There are many reasons why you may feel the need to forgive yourself.
Perhaps you’ve hurt someone. Maybe you lied. Did you do something terrible (at least, in your eyes)?
Is it for cheating on a partner? Do you have big regrets in life?
Are you trying to move on from past mistakes?
Did you allow someone to hurt you?
Whatever the situation, how can you find a way to forgive yourself for the things you have done?
The process of feeling better about yourself can be a long one, but here are some tips to help speed things up.
1. Get specific about what needs to be forgiven.
General forgiveness that covers all possible bases isn’t particularly effective.
You can’t let go of any negative feelings until you identify precisely what they relate to.
What was the offense that you think needs forgiveness?
Break it down and consider each of the negative consequences of your actions.
Let’s say, for example, that we’re dealing with infidelity in a relationship. What are the things that you need forgiveness for?
The physical and emotional intimacy you shared with someone else is the obvious place to start.
Then there’s the breaking of trust and the hurt you have caused your partner.
But what about the lies you told, or the time you have lost to the affair?
Getting specific really does help you to understand the nature of the harm that has been caused by your actions and what you need to work on, both practically and emotionally.
2. Realize that you are not infallible.
Nobody’s perfect. NOBODY!
People screw up. They make mistakes. They do things that they know they shouldn’t do.
We are both intellectually and emotionally weak at times.
We succumb to temptation. We don’t think through our actions. We take inappropriate risks.
You were not, are not, and will never be perfect.
Self-forgiveness is a whole lot easier when you truly accept this indisputable fact.
You’ll realize that the standards you hold yourself too are unrealistic and that you should cut yourself a little slack now and then.
This is not the same as condoning, denying, or pardoning what you have done. That’s not what forgiveness is all about.
3. Don’t judge yourself with hindsight.
“You should have known better!”
That’s your mind telling you that you were foolish for behaving the way you did.
But it’s today’s mind, not yesterday’s mind.
It’s all well and good to look back on something and realize that it was stupid.
But in the moment, when rational thought fails you and emotional force takes over, it’s not so easy to do the right thing.
Don’t judge the you of yesterday by the hindsight of today.
As the saying goes: “It is easy to be wise after the event.”
4. Admit your wrongdoing openly.
If there is a wrongdoing that involves another person, it’s best to come clean to them.
For instance, you will struggle to forgive yourself for telling a lie until you have admitted telling it.
If you continue to hold on to a secret, you continue to hold on to the emotional burden that goes with it.
So as hard as it may be, you have to reveal the things you have done wrong to the people those wrongdoings affect.
This tip is often very important, but there are instances where it’s not entirely necessary.
For example, regretting a choice you made in your past that only affected you and the path your life took – that doesn’t require any open admission.
But even then, it may help to discuss this regret with someone you trust. Speaking about it can help make it more real.
5. Don’t punish yourself.
It can be tempting to beat yourself up over the things you have done that may have hurt others, or that you wish you had done differently.
After all, we’re taught from a very young age that our actions have consequences.
But chances are you will be feeling pretty bad already. You don’t need to pile on even more punishment.
If you feel like you deserve to suffer, think again.
Telling yourself how stupid you are, indulging in self-destructive behaviors, or wishing retribution to be served upon you – none of these things help.
Forgiveness is a gentle and kind process.
6. Ask how you can make amends.
Whatever the negative consequences of your actions are, there may be things you can do to make the situation better, if only a little bit.
If you have wronged someone, the first step is to sincerely apologize to that person.
They may not be able to accept your apology straight away, but it is a necessary first step in healing the rift between you.
From there, you can think of ways in which you can put right some of the wrongs that you have committed.
Sometimes these can be actions that directly address something you have done.
Other times, you may have to consider what you can do that will rebuild the relationship that has been damaged by your wrongdoing.
By working to put right what you have done, you will begin to feel better about yourself.
7. Don’t tie self-forgiveness to the forgiveness of others.
If you have really hurt someone, it may take them a long time to forgive you.
In fact, they may never be able to fully let go of what you have done.
As hard as that may be for you to accept, it shouldn’t stand in the way of you forgiving yourself.
While they have to work on their emotional hurt, you have to work on yours.
By doing the work and processing your emotions, you can manage to forgive yourself, regardless of how the other person may be feeling.
8. Accept that forgiveness is the right way forward.
Sometimes it’s hard to even believe that you deserve to be forgiven.
You may resist the idea that you can feel emotionally at ease about the situation again, because right now it just seems too much to bear.
It is essential for you to accept that the process of forgiveness is not just right, but that it is the only way forward that leads to a better future.
Without forgiveness, you will be consumed with regret. It will follow you wherever you go, like a shadow that reminds you of the terrible thing you have done.
That is not what you want. That is not what you deserve.
