Women tend to be hard on themselves, turning isolated errors into cause for sweeping self-condemnation. I failed at that task becomes I am a failure.. I gained a few pounds becomes I'm fat and ugly.. I hurt someone I love becomes I'm a terrible wife. This often makes it difficult for women to forgive themselves for their mistakes and shortcomings. Fortunately, research has revealed proven techniques that help people pardon themselves.

Why make the effort: Self-forgiveness can lead to improved health, reduced stress, better relationships, personal growth and inner peace. Steps to take

  • Identify your "grievance story." This is the story that replays in your mind, focusing on your flaws. Write it down...then consider how you vilify yourself.

Example: "My best friend dumped me because I'm clingy and controlling. I deserve to be lonely." Now rewrite this as a "forgiveness story" by emphasizing good intentions and lessons learned- "What I did was done out of love...but now I see that people need space and I'm working to improve my relationships.

  • Challenge unenforceable rules. Make a list of the rules or beliefs you judge yourself by—that loving mothers don't lose their tempers, that you must always make wise financial decisions.

Ask: "Is it possible for me-or anyone-to adhere to such rules?" If not, change your rules to conform to the reality that people do frequently fail. Doing your best doesn't require perfection.

  • Label your dreams. A big dream is to find a fulfilling career or a loving lifelong companion...a small dream is that a particular job or a particular romantic relationship is "the one." Failing at a small dream does not doom the big dream. Make a course correction if necessary (for instance, by acknowledging that a career in sales or a long distance relationship is not right for you), then keep moving toward the real goal-your big dream.
  • Make amends. We've all been hurtful at one time or another...but making amends allows you to make peace with the past.

What to do: Sincerely apologize to, and practice kindness toward, the people you wronged. If they are not available, use symbolic acts of kindness.

Examples: Volunteer in a nursing home if you blame yourself for not having helped your elderly parents enough...give money to charity if you fudged on your taxes. Even if someone you harmed won't forgive you, trying to make amends helps you forgive yourself.

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