How to forgive yourself
In my previous blog I talked about the power of self-forgiveness.
Not only does judging and criticising ourselves make it (paradoxically) harder to change our behaviours for the better, the feelings generated by the inner judgements are far from pleasant and productive, and often lead to only yet more behaviours that we are not proud of!
Forgiveness on the other hand, generates positive feelings of kindness towards ourselves, which means that we are less likely to repeat the offending behaviour, less likely to do other acts of self-sabotage, and be kinder towards others too.
But forgiving ourselves isn’t always easy to do.
It’s certainly not the default way of treating ourselves. And one of my clients recently expressed that she was finding it hard to forgive herself for some of her previous behaviours.
And it’s no surprise that it’s hard to forgive ourselves when at the same time personal development enforces the idea of ‘taking responsibility’.
It’s like a double whammy of difficulty: not only do I have to accept that I am responsible for what I did and what I created in my life, I’ve also got to forgive myself for it?!
Recently I’ve been reflecting on a way of thinking about human psychology that makes it easier to do both: take responsibility AND practice forgiveness.
Despite the fact that the human brain is the most advanced computer that exists on this planet, so advanced that even our own conscious selves don’t fully understand it, no-one teaches us how to use it (unless you choose to study some form psychology, which not many people do.)
Therefore I’m going to share with you a metaphor to help you understand a little more about yourself as a human, and how the mind works, in order to help you take responsibility, practice self-forgiveness, and consequently, start creating a new way of being that can create the results you want in life with more ease.
So, when you are blaming yourself for something you did or didn’t do, who are you blaming?
But who is ‘me’?
‘You’ is the You that you know of. The You that speaks to you. The conscious You. The You that disappears when you go to sleep. But if You disappear when you go to sleep, how do you still manage to breathe?
Well the subconscious You is taking care of all that.
And it’s the subconscious You that’s actually responsible for everything you do. But You doesn’t know that! You thinks it’s You that’s responsible!
For example, let’s say I struggle to get my business started because I keep procrastinating on doing what I need to do, or I find myself gaining weight instead of losing it, or find myself repeatedly going back to the same toxic relationship despite knowing it’d be better to leave - well you, the entire of you, the conscious you and the subconscious you, are responsible for that. It’s all within your power to change. No-one is forcing you to take the behaviours that lead to those results you are creating. It’s because of you that things are the way they are - not other people, not events, nor circumstances.
But, it wasn’t the You that you know of to be one that caused the outcome, it was the subconscious you.
You were just going along on the ride.
Imagine a Punch and Judy show.
You, the You you know yourself as, the conscious You, is the puppet that everyone sees.
This is the You you blame when you do things (or don’t do things) that you regret.
But there’s also another aspect to the puppet, that can’t be seen, and it’s this aspect that’s actually causing the puppet to move, do things, and say things.
In human terms, this is the equivalent of your subconscious mind. And at all given times, your subconscious mind, the human puppeteer in the Punch & Judy show, calls the shots.
Your subconscious mind is where everything that’s happening around you and inside you is being analysed and interpreted and from that, emotional responses are generated.
So when you ate the chocolate you weren’t supposed to eat, you were being driven by your subconscious mind to do that. Or when you are avoiding taking actions towards your dreams, it’s your subconscious you that’s doing that. Or when you go back to the toxic relationship you’d be better off leaving, yep, it’s your subconscious you that’s driving that.
And no amount of personal development will EVER change that.
If there’s no puppeteer, there’s no puppet. But you can still have the puppeteer without the puppet - which happens every night when you are asleep!
The quest for self mastery then is not to cut oneself free of the puppeteer, but to develop it into one that causes the puppet to take the actions that leads to the desired results.
The BEST you can ever do is influence what the puppeteer (subconscious mind) believes as a means of changing what the visible puppet appears to say and do. This is why some people call personal development ‘life hacking’.
Which is why you can also forgive yourself.
You can forgive the You that you know yourself to be, because it wasn’t You, it was your subconscious you that caused You to act the way it did. You were just the puppet in all that.
I’m experiencing this a lot at the moment because a few weeks ago I committed to a goal of reducing my body fat percentage. I already exercise every day, I already follow a healthy plant based diet, and I’m already relatively slim and lean - which is what makes shedding a percentage or two even more incredibly difficult. In the first few weeks I was struggling hugely with self-judgement. I’d be determined to stick to a meal plan only to find myself eating something I wasn’t supposed to be just a few hours later, and the guilt trip that ensued was highly condemning.
Despite my conscious determination (“I WILL absolutely stick to my meal plan this time!”), it amazed me just how much I still found myself eating more than I (the conscious I) wanted to.
Why then was it so hard to stick to?
Because my conscious Me has no say in the matter despite how much it thinks it does.
If my subconscious me wants food, it gets food.
The best I can do is find ways to keep the subconscious Me happy so that it doesn’t drive me to eat above my calorie deficit. (If you’re curious about this, it’s through carefully planned ingredients, meal times, intermitting fasting, and a fair amount of positive mindset training - feel free to reach out to me if you’d like to know more).
So in other areas of life, and generally speaking, how can we influence what the puppeteer makes us do?
Well firstly, by figuring out what the puppeteer thinks and believes, since this is what drives our behaviour.
Procrastinating? There’s a subconscious belief lurking underneath that.
Staying in a toxic relationship? There’s a subconscious belief lurking underneath that.
Over-reating? There’s a subconscious belief lurking underneath that.
If You can identify what this subconscious belief is that’s driving your undesirable behaviour, You have the power to change it.
And You can change it by forgiving it - because it wasn’t You that was believing it or driving the behaviour, it was the subconscious You. The subconscious you that’s heavily influenced by everything it is subject to from the moment it is introduced into the world.
I invite you to give this way of thinking a try. Next time you find yourself doing things You doesn’t want to be doing, notice how actually it wasn’t You but it was your subconscious you driving you, and forgive yourself. Tune in with what was going on for you subconsciously at the time and forgive that too!
This is the key to behaviour change.
And the key to creating the results you want in life.