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How to Forgive Yourself

To make peace with yourself and live a joyful life, you need to learn how to forgive yourself. These steps towards forgiving yourself are inspired by a counseling session I recently observed (I’m a counselor in training).

How to Forgive YourselfIn Forgiveness: How to Make Peace With Your Past and Get on With Your Life, Sidney B. Simon and Suzanne Simon offer practical exercises and tips for healing. You’ll learn the art and practice of self-forgiveness and self-acceptance, and give yourself the freedom you need to heal.

When I was a student, I observed a counseling session with a counselor and a man recovering from heroin addiction. He said he has no problem forgiving people who hurt him, but he can’t forgive himself for the bad things he’s done. He hates himself. He asked why it’s so hard to learn how to forgive yourself. The counselor didn’t have the answer, but I’ve been wondering if it has to do with shame and guilt.

When we do something wrong, we should feel guilty. “I did a bad thing.” That’s appropriate guilt, and it motivates us to make amends and ask for forgiveness. Hopefully, we can forgive ourselves for making mistakes and doing the wrong thing. But, if we feel ashamed of ourselves (“I am a bad person” instead of “I did a bad thing”), then we might have a more difficult time forgiving ourselves. If you read How to Forgive Yourself for Not Protecting Your Dog, you’ll see both shame and guilt in action.

Before you read these steps on how to forgive yourself, think about the difference between guilt and shame. Do you hate yourself for what you did? That’s shame. Do you feel you made a mistake, used bad judgment, chose to do the wrong thing? That’s guilt.

10 Steps to Forgiving Yourself

Lulofs and Cahn describe nine elements of forgiving someone for doing something bad to you. Here there are below, more or less. I’ve spun them off into steps on how to forgive yourself.

Understand that forgiveness is a process

You won’t forgive yourself overnight because you feel really bad about what you did. Healing is always a process – and so is grieving the choice you made or the harm you caused. You need to trust that the process will happen, and you will get through it.

Recognize how you have been hurt

What did you do wrong? How did you hurt others; how did you hurt yourself. Face it, even if it feels terrible. Write down the choice you made, and how it affected people in your life. This is a painful step when you’re learning how to forgive yourself, but it’s necessary and healthy to face the truth.

Allow yourself to be angry about the hurt

You screwed up. You made a terrible choice. Get mad at yourself. Anger can be healthy, and cleansing…as long as it is expressed and dismissed.

Do not get stuck in the victim stage

Do you feel sorry for yourself because of what you did? If you’ve been beating yourself up for months or years, it’s time to move on. You can’t allow yourself to wallow in victimhood – you have to give yourself the gift of knowing how to forgive yourself. If you struggle with self-acceptance, read How to Stop Hating Yourself.

Find people to support your forgiveness process

How to Forgive Yourself

How to Forgive Yourself

Have you confessed your “sin” to someone you trust? If you talk about it, you’ll bring light to the healing process.

Walking in dark will make you stumble; walking in light and connecting with others will help you go farther and faster than you thought possible.

Accept that you can’t change what you did

This tip on how to forgive yourself isn’t from the book by Lulofs and Cahn. But, I want you to remember that you did what you did. It’s over, and you need to let it go.

Change how you see yourself

If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll have a hard time forgiving yourself because you want to be perfect. Instead, try to see yourself as human – having flaws and making mistakes. If you tend toward perfectionism, read How to Stop Being a Perfectionist.

Change how you see others

Others are capable of hurting people, capable of wrongdoing, capable of making mistakes and bad choices. You’re not inferior to them (this was a big step for me, when I finally choose to forgive myself) – but you’re not superior to them, either. We’re all in this together, just trying to survive.

Learn from your mistakes

Think about what you have learned from your choice and the outcome. How have you grown because of it? What would you do differently next time? Use your experience to make better, healthier choices in the future. Don’t waste it.

Dig deeper into resources on how to forgive yourself

forgiving yourselfI don’t believe forgiving yourself is as easy as reading a blog post! Read a book like How To Forgive Ourselves Totally: Begin Again by Breaking Free from Past Mistakes – it’ll take you deeper into the process of self-forgiveness.

