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Last Updated on December 8, 2020

How to Forgive Yourself and Move Forward for a Happier Life

How to Forgive Yourself and Move Forward for a Happier Life

When we talk about forgiveness, it’s often regarding others — forgiving your elementary school bully or the coworker who took credit for your work idea. Unfortunately, we often forget about one very important person who is also worthy of forgiveness: ourselves.

Forgiveness is difficult in its own right. However, when we have to face the reality of forgiving ourselves, it can quickly become a (seemingly) impossible feat.

With that being said, learning how to forgive yourself and move forward from trauma, regret, or remorse can help contribute to a healthier, happier life.

So how to forgive yourself?

Here are some helpful reminders and thoughts to use on your journey towards inner peace and happiness.

Fighting Through Obstacles (Even When It Seems Impossible)

Moving on from a debilitating life event such as a car accident or escaping a toxic relationship is not only physically draining but mentally draining as well. It’s also fair to say that we feel these effects long after said trauma or event is over, making it even more difficult to move forward.

Moreover, it’s important to recognize that sometimes there are other barriers to treatment, besides ourselves.

As Duquesne Nursing points out, many patients who are seeking mental health treatment end up facing a variety of obstacles when trying to receive proper treatment.[1]

Some of these include:

  • Too costly or no health insurance coverage
  • Lack of awareness of the severity of the disorder
  • Feeling hopeless about treatment prospects
  • Concerns about confidentiality
  • Social stigma

It’s also worth noting that these factors can be especially difficult or prevalent if you happen to live in a rural community due to the lack of available resources and medical professionals in smaller populated areas.

However, it’s important to recognize that there are still mental health options you can (and should) utilize despite these barriers.[2]

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Forgiveness is a battle that doesn’t have to be taken on alone, no matter where you live. Moreover, many people find healing through numerous methods such as reading, talking, or writing. Ultimately, your path towards a happier life can be paved with whatever works best for you.

If you do happen to find yourself in a position that prevents you from visiting a mental health professional, consider these options in the meantime:

Group Therapy

While group therapy is not as anonymous as a private session, checking your local community center for support groups can at the very least provide you with a connection to others dealing with similar difficulties as you. You also might find that you flourish in a group setting.

Local University Hospitals

As Dr. Fran Walfish, a psychotherapist, tells NBC News,

“Most qualified training hospitals have a department of psychiatry and outpatient psychology program that offers low-fee sliding scale psychotherapy.”[3]

It’s worth visiting one nearby to see exactly what they can offer you and if it’s right for you.

Develop Self-Care Strategies

Forgiveness itself is self-care, but it’s also an ongoing battle. Developing useful strategies to recenter your mind, body, and spirit can help you get through some of those tough moments.

Whether it’s learning how to meditate, working to be more mindful, or developing a relaxing nighttime routine, these practices can help ease your pain and help you refocus after an especially rough day.

Forgiveness and the subsequent journey towards happiness is definitely an emotional roller coaster. Professional help should always be your first priority, but again, it isn’t necessarily available.

While it can make you feel hopeless at times, know that there are always alternatives that can help you, no matter what curve balls get thrown your way.

The Pressures (And Regrets) Within the Workplace

Once you are able to find help on your forgiveness journey, the next challenge will be applying what you’ve learned about yourself, your pain, and how you’re going to grow from it.

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Work can be one of the more triggering factors in your life. A lot of regret or trauma often stems from a toxic work environment, perhaps a failed project, or the general feeling of making the wrong decision at the last second.

Furthermore, regret and remorse can happen within any career at any level. From office jobs to those in the medical field, learning how to forgive yourself has a unique set of challenges — it’s different for everyone.

Our forgiveness (or lack thereof) can be the result of various incidents, meaning it’s difficult to explain your feelings, anxieties, and pain to others.

For doctors, it might be the struggle to reconcile with a “never event”, or an error made during surgery.[4] For veterans, it can be the trauma of losing fellow soldiers and friends while on active duty. For those in offices, it could be dealing with the fallout (gossip, isolation, bullying) after filing a sexual harassment case. The list goes on.

There is also the very likely circumstance that you just no longer enjoy your job or career, meaning there’s a chance it’s simply not meant for you. But that doesn’t make you a failure, it just means you’re destined for something else.

Holding Yourself Back Might Be the Problem

Furthermore, holding yourself back from that something else could be the thing standing in your way of a happier life, inside and outside of work.

As USC Applied Psychology aptly explains,

“Passion not only drives you to enjoy your work but helps in overcoming obstacles in the workplace as well. Anytime you hit a bump in the road or begin to doubt your abilities, remember the positive effects of the work you are doing.”[5]

In life, we only get so many chances to follow our happiness and our dreams. Granted, we might lose sight of that goal at times, and that’s when those dark feelings can begin to creep in. But ultimately, our lives can only get better if we forgive our mistakes and learn from them.

