Geeks Vs Loneliness: forgiving yourself

Not forgiving yourself for things you've done wrong can cause no shortage of unhappiness. But what can you do about it?

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Welcome to Geeks Vs Loneliness, our weekly spot on the site where we try and talk about things that may be making people feel unhappy, or isolated, or just the wrong side of good, for whatever reason. Not every article applies to every person, but hopefully, in the pieces that we write, there’s something that can be of some use to you, or someone you know, at some point down the line.

I want this week to talk about something I struggle with enormously: forgiving yourself for mistakes you’ve made, or bad things that you’ve done. It’s something that can put a real block on moving forward in life, or finding happiness. And it’s something that rarely seems to be discussed.

There’s a moment in the original – and best – Jurassic Park film, where John Hammond, played by the late, great Richard Attenborough, tells Dennis Nedry (the mighty Wayne Knight) that “I don’t blame people for their mistakes. But I do ask that they pay for them”.

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Every human being makes mistakes. I struggle with the assumption otherwise, especially in a world where we have a media operation that magnifies every human failing. I’ve made plenty. One of the worst was an incident when I was younger, where I accidentally managed to break someone’s finger. I didn’t see the person concerned again for a few weeks, and when I did, their arm was in plaster. Appreciating their injury was far worse than mine, I was devastated. I locked myself away and cried. I hated I’d done it, and I hate it still.

To give it some context, it was accidental, but avoidable. It was in my student days, at the end of an evening of light beverages, and it was the old game of how far can your fingers go back. Even just typing it, I still feel the guilt, and it happened well over a decade ago.

I’ve deliberately chosen what, in the scheme of things, might sound like a relatively small incident. I think we’ve all got things that we feel guilt about, that continue to haunt us. That, for some reason, we can’t find our peace with. I’ve certainly had more since that particular incident above, but the sheer power of guilt and an inability to forgive myself for it means I’ve got a tear in my eye for the hurt I caused as I type this.

How, then, are you supposed to move forward?

Regular readers of this series will know that we never promise magic wands, or instant solutions, and that’s the same again here. But a few thoughts may be of help.

Firstly, if at all possible, if there’s another person involved, then talk to them. I can’t say this worked wonderfully well for me – they were very forgiving, which made me feel twice as bad – but I do think it’s important. Also, talk to someone else. Let it out. Don’t let it fester, don’t let it build up into self-hate. That we feel bad about things is a direct consequence of us feeling guilt, and if we didn’t feel guilt we’d be not very good human beings.

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Also, take something forward. Do something positive as a consequence of what’s happened. It may be too late to fix things in the past, but there’s still a future ahead of us all. Channel what went wrong into something right. It won’t erase the past, and nor should it. But do something. Don’t just leave things to fester.

Don’t avoid addressing what you did, and how you feel, head on. Go into the depths of your guilt if you can. Understand why things happened, and take steps to make sure they won’t again.

Every single person on planet Earth does things wrong, that they wish they hadn’t have done. Every single person on planet Earth has things they wish they could turn the clock back on. As easy as it is to write down, the trick is to learn from it, to accept it, and at some point, to let yourself just a little off the hook. I can’t claim to be great at that, but I see firmly the importance of it.

Please: if you’re being held back by guilt, talk to someone, be it a friend, family member, or organisation. We talk about groups like the Samaritans in these articles for good reason. It’s a major misconception that you have to be at the very end of your tether for the Samaritans to speak to you. We’ve asked them: they want to help at the start of your tether too. Just try sending an email, if you’re vaguely interested in seeing if they can help: jo@samaritans.org.

Take a few steps on the path to self-forgiveness at least. And let’s not be afraid of being human beings.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

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