Guilt is something we have all felt at one time or another. Along with it comes regret. We feel guilty, we wish we wouldn’t have done something, or we wish we would have done something. Guilt is not an emotion we should hold on to, because it makes us feel bad about ourselves and stops us from being happy. To move beyond guilt, we need to look at why we feel the way we do, and, if we have something to feel guilty about, what was it and why did what we did.
4 Steps for Forgiving Yourself and Moving Past Your Guilt
These four steps should be done in order. The steps are: Define it, find the root cause, identify what you’ll do differently, accept your humanity.
1. Define It
What is it that you feel guilty for? How are you responsible for your breakup? Five of the top reasons cited for breaks are:
- Lack of commitment
- Arguing too much
- Unrealistic expectations or lack of preparation for marriage
- Lack of Equality
If one of these resonates with you as your contribution to the breakup, your underlying emotions might stem from feeling you caused pain, you didn’t follow your own moral code, or you may feel you didn’t try hard enough to keep your family together. I’m sorry for the pain you are feeling that comes with guilt. Pain is a motivator. We know we don’t want to feel it. Our steps to protect ourselves from pain can be unhealthy. Working to alleviate pain and working on ourselves, can save us from future pain. That is why the next step is crucial. What was happening in your life that set let you to set aside your best self to act in a way that is causing regret and pain now? You might find that pain, or not addressing pain was part of the root cause.
2. Find the Root Cause
It’s important to be free from stress to enable you to sit with your pain. Relax and contemplate what might have been going on that led you to make choices that were not in keeping with your best self. These are not excuses, though they may sound that way.
…if you were feeling pain, try to give the pain a name, hold in to it, don’t shy away from it, explore it deeply.
Let’s start with the big one on the previous list and search out root causes. If the reason for your breakup was infidelity, breaking your vows and being intimate with someone else, ask yourself what was really going on. Were you feeling unhappy, unheard, or wanting comfort? Was it easy at the time because you didn’t think it through, and simply tried to be happier? It’s very human to want to feel loved, noticed, and comforted. It is also human to flee from discomfort or pain and put aside our rational thinking because we want to be stress free. Unfortunately, the pain catches up with us. Investigate why you didn’t recognize in the moment that this was not the best you? This exercise may be difficult for you. Don’t shy away from it, and don’t beat yourself up either. Try to recover and observe your thoughts and feelings prior to the action you regret. If you were feeling pain, try to give the pain a name, hold in to it, don’t shy away from it, explore it deeply. If previous actions caused you and others pain, when you recognize the thoughts and feelings leading up to it, you will be less likely to do it again. You will be more prone to make choices that support your values and beliefs.
As a second example, lets look at arguing too much. Were there habitual arguments about the same things? Do you have a habit of needing to win? Did you feel unheard – that your beliefs, your wishes weren’t being respected? List the things you fought about and ask yourself what items and/or feelings were underlying your side of the argument. Disagreements can be rooted in different values, different desires or simply fighting because of unresolved anger or hurt. Fighting then becomes the way to let it out. Understanding how you respond to being challenged and being aware of the feelings percolating below the surface can help you address them in the moment and stop repeating them.
3. Identify What You’ll Do Differently
If you regret a specific behavior that caused hurt or that was not in keeping with your own standards, the regret and sorrow must be deep if you don’t want to not repeat the behavior. My test for forgiving myself has always been “If I had it to do over, would I?” “If the same situation were to arise again, how would I manage it differently?” The answer to forgiving myself has always been No. I wouldn’t do it again, and in a future situation I would do X, Y and Z. I lay out specific behavioral steps I will use in the future. You must understand the “why you did what you did” before you can respond differently. You are then setting yourself up for a future more in keeping with the best version of you.
If you cheated on your partner because you felt unhappy. How could you address your unhappiness? Could you have discussed it with your partner, gone to a therapist, or separated prior to engaging in another relationship? What would that look like? Which part of your own standards did you break? If you enjoyed the attention and the comfort of another, understand and try to figure out how long you’d felt that unhappy or unloved. Could you discuss those feelings with your partner in the future? Could you have asked for what you needed? Figuring this stuff out is hard work, but it will help you to be happier in the long run.
4. Accept Your Humanity
I’ll state it again because it is so important. We are all human and subject to imperfection. Yes – that means ALL OF US! We all know it intellectually, but we hate when it becomes obvious. We must be let go of the idea that we need to be perfect to be loved and we must embrace being human. Self-compassion is such an important step in forgiving ourselves. We all need compassion to heal. We give it to our loved ones, we need to give it to ourselves. That is also part of being human. Find more about self-compassion in this article.
Use these steps, forgive yourself, build a future that supports you in being your best you!!! You deserve to be forgiven. You deserve to be loved. You deserve to be happy. We all do.