Why does it seem so hard forgiving ourselves, when forgiving others is so easy?

We often forgive people quite easily. Your friend forgot to call? No big deal. Your partner forgot an important date? Ok, can be problematic, but forgivable. My point is, people mess up. We are imperfect human beings who do a lot of good, and also make mistakes. That is how life works.

What I want to discuss today, then, is why, when it comes to forgiving OURSELVES, does the simple act turn incredibly difficult, or sometimes, impossible. I’m going to give some examples of recent mistakes I’ve made, and have been yet to forgive myself for.

  1. In my final exam, when checking over my answers, I changed one in my panicked state, only to realise AFTER the exam had ended that my first answer was actually right.
  2. I promised myself I’d get back into reading after exams, but I have lazed around quite a lot and watched TV instead of doing this.
  3. I said to myself that I would practice mindfulness every morning to start my day with a clear headspace, and I have failed to do this. Instead, I have woken up, gone straight on my phone, and then eventually crawled to the shower and started my day.

So, these are my most recent mistakes/unproductive moves/whatever you want to call them. (1) has been a particular issue, playing on my mind ever since the exam, which was over two weeks ago. That’s a lot of time beating myself up, isn’t it! As for (2), this has been a lingering guilt whenever I’m sat on the sofa binging my favourite series. When I do pick up my book and read, I really enjoy it. It’s just picking it up that’s the issue! (3) is a guilt that annoys me the most. I KNOW how powerful mindfulness can be. I know that the best way I can start my day is by NOT reaching for my phone and scrolling through social media, and instead, trying to clear my head.

There’s no harm in giving yourself reminders to be more productive and take care of your wellbeing. With effort and self discipline, (2) and (3) can be achieved. I can, starting from tomorrow morning, choose to embark upon a morning mindfulness session (make sure you hold me to this!), and I can dedicate more time in my week for reading. All it will take is me selecting a few hours in my week that will just be spent reading.

But, you see, (1) cannot be acted on. And this is where our lack of forgiveness can make us severely unhappy. Our minds are constantly going back in the past or forwards into the future reflecting, regretting, worrying, contemplating. I am trying to forgive myself. I am trying to recognise that my ambition of being perfect is unreachable, and that throughout my university life mistakes will be made, and not every grade will be high.

I try to imagine what I would say to a friend who had made the same mistake as me. If I found out that they’d been worrying about this for a few weeks, I would feel sad. I would tell them to stop striving for perfection, to be kind and compassionate to themselves, and to stop pacing back and forth over this mistake that is now entirely out of their control. Most importantly, I’d encourage them to forgive themselves.

Do you have a hard time forgiving yourself?