The 5-Step Process That Can Rescue You From Shame & Regret

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joyful woman in dun

Have you ever disappointed yourself? Embarrassed yourself? Said or did something that, immediately after the “incident”, made you ashamed of yourself?

Yeah, who hasn’t?

How did you deal with yourself afterward? Did you beat yourself up? Label yourself as a moron or fool? Take to your bed and hide? Indulge in your most comforting guilty pleasure?

Again, who hasn’t?

Nothing about this felt nice, did it?

In fact, these approaches are counterproductive in maintaining your working relationship with yourself and modifying your future behavior.

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It’s as though you simultaneously were the accused, judge, jury, and executioner. With the help of that little voice in your head, you judged yourself guilty of some unforgivable offense against humanity and yourself, and you proceeded to punish yourself for your misdeed.

With a lifetime of judgment and self-imposed jail sentences, consider how well that has been working for you.

Probably not well at all — because that process of judging and finding yourself guilty leaves you clawing your way out of a seemingly bottomless pit of regret and guilt.

There is nothing restorative in shame.

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The five-step process that can help you move on from the shame & regret of a mistake

1. Acknowledge what happened

An apology to yourself starts like every other heartfelt apology. Acknowledge what happened, be specific about actions, and reserve judgment, intention, and assumption.

You acted (or failed to act) in some fashion. Nothing “bad” or “wrong” happened (“bad” and “wrong” being very judge-y words — skip these).

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2. Acknowledge how you feel about what happened

Be specific about how you feel about what happened. You already know that you feel “bad."

“Feeling bad” is too broad and adjectives contribute to understanding — you were embarrassed, angry, enraged, sick to your stomach. For an apology to be offered and accepted, you must know and clearly identify what you’re apologizing for and how your behavior has affected you.

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3. Accept your own apology

Accept your apology to yourself and forgive yourself for messing up and behaving like a human being. Self-forgiveness is unlikely to be instantaneous—no one is required to immediately apologize or accept an apology, not even when you are apologizing to yourself.

Give yourself sufficient time to compose yourself before you begin to apologize.

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4. Perform (and repeat) this Hawaiian healing prayer

Fourth, whether you’re still working through the first three steps (you’re still angry and upset with yourself) or have already forgiven yourself, repeat to yourself this Hawaiian apology and forgiveness technique, “Ho’oponopono.” 

In its simplest form, the healing prayer is:

"I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you."

Ho’oponopono is a clear and powerful process of accepting responsibility, asking for forgiveness and accepting forgiveness. It can be used to restore balance as easily as it can be used to restore harmony between yourself and another.

It doesn’t matter if you are the injured party, the person who caused the injury, or, in the case of a self-apology, both.

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5. Acknowledge that you're flawed (like all humans)

Recognize and accept that you’re human, with all the failures and accomplishments of being human.

Yes, we have all screwed up in the past. Without exception, we’re going to screw up in the future.

What makes us powerful is that we can recognize and forgive ourselves for being flawed and however uncomfortable the process, enable ourselves to restore relationships — even with ourselves.

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Susan Kulakowski, MBA/MS, is a YourTango expert focusing on human relationships, especially relationships within families.