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How & Why to Forgive Yourself

Have you ever done something wrong and found it impossible to forgive yourself for it?

Have you betrayed a friend’s confidence and felt terrible for it? Have you made a mistake at work that got the entire team in trouble? Have you stood by and did nothing when someone was in need and afterward felt remorse?

We have all, at some point, done something which made us feel guilt and shame.

Guilt and shame are two potent emotions. They can eat us alive, or we can learn from them and move on. Ultimately, the effect guilt and shame have on us is up to us. We are quick to forgive those that we love in our lives and give them the benefit of the doubt.

Now, it’s time to learn how to forgive yourself.

Forgiving Yourself for Past Mistakes

It is important to recognize shame, guilt, and remorse as human emotions and view them from an outside perspective. If we do not, it is easy for them to consume us.

Think about a time when you made a mistake and someone got hurt. You may feel racked with guilt even to this day and even if the person in question has forgiven you.

How does it help to berate yourself continuously for what happened?

We cannot allow mistakes from the past to rule our lives in the present. Humans are flawed. This means we make mistakes, we do things we feel ashamed of, and, most importantly, we learn from them, and we move on, hopefully, to become better versions of ourselves.

The gravity of the mistake can be small or large, depending on the mistake itself. But that’s the keyword: mistake.

If you view what you did as a mistake, then it means you acknowledge you did something wrong. This is the first step towards becoming a stronger and better person for yourself and others because you will be extra careful not to do the same thing again.

This is why forgiving yourself is so important.

If you dwell on what happened and keep punishing yourself for it, you are becoming stuck in a void, and you are unable to make progress as a human being because you will not allow yourself to move on.

Not to dwell on it at all would be disconcerting. If you feel no remorse at all, then that would be a cause for concern. But learn to recognize when the shame and remorse are taking over your life to the degree that the pain you are going through has no benefit whatsoever, other than to cause you pain.

Pain exists for a reason.

Mostly, it is there to help open our eyes to a problem in our lives so that we can take steps to fix it. But if we have acknowledged the pain of guilt and remorse, vowed to be better, and yet still punish ourselves for what we did, we are simply inflicting more pain on ourselves that is unnecessary, and now the remorse has become a problem in itself.

Read this article next: How to Embrace Self-Ownership & Acceptance

4 Steps to Forgiving Yourself

Forgiving yourself is not a sign of weakness or about excusing yourself. However, to truly forgive yourself, it is important to acknowledge what has happened and accept it.

Self-forgiveness is about accepting what has happened, accepting your actions, and moving on, taking it as a lesson learned, and using this knowledge and experience as a way to improve your life for the better.

So how can you take steps to forgive yourself?

1. Take Responsibility

The first step towards self-forgiveness is to take responsibility for your actions. This can be extremely hard. You may have made excuses or denied what happened, or avoided it as much as possible.

But when you choose to take responsibility, you choose to take the first step towards forgiving yourself.

Remember, you are human. Being human means having to learn some harsh lessons.No matter how harsh the lessons are, they intend to help you become a better and stronger person in the long run.

2. Accept Remorse

To feel remorse after taking responsibility is normal and healthy. Guilt and shame will often accompany it. Guilt is a normal emotion to experience and is a positive sign because it shows you are a good person who made a bad choice.

Shame is a more dangerous emotion as this causes you to view yourself as a bad person. When unresolved, it can lead you down a dark path, such as feelings of low self-worth, addiction, and even depression.

Guilt does not have to lead to shame. Instead, accept the remorse that comes and recognize that the unpleasant and negative emotions you experience are part of the process of self-forgiveness.

“The purpose of being in a body is to transform darkness into light. The transformation only happens if you dare to look at the dark.” - Mark Gerzon.

3. Understand Yourself

Acceptance of responsibility and the subsequent remorse that comes then leads to self-analysis.

Why did you do what you did or said what you said? What was your motivation behind it? What actions do you need to take to prevent yourself from doing it again?

The more you understand yourself and question yourself, the more you will be better equipped to take positive action in the future. You will be happier for it in the long-term because you will be proud of yourself and free from the negative feelings that once consumed you.

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4. Write or Give an Apology

This can simply mean writing an apology down in a journal or actually extending an apology to someone in your life. You can make a ritual out of this and embrace whatever feels right for you.

Let’s say you want to forgive yourself for being so hard on yourself because you haven’t been able to hit your goals at work. You might write down: “I am sorry that I am so critical and hard on myself. I will work harder to ensure I am giving myself grace and compliments this week for what I am doing well.”

Self-Forgiveness is Hard!

Self-forgiveness is hard. It is hard for us to accept that we are made up of flaws and weaknesses. It is hard to admit that our actions hurt others and that our words can be damaging.

Yet to accept these very aspects of ourselves is to embark on one of the bravest paths of all and proves that we are good people after all. Rather than view remorse, guilt, and shame as enemies that must be avoided at all costs, we should recognize them as assistants who are there to guide us towards being better versions of ourselves.

This is the transformation of the darkness into the light.

Facing the dark side is never easy. It is one of the hardest things we will ever do, and yet we all must. Avoiding it or allowing shame to consume us by wallowing too long in it drives us down a slippery and dangerous slope that can be difficult to pull ourselves out of.

When we take responsibility for our actions and determine to become better for them, we are taking the right path, both for ourselves and others.

There is a way to transform weakness into strength, pain into joy, and despair into hope. Through confronting sides of ourselves, we would rather avoid understanding them, working with them, and learning from them.

It is not a question of whether we have a choice or not; we always have a choice. It’s a question of whether we acknowledge we have the strength inside us to do it, and we do.

“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” - Carl Jung.

Related article: 5 Journal Prompts for Deep Self-Discovery

Sarah Brownlee

Sarah Brownlee

Having worked as a teacher, a bartender, and even a private investigator, writing was something Sarah Brownlee just fell into, even though it had been her passion since she was a little girl. To date, she has written and published 3 Children and Young Adult fiction novels, ghostwritten for others, and... Read More

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