If you have attempted suicide, the subsequent guilt and shame can be overwhelming. Moving on and reclaiming a healthy, happy life requires accounting for your actions, but that alone isn’t enough; you must also forgive yourself.
Forgiving yourself after attempting suicide is difficult, even more so when you dwell on the pain you may have caused your loved ones. Adopting a different perspective is important, as is understanding that making a mistake — even one as major as attempting to take your own life — doesn’t define you or make you a bad person.
The power of forgiveness is transformative. Forgiving yourself affords you a fresh start at living.
THE HEALING POWER OF FORGIVENESS
Whenever you forgive someone for a transgression, the primary beneficiary is you.
Forgiving others benefits us more than it does them. Forgiveness means intentionally and consciously letting go of disappointment, anger and other negative emotions brought about by a perceived offense. Forgiveness does not excuse behavior or condone actions, and it doesn’t expect justice. To forgive, simply let go of the negative feelings you harbor.
Holding onto anger and other negative emotions has been linked to increased blood pressure, fatigue, physical ailments and the need for medication. It causes increased stress, and not surprisingly, depressive symptoms.
When you let go of these stress-causing emotions, you literally increase your brain’s serotonin levels while decreasing harmful cortisol output.
HOW DO YOU FORGIVE YOURSELF AFTER A SUICIDE ATTEMPT?
The ability to forgive ourselves is necessary for our ongoing mental health. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy skill to master under the best of circumstances. After a suicide attempt, you may feel as though forgiveness is impossible.
But it’s not, if you know where to start.
Begin by acknowledging the pain you’ve caused friends and family. Express your intention to reconstruct your relationship with them and — to the greatest degree possible — repair the harm you’ve done. Ask for their forgiveness, but don’t be derailed if your request is met with anger. Remember, this is a process, and it takes time.
Next, accept that you aren’t perfect and never will be. Acknowledge that you have flaws and make mistakes, but understand that these factors do not make you a bad person. Retain remorse for what you’ve done and accept responsibility for your actions, but focus on the good you have done and the good you will do.
THE ART OF PRACTICING FORGIVENESS
You can understand the power of forgiving yourself and others, but until you actively practice forgiveness in your life, you won’t be able to claim its benefits.
If you begin to think of yourself harshly or with self-condemnation, stop immediately and think instead with compassion and empathy. Don’t avoid or dampen your emotions with alcohol, drugs or self-destructive behaviors. Instead, face them and work on making the world a better place. Volunteer in your community. Spend time helping your loved ones in some meaningful way.
Finally, if you haven’t yet done so, seek the help of a counselor or psychotherapist. Recovering from a suicide attempt requires professional assistance, potentially including talk therapy and even medication to help manage your mental disorder. What you have is an illness, not a character flaw, so treat it accordingly.
You don’t have to face the battle of recovering from a suicide attempt alone. But forgiving yourself is a critical first step in the process of restoring your health, happiness and well-being. In Justin Peck’s book, Bulletproof, he shares his own story of triumph and recovery from mental disorder. His tale is truly inspirational, and can be helpful if you or someone you love is struggling to deal with the aftermath of a suicide attempt.