If you haven’t told anyone what you did, I invite you to share below. Don’t use your real name. Sometimes just “confessing” your mistakes and actions brings power and light to your life, and helps you as you move towards forgiving yourself. The first tip on how to forgive yourself might actually be to share your guilt and shame with others, to bring light, and to start healing.

May learn how to forgive yourself, and move forward in peace and joy.

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4 thoughts on “How to Forgive Yourself”

  1. Learning how to forgive yourself is a daily act of peace and kindness you give to yourself. Forgiveness is a gift, and even though you don’t feel like you deserve it…you owe it to yourself to let the past sleep.

    Live in this moment, and let the past go. You did what you could. Now that you know better, you will do better.

    Accept the love, grace, peace and forgiveness that God so freely pours out….allow yourself to take a deep breath and heal your soul.

  2. I’m having a hard time letting go of guilt I have from having my cat euthanized last April. I was an emotional mess afterwards, but then seemed to recover. There were a couple things that happened recently that made me think of her and I haven’t been able to stop crying today thinking of her. She was nearly 14, but had developed diabetes. I was giving her the prescribed insulin shots, but wasn’t paying attention to the fact that she wasn’t eating as well and seemed lethargic. Instead of taking her to the vet right away, I put it off because I was going through some things relationship-wise. My engagement had just ended, so I was depressed and not thinking clearly. This shouldn’t be an excuse though. I had decided in my mind already that if she needed further intervention, besides insulin, I was going to think about euthanasia, because I had already spent over $1000 the previous time she needed to be stabilized. And being a single mom, on a budget, I have to think about those things. Well, one day I came home from picking up my daughter from school and my cat was not moving, she was still alive, however. I scooped her up in a blanket and took her to the nearest vet. I held her and tried to comfort her, but I was a mess. My daughter had to witness this, too. I told the vet that I was ready to let her go. He didn’t recommend treatment, but got things ready to make her more comfortable. I just wish I would have tried to save her instead of making the abrupt decision to let her go, or paid more attention to her before it got to that point. I feel like a failure, I have both blame and guilt. I wish I could go back in time and fix this, but I know it’s not possible. I found this website and hope my confession helps me release some of the pain and guilt I’m feeling.

  3. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    I’m glad you commented here – it takes alot of courage to talk about how to forgive yourself!

    May you allow God’s peace to overwhelm you, and His spirit fill you with the forgiveness you need. Once you accept His forgiveness, you open yourself up to forgiving yourself for the things you did, the mistakes you made, the people you harmed.

    Let your old self die. God is creating a new person in you — that’s why you found these tips on how to forgive yourself! Because you are growing and learning.

    May you move forward in love, peace, joy, and compassion. May you find the right resources and the right people to help you heal your heart and soul.


  4. Thank you so much for your article on how to forgive yourself.

    I have been struggling for years with deep guilt and shame for a mountain of poor choices that I made over and over while in the iron grip of deep addiction. I lost my career and over and over lost friends because I would drive very friendship into the ground. It is those very personal mistakes and wrongs done toward people I care about the mos. Those are the things that continue to haunt me. I get stuck in negative loop thinking that starts with a pretty innocent seeming recall or thought of an embarrassing or shameful mistake and through years of practice with associating thoughts I quickly spiral downward until I find I am so drowning in the vibrations of guilt and shame. I have been trying to set up alarms to bring my awareness in when I begin too slide into a loop. I try to cut short the full spiral. It has worked at time but as with addiction there are triggers such as being tired or lonely that seem to amplify the episodes.

    I understand that the past is the past. I cannot do a thing to make it not so. I rob myself of the future and the more important NOW by continuing to live in this fashion.

    One thing I would like to bring up and hear what others think about or have had experience with… And that is the spiritual side of this battle. I still am not free and I still have not allowed forgiveness to include me.

    In this case I guess a little anger is actually a rung up from guilt and shame! At least it is in the right direction!

    Thanks again for your ideas on how to forgive yourself.