You may also like (article continues below):
- How To Forgive Someone: 2 Science-Based Models Of Forgiveness
- How To Let Go Of The Past
- 20 Healthy Coping Skills: Strategies To Ease Negative Emotions
- How To Be Happy Again: 15 Tips To Rediscover Your Happiness
9. Don’t dwell on the past.
It’s impossible to find emotional forgiveness for yourself if you are forever letting your mind replay events.
Memories are not simply visual representations of things that have happened. They can arouse strong emotions related to the situation.
So by reliving things over and over in your mind, you reenergize the troubling emotions you are experiencing.
You prevent them from melting away, and by doing so you prevent forgiveness from taking place.
Instead, focus both on what is going on in the present moment, and on the ways in which your future can be bright and positive.
10. Silence your inner critic.
When we make mistakes, or when we make choices we later come to regret, our minds can be very harsh on us.
We allow our inner critic to convince us of our position as a failure and a disappointment to those around us.
We think negative things about ourselves. We speak poorly of ourselves to others.
But this mindset stands firmly in the way of being able to forgive yourself.
Instead, you need to pay more attention to your inner encourager.
The voice that tells you that you are worthy of forgiveness and that you have lots of good qualities that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Yes, you’ve made mistakes, but you are not a bad person because of them. You can still make great contributions to the world and to the lives of those you care about.
11. Treat yourself like your best friend.
Imagine a friend is sitting across a table from you. They open their mouths and start a sentence with “I really screwed up.” or “I wish I had/hadn’t done…”
You sit there and listen to them explain what they have done. Then you respond.
Do you say “You’re right, you’re an absolute idiot. What’s wrong with you? Nobody likes you.”?
No, of course you don’t.
You offer some kind and thoughtful words to try to make them feel better.
So why would you treat yourself any differently.
This links to the previous point about silencing your inner critic and listening to your inner encourager.
If you treat yourself like you would treat your best friend, you’ll be well placed to show some empathy toward yourself.
You’ll be able to step out of your head and see yourself from a neutral point of view, and this will help you to be kind to yourself.
12. Put things in perspective.
Sometimes we blow things way out of proportion.
We think that the things we have done or the choices we have made are entirely regrettable, when they are possibly not as bas as that.
This is especially relevant when we are seeking to forgive ourselves for the paths we have taken in life that we wouldn’t have taken, looking back.
Maybe you chose a career based on money instead of job fulfillment.
Or did you blow your savings travelling the world, meaning you now can’t afford to buy a house in your desired neighborhood?
You can look at these things and beat yourself up, or you can try to see the benefits that have come from the decisions you have made.
Perhaps your career has allowed you to provide safety and security for your family, avoiding the potential stresses and worries that come when money is tight.
And maybe that trip around the world has shed light on the type of person you wish to be, giving you the opportunity to lead a more fulfilling life from here on out.
Even things that have directly hurt others may have glimmers of positive within them if you can look at them differently.
13. Learn the lesson from your mistake.
You’ll never be able to forgive yourself for something if you continue to do the same thing again.
In fact, you’ll only berate yourself more for being so foolish and weak.
So it is vitally important that you learn from your mistakes and act differently in the future.
You will recognize that you have grown as a person and forgiveness will be all the easier for it.
14. Work through your shame.
Shame is a specific type of feeling that links to the mistakes we make and the hurt we cause others.
Let’s imagine you say something that a person finds highly offensive. It doesn’t really matter if you meant it to come across that way.
You can’t believe you said such a thing. You are filled with remorse. You question your morals and think ill of yourself.
You are ashamed.
You think others will judge you for it, and you believe they are right to do so.
But this is not a helpful train of thought. Instead, you ought to realize that you are not defined by your mistakes or your choices.
Whether or not others are judging you is of no consequence. You just have to know that you are no more deserving of their judgment than they are of yours.
Accept this fact and your shame will disperse.
15. Take care of yourself.
When you have done something that requires forgiveness, you must treat yourself with respect.
As mentioned earlier, you should not punish yourself for your wrongdoings. Instead, you must maintain good self-care.
By showing yourself this kindness, you reinforce your self-worth, and when your self-worth is high, you deem yourself worthy of forgiveness.
So make sure you eat well, take regular exercise, get enough sleep, and generally do things to release the stress and anxiety that comes from behaving in a way you regret.
16. Receive your forgiveness.
There will come a time at which you will feel ready to forgive yourself.
Whatever you do, don’t resist this.
Even when you are on the verge of complete emotional forgiveness, it is possible to fall back into old ways of thinking.
But you must push through and be willing to accept and receive the forgiveness you are offering yourself.
17. Be patient.
Time is a great healer.
This is true for the hurts you have caused others, and it is true for the emotional turmoil you experience.
The process of forgiving yourself may not always be linear. You may jump back and forth between different mental positions.
Sometimes you may see yourself as deserving forgiveness. Then you might listen to your inner critic and take a backward step.
But if you are patient and if you follow all of the advice above, you will eventually reach the point when you can say to yourself “I forgive you.”