Becoming an adult can be one of the most exciting times in life. It’s often filled with new experiences that shape worldviews establishing one’s unique identity. For most young adults, it is also a time of significant growth, with challenges that break you down while simultaneously making you stronger as you learn from experience. In essence, it’s a period where you learn the life strategies for successful adulthood.
What is my key life lesson to date? Learning to forgive and to stop overthinking issues I need to let go. Forgiveness in principle sounds so easy. But if you are an overthinker like me, forgiveness is extremely hard. Our brains have a difficult time letting things go because we are always thinking about the situation. We think about how it could have gone differently and what we would change for the future. Overthinking is a habit that if unchecked can lead to mental burnout without us even realizing it. This is why forgiveness is one of the most important lessons an overthinker needs to learn.
As a teenager, I had a very naive understanding of forgiveness that was focused on the actions of others. I believed that it was solely about accepting the apology of another person. In my limited worldview, it did not include self-forgiveness. Forgiveness was not about me letting go and moving forward. Instead, it was a way of communicating to others that our relationship was good because they had my forgiveness. The natural progression of growth meant that I experienced several cycles of what I defined as my “forgiveness trap”. I was hurt, I expressed my disappointment, I received an apology, and then I forgave. But I did not feel the satisfaction that I thought would come from the act of forgiveness. Specifically, there was little or no satisfaction from apologies as I still struggled to let go of the hurt that was caused or the trust that had been broken. My brain simply could not let things go enough for me to experience forgiveness.
I was hurt, I expressed my disappointment, I received an apology, and then I forgave. But I did not feel the satisfaction that I thought would come from the act of forgiveness.
So in my relationships, friends and family members did not know how much I felt hurt or wronged by their actions. They were able to move on when they apologized but I could not. Why? In their minds, they had done what was needed to make things right by apologizing. In other words, their actions made them feel better. With a commitment to personal growth, I identified my tendency to overthink issues and not communicate whether I was on the receiving end of hurtful actions, responsible for hurting others, or causing self-harm from my perfectionistic tendencies. I had similar reflections on self-forgiveness. I discovered my tendency to overthink issues was associated with being perfect. This means there was no room for making mistakes and learning from them. Having high expectations can be good as one is always striving to be better but there can be a downside when there is a continuous focus on improvement without an achievable end goal. I struggled to accept failures or move on from mistakes. I was very critical of myself when I hurt others. Even after apologizing, I found it hard to forgive myself for what I had done.
What was I doing or not doing that prevented me from moving on? The answer was that forgiveness was more about me than the other person. It’s about finding the strategies to accept what happened, identifying ways to move forward, and in my case stop overthinking issues. Once I had this new perspective, it became easier to truly forgive. So how does an overthinker get to the euphoria of forgiveness? Here are 3 practices that I’ve implemented to stop overthinking and to experience forgiveness.
Ultimately, forgiveness is more about the person making the decision to forgive. It requires you to move forward instead of focusing on the past. The ability to forgive—both others and yourself—is a key healthy habit that fosters a meaningful life.