I Never Saw It Coming: A Story of Self-Forgiveness

Something miraculous happened to me recently.

The other night, I was typing at my laptop, responding to emails, ordering gifts for friends, and ignoring the drifts of cat fur that grow larger by the day.

Nearly a half an hour went by before I stood up and walked toward our kitchen. It was only then that I remembered: I’d left a pot of rice cooking on the stove.

“Oh no!” I yelped. “I forgot about the rice! Shoot and sugar muffins!”

(If you hang around me long enough, you’ll hear creative alternatives to swear words; it’s a holdover from growing up “so totally relig”.)

My husband Jonathan glanced up. “Do we need to get you an automatic shut off for the stove, like we have for the toaster?” he teased, with his usual wry humor.

“I guess so!” I sighed, putting my hands on my hips. “Seriously! I can’t believe I forgot … again!”

“Is it burned?” Jonathan asked, as I clicked off the stove top burner.

“I’m not sure,” I sighed. I didn’t want to look and see that I’d ruined perfectly good food. I didn’t want to have made a mistake.

And then it happened. Seven words slipped out of my mouth almost before I knew what I was saying.

“I forgive myself for burning the rice.”

That was it. But that was everything.

In that moment, I realized that my default setting had changed from shame to self-forgiveness.

Yes, I said those words with some resignation, but I said them. And even more radically, I meant them. For a recovering perfectionist, that is a huge win.

So here’s my question:

How do you treat yourself when you make a mistake?

Do you speak words of self-forgiveness, or do you get stuck in the shame and blame game?

Perfectionists like us are usually really, really hard on ourselves. We learned to demand flawlessness early on, because we thought that would keep us safe.

But sometimes the behavior that kept us safe in one situation tears us down over time. The good news is, we can recover. We can choose transformation.

Do you want to be the type of person who is harsh with herself and others, or the type who can forgive people for making honest mistakes?

Leave a comment below and let me know. Tell me what’s holding you back, and we’ll troubleshoot together. (You can also email caroline[at]awishcomeclear.com if you’d prefer.)

Here’s what I know: When you learn to be kind to yourself, a whole new world opens up.

Yours with gratitude,

PS – When I lifted the lid of the pot, the rice wasn’t burned after all. As it turned out, there was a tiny bit water left – just enough to save the whole thing.


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8 thoughts on “I Never Saw It Coming: A Story of Self-Forgiveness

  1. Shannon says:

    “My default setting had changed from shame to self-forgiveness”. I love this! I have been on a journey of learning self-compassion and these words express the transformation that I too, have experienced. I didn’t realize until I read this phrase, how powerful and beautiful this shift has been. Thank you for these words.

    • Thank you, Shannon! It’s great to hear that you’ve been on a similar journey, and I’m so glad that this piece could reflect back to you what you’ve been learning. You’re so welcome!

  2. Bridget says:

    “Do you want to be the type of person who is harsh with herself and others, or the type who can forgive people for making honest mistakes?”

    If I’m only harsh with myself and can forgive others for making honest mistakes, does that mean I’m half way there? Self-forgiveness and offering myself the same kind of grace I readily offer others is still a work in progress.

    I love “shoot and sugar muffins!”. I have a whole arsenal of quirky replacements. Once my favorites is “doggie doodles”.

    • Bridget, I hear you! In my experience, the way we treat ourselves and the way we treat others are deeply connected. At times it does feel easier to forgive others and harder to forgive myself, and practicing self-forgiveness is vital. Yet I also know that when I’m harsh with myself, that invariably spills over into my relationships with others, albeit in more subtle ways. Does that ring true for you?

      PS – “Doggie doodles” is so much fun! Thanks for sharing that one.

      • Bridget says:

        I work rather hard at not taking my irritation with myself out on others – especially those closest to me. I have been practicing listening without responding immediately for a while now, just to check in with myself on where I’m responding from. And if it is one of those days where I know I will have a pretty difficult time taking myself out of the equation, I let them know up front that I’m “rather growl-ey” and that hugs and time-out (for me) would probably be best for a bit.

        • Bridget, there’s a lot of wisdom in what you share: accepting yourself where you are, taking pause before responding in haste, and letting people know upfront that you’re needing greater support and gentleness at certain times. Bravo!

          I can relate – sometimes I’ll tell those close to me, “I’m in a shame spiral. Can you just tell me that you love me and that I’m not the worst person in the world?” Just admitting it and asking for help can be half the battle.

  3. I’m glad your rice was ok…haha. I am about halfway there to this. Sometimes I can blow off a mistake and not beat myself up over it and then there are times when I go straight to blame and shame. But, I do catch myself and then try to switch. Having severe anxiety actually has made me have to accept things being less than perfect. I just don’t have the energy to do all the things I want to (even just dusting or vacuuming) so I’ve tried to learn to not let it bother me. I guess deep down it still does, but not as badly as it used to. I’m a work in progress! What you did was terrific!

    • Sheila, thank you for the encouragement, and for sharing from your experience! As a fellow “work in progress” I can relate to what you describe – sometimes I’m able to let a perceived mistake go with grace, and other times I obsess over it even though I know better! Yet I’m also learning to surrender sooner, and that’s a lot. (I’ve also been hiring help with the housecleaning.) 😉

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