Hi all, I have been feeling really lost lately. There are lots of things happening right now in my life. I have some problems facing people and kept drowning myself in self-guilt and self-pity. Mostly, it is due to me being unforgiving to myself.
As mentioned, I find it hard to forgive myself and move on - I realized this lately. Recently, I have been thinking about why I feel this way. The only conclusion is that I’m too hard on myself. I have high expectations of myself.
Recently, I have made lots of mistakes. Too many to count. I understand that there is no point in crying over spilt milk. It is okay to make mistakes in life and I learned from it. However, I kept replaying the scenes in my mind of the mistake(s) that was made. I was annoyed. Frustrated. Vexed. Moreover, with the addition of the fear of being judged, it made me more on guard and more reserved when facing the people around me. And after much thought, I realized something. I’m not scared of making mistakes. I’m afraid of people.
So, I would like to seek help on how I can forgive myself. Not just a distraction, but to just move on and not drown myself in all the mistakes that were made.
Hi @Cole , we apologise for the belated response. Thank you for reaching out! It takes courage to share how you’ve been feeling at such length. I hear from your sharing that you’ve been having difficulties with self-forgiveness, and this contributes towards the sense of apprehension about being around others, as you’re afraid of making mistakes and being judged for them. I can imagine that it must be tough trying to navigate all of this on your own. I’m glad that you’ve taken the first step of penning this down and coming forward to share it with us.
I would like to share about the idea of self-compassion with you. Self-compassion is the idea of accepting yourself for who you are, imperfections and all. It’s about coming to an understanding that you are a work in progress, with strengths and weaknesses, and knowing that that’s okay.
For a lot of us, showing compassion to others may be relatively simple. We try our best to respond to family, friends, pets, and even strangers with kindness and understanding, even when they make mistakes. However, the story might change a little when we try to apply this to ourselves. Many compassionate people can be highly critical and unforgiving of themselves when they hold themselves to standards that they would never demand from others.
We have to bear in mind that self-compassion is not something that we may be able to develop overnight, but there are various exercises we can practice to help us cultivate this:
Treat yourself as you would treat a friend. Imagine that your friend comes to you and tells you that they have committed the mistake that you have trouble forgiving yourself for. How woud you respond to your friend in this situation? Often, we allow more room for mistakes when it comes to others. For example, if a friend gets lazy and doesn’t answer your phone call, you probably wouldn’t immediately assume that they’re a bad person. Give yourself the same kind of permission to be human once in a while and remember that you’re not alone in being imperfect - we all have our own set of flaws. Here are some other guiding questions to help you with this exercise (1).
Be mindful of, and change the way that you speak to yourself.
Try to notice when you are being self-critical. Your self-critical voice may be so ingrained that you don’t even notice when it is present. What you can do is to try to think about what you say to yourself in the moments of self-guilt and self-pity that you mentioned. For example, if you missed one day of planned exercise because you were too tired, perhaps your inner voice may tell you something like “You’re so lazy”, and this could further compound the self-guilt. What we can do here is to try to replace these statements with more compassionate self-talk. If this is challenging, you could try to use the first exercise and put yourself in the shoes of a compassionate friend to get yourself started. In this case, the compassionate friend may say, “It’s okay to take some time off. Rest and recovery are also important contributions to your health.” While this exercise may feel effortful at the start, it will help you to develop self-compassion in that way that you speak to yourself if you try to practice it over time. Read more about this exercise here (2).
Lastly, I’d like to address the replaying of scenes in your mind of the mistake(s) made. While ruminating about a particular mistake may seem like an adaptive way of preventing future mistakes from occurring, overthinking can end up triggering memories of similar situations from the past, and a cumulation of these can instead quickly become overwhelming. It is important for us to make the distinction between ruminating and problem solving. To shift from rumination to problem solving, ask yourself, “What’s the best choice right now, given the reality of the situation?”. Start by taking the first step that you have thought out for yourself, then try to put some distance between yourself and these negative thoughts. You may choose to engage in some form of physical activity that you enjoy, or try out our mindfulness exercise (3) that may be helpful in learning how not to over-engage with sticky thoughts. Whenever you notice your mind starting to ruminate, try to catch yourself and engage in one of these activities. Although it might seem like an overly simple technique, distracting yourself in this manner regularly in the short term will go a long way in helping you move on from these ruminative thoughts.
I’ve linked some of these resources below. Hopefully some of these will be able to help you.
(1) Self-Compassion Exercise 1: How would you treat a friend?
(2) Exercise 5: Changing your critical self-talk
(3) Mental Support & Wellbeing Resources in Singapore to Improve Workplace Mental Health | mindline.sg