Life is all about trial and error, and it’s okay if you don’t get it right the first, second, or third try. The most important thing is to never give up or stop trying because you’re afraid of regret or making a mistake.

Growth comes in all forms, and that includes forgiveness.

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Besides, it is never too late to start over. Here’s the proof.

Finding Forgiveness Amidst Grief

When we lose a loved one — a parent, an ex-partner, even a pet — it can be tempting to put some blame on yourself. Part of the grieving process should include mourning the loss and moving forward, with them forever in your heart.

However, when we fall into the trap of blame and regret, we end up robbing ourselves of the chance to appreciate our time, memories, and experiences we had with our loved ones who have passed.

This makes the loss of them even harder to bear. It’s a difficult cycle to break and can lead to some serious mental health issues, like depression and anxiety.

Moreover, forgiving yourself in the face of death is without a doubt tough. It’s okay to be a work in process, especially considering that the loss of a loved one is an event that will stick with you forever.

Of course, that’s all the more reason to begin learning how to forgive yourself and move forward. Acknowledging and accepting your mistakes doesn’t make you unworthy of forgiveness.

Losing a pet to a car accident or house fire doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad owner. Your dog or cat loved you dearly, and although their untimely death is unfortunate and heartbreaking, the best way to honor your pet is to own your mistake, learn from it, and forgive yourself.

When dealing with the loss of a loved one due to addiction or suicide, it’s important to remove yourself from the situation as a factor in their death. Sometimes, we simply cannot stop people from making their own choices, no matter how bad the consequences are.

Furthermore, many of us desperately want our loved one(s) to get better, to seek help, but if they don’t that’s not on you.

While it might feel like you’re betraying those who have passed away by trying to forgive yourself and move on, you’re actually doing what’s necessary to take care of your mental and physical health. You deserve to be healthy and although it may take a while, you deserve to be happy as well.

Things You Can Do After a Loss

Practicing important grief strategies is one way you can begin coping with death and begin the forgiveness process. The American Psychological Association (APA) tell us,

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“Everyone reacts differently to death and employs personal coping mechanisms for grief. Research shows that most people can recover from a loss on their own through the passage of time if they have social support and healthy habits.”[6]

They go on to list so methods worth implementing after a loss:

  • Talk about the death of your loved one. Instead of isolating yourself or denying the death outright, speak about your loss with your support system. This can help you process the loss and begin moving forward.
  • Accept your feelings. All of your feelings are valid and it’s okay to feel them. You aren’t weak or guilty because of your emotions.
  • Take care of yourself and your family. You can grieve for those who have passed while also making sure to take care of the living.
  • Reach out and help others dealing with the loss. Helping others has been shown to make us feel better and by sharing your stories you can form new, lasting bonds with others affected by a loss.
  • Remember and celebrate the lives of your loved ones. APA recommends, “donating to a favorite charity of the deceased, framing photos of fun times, passing on a family name to a baby, or planting a garden in memory. What you choose is up to you, as long as it allows you to honor that unique relationship in a way that feels right to you.”[7]

While the grieving process might be messy, complicated, and certainly frustrating at times, if you can learn how to forgive yourself, you will only grow stronger. Remember good can come from even the darkest of times.

Final Thoughts

When we force ourselves to hold onto the past — past mistakes, regrets, pain — we end up missing out on a lot of the positive things life has to offer. It’s important to keep in mind that you are not alone and it’s okay to hurt and reflect on certain aspects within your life.

However, it isn’t worth losing valuable time, relationships, health, and emotional energy over. Instead, amid grief or remorse, as difficult as it might be, working towards inner peace will ultimately serve you much better.[8]

Moreover, a person who is at peace with themselves will reap some benefits, such as:

  • Increased acceptance of yourself and self-actualization
  • Increased emotional maturity
  • The ability to live in and enjoy the present more
  • A deeper capacity for love (towards others and yourself)
  • A better sense of inner strength and power
  • More patience and compassion
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Freedom from stress and anxieties
  • A stronger sense of inner happiness
  • A better understanding of forgiveness

Achieving inner peace, especially in the face of difficulties and trauma, takes a lot of work and practice. However, the rewards are certainly worth the effort as you begin to grow as an individual, learn forgiveness towards others and yourself, and begin viewing life through a more positive lens.

You don’t need to forget your past experiences; rather, use them as a vehicle towards a greater, healthier life. You are worthy and your past doesn’t define you. It simply molds you.

Once you understand and can come to terms with that, the possibilities of happiness will open up and you can begin moving forward in life.

It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

Learn How to Forgive Yourself

Featured photo credit: Havilah Galaxy via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dan Matthews, CPRP

A Certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner with an extensive background working with clients on community-based rehabilitation.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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