know where to begin and that's okay. I didn't, either. Beginning where it feels right is the best way for yourself and it won't always look the same as others'. If you don't feel worthy of your own forgiveness, I promise you, you are more than worth it. You owe it to the people around you. You owe it to yourself.

Free yourself from your past mistakes, by forgiving yourself for what you have done or went through. Every day is another chance to start over.
- Unknown
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