by D. Isadora Grisanzio
This is a time to start fresh. To shake off the old, and welcome in a new you. As we emerge from isolation into an endemic Covid world, we find ourselves wanting to “spread our wings” and get back to the tried and true habits and experiences—like going to the gym—that familiar rush of “do, do, do” which we often drop off after a month or so into a New Year. Instead, this year, perhaps try giving yourself a gift—renew with self-compassion to not only start fresh, but to also learn self-forgiveness and improve your connection to others.
How do you renew with self-compassion?
We are often our own worst critics and can be harsh on ourselves, cutting ourselves down constantly with our own biting inner dialogue. Spring is considered, by many of us, as a gentle time of renewal. This is the time of the year when the Earth gently encourages new growth; this is a great time to slow down, rest, reflect, and be a little kinder to ourselves. Practicing self-forgiveness and self-compassion is a good way to do this. The benefits of self-forgiveness have been studied and may include improvements in mental health, including decreased feeling of depression.[1,2] Self-forgiveness might also help improve sleep, which can help improve overall health.
While you are improving your relationship with yourself, you are also working toward improving your relationships with others. When you are kinder to yourself and practice self compassion continuously, you may find it is also easier to be kind and compassionate to others.
Basic steps of self-forgiveness
If you are looking for where to start, some basic steps toward self-forgiveness are practicing awareness or mindfulness, remembering our common humanity, being kind to yourself, and then taking action.[5,6] One exercise to get you started is to think of how you would respond or react to a friend if they were struggling or saying the same things.[5,6] Would you agree with them, seconding all the self deprecating thoughts, or would you try to lift them up? If you would respond to them with kindness and compassion, shouldn’t you also do that for yourself?
Some exercises to help practice awareness or mindfulness could include meditation.[5,7] What this looks like could be different for each person. It might be a seated practice, like we typically think of meditation. It could be simply focusing on your breathing, perhaps just before going to sleep. Or it might be a moving meditation, in which you do the everyday tasks—like cooking and cleaning—with purpose, staying present and giving the task your full focus. The key is to continue this practice, making it a habit and keeping it going.
A part of the larger whole
After practicing staying present and mindful, the next step is to remember that we are a part of the larger whole. It helps us to remember that we are not alone, and that whatever feeling we are experiencing are the same ones felt by others.[5,8] We all make mistakes or feel down at times but this is also how we grow and learn.
A way to practice this might be to go back to the exercise with your friend. How would you respond to them, would you tell them that what they’re feeling is normal or that you’ve felt that way too? By refocusing our view on these feelings, it helps reconnect us to others and the connection we all share.
Selfish or self-forgiveness?
Being kind to yourself means being a little selfish—in a good way—to foster self-forgiveness. You are being kind to yourself when you take the time to consider your needs, to take care of yourself. Maybe it’s by giving yourself the time for a break or to rest when you’re tired. But being kind to self is also about how we talk to ourselves, how we focus our inner dialogue.[9-11]
Are you speaking to yourself with positive and supportive words or are you demanding, angry, and harsh? Try to practice, first, recognizing how you’re speaking to yourself. Then, make an active effort to be more gentle with yourself, softening the tone.
Take action, and make amends
When it comes to taking action, think of what can be done to make amends or fix any wrongdoings that have happened.[4,6,11] This might be an act of making it up to yourself, the same way you would if you were trying to ask someone else for their forgiveness. This can help you to move past the mistake, to help you release and move past the feelings associated with it.[4,6]
Many books and resources, including programs and worksheets, are available on practices for self-forgiveness and self-compassion. As we embrace this time of renewal,maybe give this practice a try and go in with a kinder, gentler feeling towards you.
1. Peterson et al. J Posit Psychol. 2017;12(2):159-68.
2. Long et al. Front Psychol. 2020;11:1337.
3. Toussaint et al. Psychol Health. 2020;35(3):302–17.
4. Cherry. Verywell Mind. 2021.
5. Bartels. HAPPINEZ International. 2019;18.
6. Shumake. Stanford University Human Resources, BeWell. 2019.
7. Tjan. Harvard Business Review. 2015;2.
8. Neff. Self-Compassion. Embracing our common humanity with self-compassion.
9. Neff. Self-Compassion. Exercise 5: Changing your critical self-talk.
10. Sreenlvasan and Weinberger. Psychology Today. 2022;1.11. Brown. Positive Psychology. 2021.