By Katie Marshall

“What if I forgave myself? What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if “yes” was the right answer instead of “no”? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?” – Cheryl Strayed

Ever since I realized that I could be mean to myself, I have been searching for ways to be kind to myself. It’s harder than it sounds, or maybe it’s an “illusive obvious,” so simple it becomes complex. I say terrible things to and about myself on a daily basis. I mentally punish myself in ways I would not even think to expel on others. And should anyone say they are doing the same things to themselves, I would give them every bit of self-help advice I’ve got in an effort to get them out of the black hole of negative self-talk. But our standards for others are one thing. Our standards for ourselves are entirely another.

It’s hard to forgive yourself because you know yourself. You know the things that you think and share with yourself. Those things that you never say out loud still echo inside of you because you said them and you heard them. You remember all of the little bad things that you did and all of the big bad things that you did and all of the small things that you treated like big things and that you still carry with you every day. It’s so easy to tell others to “go easy on themselves” or to “let them off the hook” just as it is so much easier to give advice than it is to take it.

If we know how easy it is to put ourselves into cages built by our own hands, using guilt and shame, then could it possibly be just as easy to unlock the cage for ourselves? Maybe. I think this question is the key:

“What if I forgave myself?”

It’s the beginning of a new year, so it would be easy to say this is my Resolution or even my Rule or Mantra. But I don’t want it to be any of those things for any of us. Because the beauty of this question is that it is full of possibilities. It is not a resolution. It is an option.

A lot of self-care requires that we immediately take action to love ourselves. But think about how difficult it is to be kind to someone else when you get into an argument. Now imagine if you knew every single bad thing that person had ever done or thought to do. How much longer would it take you to tap into your empathy and kindness and go easy on them? This is what it is like to learn to love yourself and to be gentle with yourself: understanding that it takes time, accepting that you probably won’t get it right the first couple hundred times, but committing to trying and getting there when you get there.

When we ask “What if” we open ourselves up to possibilities, both positive and negative. “What if I forgave myself?” does not require you to do anything. You don’t have to forgive yourself right then or even later. Sometimes you won’t, at least for a while. This question gives you the option of freedom, which you are free to choose or dismiss. It’s all up to you.

You could re-frame the question to ask, “What’s the worst thing that could happen if I let myself off the hook?” More likely than not, nothing too terrible will happen. “What if I thought about what I really want to do tonight instead of doing what I think everyone else wants me to do? And then what if I did that thing? Would that be okay?” Most likely, yes, it will be okay.

And most importantly, for the big, small, medium, long-carried and in-the-moment aggression and guilt trips with one-way tickets, ask yourself this:

“What if I forgave myself?”

What if? Would it be so bad? Could it maybe be wonderful? And if you can’t let yourself get to Wonderful, then could it maybe be relieving, calming, okay for now?

What if?

Let the possibilities in. Let them empower you and let them calm you. Allow them to lead you to where you can roam cage-free.

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