Millions of fans cringed this past week as England’s Laura Bassett accidentally kicked the soccer ball into her own team’s goal, allowing Japan to win the semi-final World Cup match. As sports TV analysts recounted “reprehensible” player mishaps that have led to their team’s demise over the years, Laura’s teammates, coach and country stood by, and even consoled, her. What remains to be seen is how Laura herself is going to deal with the blemish of scoring an “own goal,” a soccer blunder which resulted in the murder of Columbian soccer player, Andres Escobar, over 20 years ago.
All of us can probably think of something we’ve said or done, or didn’t do, that we can’t forgive ourselves for. Perhaps it was an error in judgment with money or a relationship. Or something terrible we did to screw things up. Whatever the case, disarming ourselves of the shame, blame, self-loathing and harsh self-criticism associated with a blunder or transgression can be daunting. Too often, we wind up cutting ourselves to ribbons in what I call The Torture Chamber of Guilt.
As a Resilience Coach, I work with unforgiving clients to change their diet from self-punishment to self-redemption. When I ask, “What would have to happen for you to begin forgiving yourself?” answers like “nothing,” “maybe if I had a life-threatening illness?” and “death?” tell me they’re stuck in self-punishment. Those who are able to free themselves from the unfortunate past have found genuine self-forgiveness and redemption by doing some of the following things:
- Put down the razor blade. Nobody can disarm you of self-punishment but yourself. No amount of “It’s OK!” or “It wasn’t your fault” will ever be enough. For you to stop cutting yourself, the pardon has to come from you.
- End the “prosecution.” Take whatever words you use to prosecute yourself and change them up. Making small changes in the courtroom (in your head) will allow you to replace guilt and shame with kindness, compassion, understanding, and acceptance. This will help you reconcile your blunder from the inside out — and begin to heal.
- Sacrifice something. Decide what sacrifice you would be willing to make, or service you’d be willing to perform, that expresses the full measure of your remorse (it cannot be destructive or violent). Do something selfless, humble and caring to make up for what you did or did not do.
- Take steps to change your behavior. Becoming the better, smarter version of yourself is a way of restoring integrity, trust, respect and credibility with your and others.
- Put an imaginary “STOP” sign in front of your Torture Chamber of Guilt. There is no redemptive value (to yourself or society) in self-torture and deprication. Use your time and energy to do something that has constructive and restorative value.
- Ask for forgiveness. Go to the people you have hurt and/or disappointed and apologize to them. Take responsibility for what happened, tell them what you’re doing to change and ask for their forgiveness.
- Tell yourself that you’re sorry. Forgive yourself. Do the things that help you move forward. There are probably going to be occasional setbacks. It’s OK! And so are you! We’re all a work in progress. “Keep on keeping on” as a buddy of mine used to say.
What have you done that was effective in forgiving yourself?
(special thanks to Karlyn Percil for her inspiring quote)