Forgiving Ourselves - An Unlikely Lesson from a Three Year Old

The other day my daughter and I were playing, and she got really excited and started hugging my leg. And then she bit me. Hard…because she was happy. I know that doesn't really make sense, but 3 year olds don't often make sense. It didn't take much to let her to know that she had crossed the line between playful and hurtful (a loud "OW!" sufficed), and in her shame, she started to cry. I told her I wasn't mad and that I knew she didn't mean to hurt me, that she just got excited, but that just made her cry more. When she knows she did something wrong, she runs and hides, so after a while of trying to make her feel better, we just decided to let her emotions run their course. It turned out to be pretty funny actually, because while we were calmly doing other things around the house, we could hear her howling from her room like the world was coming an end.

This went on for a good 10 minutes or so before she emerged, grinning from ear to ear like we just told her she was going to Disneyland or something. I thought my moodswings as a 16 year old were bad. Three year old moodswings are borderline bipolar.

Anyhow that got me thinking about forgiveness. Even though I had forgiven here almost immediately after she bit me, it took her an extra 10 minutes before she finally let go of what she had done wrong. I thought to myself, "What if we all just sat and howled like a three year old for as long as it took to forgive ourselves for the things we regret?" Not only would that be hilarious, but nothing would get done.

My daughter missed out on ten minutes of her life that she could've spent doing more pleasant things. Instead she chose to sit and cry. Ok. So we're all grown ups and we've learned how to hide those feelings deep so we can still function during the day, but that doesn't mean our regrets aren't holding us back. How much of our lives are we missing out on because we metaphorically sit out and cry over past wrongs we committed that we can't change?

Chances are, the people we've hurt have forgiven us - especially if they love us, but we often insist on paying for it, making our own lives miserable by not forgiving ourselves. Rather than learning from our past mistakes and moving forward, we shackle ourselves to an unrealistic expectation of perfection and are then surprised and disappointed when we don't make the grade.

Instead of holding ourselves to an unrealistically high standard, let's treat ourselves with kindness and generosity, acknowledging our faults righting our wrongs as much as possible, and then moving on, allowing ourselves to live a full and happy life, knowing and accepting that we are mostly good people that sometimes make mistakes.