Forgiving Yourself to Unlock Your Present: 3 Empowering Questions for Letting Go
Life comes with a lot of experiences. Some of those experiences are full of humor and positivity, others come with some guilt and insecurity. All of us carry some form of luggage related to our past. Some have a single backpack; others may feel like they have more luggage than an airport. Unfortunately, the longer we hold on to this luggage, the more it impacts the quality of our life and how we see ourselves.
Many of us get stuck in this cycle of wanting to rid ourselves of some of the baggage while getting discouraged when we can’t seem to let it go. All of us have made decisions at different points in our lives that we are not proud we made. Yet, even though no one is exempt from this, we hold on to our past mistakes and continue to punish ourselves for the decisions we made.
Life is meant to be lived in the present with hope towards the future. Our past is meant to be a classroom that teaches us different lessons that we can then use in the present. When we continue to lug this baggage around though, we keep ourselves anchored in the past. We are not able to be fully present in the moment because there is still energy being exerted towards our past.
Forgiving ourselves is a freeing concept and something that is incredibly hard to do. For some reason, no matter how much time has passed, there are things that we feel we need to continue to hold against ourselves. We say that we want to let it go, and yet we hold onto it tighter than a lot of other things in our lives. Even though we know it is doing nothing productive for our lives, we continue to punish ourselves.
The thing is, we do not have to do this. We do not have to hold onto something for so long that it takes the color and joy out of our lives. There is not a universal law that says we need to continue to hurt, guilt and shame ourselves over things we did in the past. Our life does not have to contain an eternal punishment because of a few decisions we have made.
Unfortunately, the more time we have let pass where we hold onto the pain and shame of our mistakes, the harder it becomes to let go. We start to narrow our vision more and more over time, becoming hyper-focused on details rather than seeing the full picture. The more stuck we become in our views like this, the more distorted and further from the truth it becomes.
To help combat this, we must begin to ask ourselves questions that force us to look at situations in a new way. The old way of looking at your mistake has kept you chained too it, it’s time to do something different! This post is going to provide you with three powerful questions to get you to look at yourself and the situation in a new way. Take the time to really think about the question and your answers. You have been holding on to this for a long time, examining a question for ten seconds will not be enough.
These questions are not a substitute for professional help. There are things that some of us have been through that might require a professional to help us work through. Do not think there is shame in this. If you begin to recognize that you need this type of help, empower yourself and take that next step. Your life and future self will thank you!
Question #1: What purpose is holding onto your mistake serving me?
Any behavior occurs for a purpose. Even behavior that appears spontaneous and unexpected is working to serve a purpose. That also means that the act of holding onto mistakes from our past and continuing to hold judgment and serve punishment for this means it is serving a purpose. If you were to take your focus off of the mistake and the emotional struggles you have with it and instead look for why you are doing this, what would change for you? Why does this question work?
A lot of times when we are holding our past mistakes against us, we are focused solely on what happened and why we deserve the pain. Staying focused on this does not help us release its grip on us; rather, it tightens the hold while keeping us from seeing why we do this. The more you can begin to identify the purpose of holding onto this mistake, the more it loses its power to you.
This question may seem baffling or strange at first, and you probably will not narrow in on an answer in the first few moments of thinking about it. The important thing is for you to try and identify what role in your life holding this mistake against you is playing. The more you identify the why, the greater the chance you have of letting it go.
Question #2: What would your life look like without this mistake having power over you?
This is a question where your imagination is going to come into play, because the challenge is to come up with as much detail as possible. Take the time to truly picture what about your life would be different if you were to forgive yourself for your mistakes to be more present in the moment. How different would your relationships look? How would your mood, thoughts and emotions be different? Without the burden of your mistakes, how different would your behavior look? What types of changes would you be making that seem impossible right now?
As you are picturing the answers to these various questions, focus in on the specific changes you would see. Maybe you will stop tearing yourself down when you look at yourself in the mirror and instead see someone that has worth and value. Perhaps you will stop stalking your ex on Facebook and begin opening your heart to the idea of a new relationship. You might find yourself picturing finding the positive in moments rather than dwelling on what you do not have.
To help lock in these specific answers even more, write them down with the same level of specific detail. Focus in on the behaviors you will be doing and the types of thoughts you will be having. This question will allow you to look in a different direction than you usually have, the future instead of the past. Here’s the trick, with what you have written down, you now know what your behavior will look like without your mistake. Pick a couple of those behaviors and try them out!
Question #3: If someone you cared about deeply committed the same mistake and was punishing themselves for it, what would you say to them?
We are more likely to show compassion towards others we care about than towards ourselves. What type of compassion would you show someone you care and respect for if they were in your shoes? How would your attitude and approach to the situation be different than the way you treat and talk to yourself? What type of advice would you give that person to help them loosen the chains of their mistake?
We do not want those we care about to continue to hurt and carry the burden of their mistakes. Yet, we do not mind keeping ourselves in a constant state of punishment and misery for our own. When you think of the words you would speak to the one you care about, also think about what would happen if you applied those words to yourself. What changes would you see in your life and how you feel about yourself if you took your own advice? You may begin to find solace and forgiveness in yourself when you take the compassion you would give to others and apply it to you.
Just as you would not wish someone you care about to sentence themselves to a life of punishment, you do not have to do the same to yourself. Taking the time to work through these three questions and truly contemplating how they can apply to you can begin the process of bringing peace and healing to your life. Begin to grasp power over your mistakes rather than continuing to allow them control over you. Our mistakes do not have to be our destiny; rather, they can be the lessons we need to embrace our present and empower our future.