Remember that blunder from years ago, the one that still makes your stomach clench when you think about it? When you go back to the situation in your mind, you can still vividly remember what it felt like, and you want to sink underground just thinking about it.
When it happened, you would go over it it in your mind again and again, wondering how you could’ve been so stupid. And now, years later, it still comes back to haunt you. Even though you don’t think about it as often as you used to, the feeling of shame is still strong and may even affect the way you relate to other people. Especially if they were there when it happened.
Are you letting the past define you?
A friend of mine often worries about his past mistakes like this. He said that the shameful acts and words feel like a brand imprinted on him: Defining him in a way that’s still painful after all the years.
Once he’d invited some friends to a restaurant, when another friend called and asked for company on her birthday the next Saturday. A big table was already booked, and the birthday girl was invited along. However, on the day, the birthday was completely forgotten, and my friend completely overlooked it the whole evening.
At the end of the evening my friend walked the birthday girl to the train, and she started crying about how nobody congratulated her or paid attention to her birthday at all. I’m sure you can imagine how mortified my friend was!
Recently he confessed to her friend that he’s still ashamed of that day more than 15 years ago.
What do you think, did her friend remember that?
Time to forgive yourself
It’s so easy to blame yourself for mistakes, much more than anyone else does. In my experience, most shameful blunders are not such a big deal to the other party as you think .
Often the hardest thing is how making mistakes or unintentionally hurting other people makes you feel about yourself. It’s not easy to stop blaming yourself.
But I’ve got an exercise that can help you.
How to release worry and find compassion towards yourself
Try the following exercise:
Find a good position, sitting or standing straight, both feet on the floor. Close your eyes if that feels good.
Listen to your breathing for a while and let yourself settle down, sensing how your breath is moving your body.
Breathe in and tell yourself in your mind: I am enough. Let your breath out gently.
With the next in-breath, tell yourself: I did my best.
With the third in-breath, tell yourself: I can forgive myself.
Keep breathing gently for a few more moments and listen to how you’re feeling before ending the exercise.
Doing this once might not change a lot. Doing it often, whenever you feel you need some help accessing self-compassion, will get you well on your way. Don’t wait 15 years to learn it never was such a big deal after all.