We all beat ourselves up at times—after too many cupcakes, a fight with a loved one or a sloppy job at work. But when healthy reflection spirals into consumptive selfcriticism, we harbor stress, which can literally make us sick, rob us of sleep and sap our energy.
The inability to forgive ourselves can even throw our perception of reality off-kilter, says Matt James, Ph.D. (“Dr. Matt”), president of The Empowerment Partnership in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. “If you’re mad at yourself for breaking a diet and overindulging, for example, you might feel anger and jealousy toward people you perceive as healthier,” he explains. The trick to getting over it is to focus on learning from your mistakes—and that requires action, says Frederic Luskin, Ph.D., director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project at Stanford University in California and author of Forgive for Good (HarperOne). To stop self-destructive thinking, follow these tips.
Seek understanding » Many of us simply say we’re sorry when we slip up, but sometimes that’s not enough. It helps to think of forgiveness more as a process than something instantaneous, James says. Rather than apologizing to your kids for yelling at them, for instance, ask them to forgive you and work to forgive yourself. In addition, forgive them for whatever role they played in your anger. “This creates movement and momentum,” James says.
Find the lesson » Recognize that we’re all human and that you did your best with the tools and information you had at the time. Then ask yourself what you can do to improve the situation next time. “You can choose whether to embrace the positive or negative lessons of a mistake,” James says.
Visualize action » At the end of the day, picture everyone you love, and imagine saying to them, “I forgive you; please forgive me, too” while taking deep, calming breaths. Focusing on forgiveness instead of rehashing the conflict gives you a sense of peace.