Many of us are all too familiar with the crushing guilt that comes with making a mistake or hurting someone, and it can be incredibly difficult to forgive ourselves for our misdeeds. We may even try to seek out the forgiveness of those we have wronged, yet still struggle to come to terms with our own actions and grant ourselves the absolution we deserve. The challenge here lies in the fact that when we make a mistake, it often dredges up memories of other transgressions from our past, leading us to feel overwhelmed by all the things we have done wrong.
When something goes wrong or does not turn out as planned, many of us resort to blaming ourselves or burying our feelings under layers of shame and anger — hardly helpful tactics if we wish to pardon ourselves for our mistakes.
Though it can seem like an impossible task, self-forgiveness is a very real possibility and a much-needed relief that is within reach.
With guidance and understanding, you can learn how to move on from past wrongdoings and cultivate more forgiving patterns in your life.
Whether you’ve forgotten someone’s birthday or made a much bigger blunder such as cheating on your partner, there is no issue too large or small to benefit from self-forgiveness.
Through greater awareness about our thoughts and behaviors as well as an appreciation for how far you have come in life thus far, you can learn how to forgive yourself in spite of any past shortcomings.
1. Affirm Your Ability To Forgive Yourself.
When you are unable to let go of the guilt associated with your own actions or inaction, it can lead to a range of difficult emotions, such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
In extreme cases, it might even lead to self-harm or substance abuse as a means of self-medication. It can be disheartening to think that you could ever move past this situation but self-forgiveness is still possible.
Therapists often recommend asking yourself if you believe in the potential for change and improvement, despite being imperfect like everyone else.
This thought process helps to challenge any negative outlooks and opens up the possibility of working through your feelings.
Self-forgiveness requires an open mind and willingness to confront these challenging emotions but it can enable you to take the necessary steps towards healing and allow you to start making progress towards forgiving yourself for whatever happened.
2. Treat Yourself Like You Would A Best Friend.
When we make decisions that violate our morals, it’s easy to fall into a cycle of beating ourselves up over it. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help the situation–in fact, it can make us feel worse.
That’s why it’s important to practice self-compassion in these situations. It can be helpful to imagine talking to a friend who has done something wrong and think about how you would address them.
I should try to remember that mistakes are part of being human, and try not to attach too much negativity to those imperfect moments.
It can also be useful to view yourself through an innocent lens, such as a child or puppy–this helps you find more compassion for your mistakes instead of guilt or shame.
You may have made an error, but that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person–there’s a difference between acknowledging the mistake and over-generalizing it onto our entire character.
Practicing self-compassion can help you move forward with grace after making moral missteps and learn from them without letting the guilt consume you.
3. Write (Or Talk) The Facts Out.
When engaging in a behavior that we know is wrong, it is not uncommon to experience an intense feeling of guilt.
This can lead you to try to rationalize or even deny the effects of your actions. To help cope with these feelings, it may be useful to express the event in written form or discuss it with someone who will not judge us.
Doing so can provide clarity and prevent you from dwelling on the situation too much. According to Dr. Allan, taking personal responsibility for your actions and recognizing their impact on yourself and others is essential in order to grow and make better decisions going forward.
It is important not only to acknowledge your mistakes but also to see them as an opportunity for self-improvement.
4. Ask Yourself, “What Was My Expectation?”
When reflecting on a regretful action or statement, it can be helpful to take a step back and identify the self-imposed standard that you felt you did not meet.
Asking yourself questions such as “What was the expectation in my mind?” or “Is this expectation grounded in reality or is it an unrealistic idea of perfectionism?” can help bring awareness to whether you are being too hard on yourself.
For instance, if you are feeling guilty for hurting someone’s feelings, asking yourself if you had reasonable expectations of knowing the “right thing” to say could give you insight into your mindset at the time.
On the other hand, reevaluating whether you failed to meet someone else’s valid expectation may open up an issue previously left unseen.
In either case, analyzing your standards helps you see more objectively where the fault lies and how best to move forward with a resolution.
5. Try To Make Amends.
When it comes to making amends for something that you have done wrong, the process can be difficult but ultimately rewarding.
Before embarking on this journey, it is important to look at the situation with a compassionate lens and reflect honestly on the events that occurred and how they made you feel.
From there, you can ask yourself how you would like to make amends. For example, if you are frustrated with yourself for not cleaning your apartment in a timely manner, you could take a look at your calendar and plan out a realistic day to get the task completed.
On the other hand, if you raised your voice in anger at a loved one while under the influence of alcohol, then it may be wise to figure out ways to prevent such an episode from happening again in the future.
The idea here is not to punish yourself, but rather to use your regret as an opportunity for personal growth and transformation.
Making amends means taking an apology one step further by demonstrating accountability for your actions and a commitment to doing better in the future.
6. Try A Mantra…and Repeat.
Cope suggests practicing a form of self-forgiveness, or “training” the brain to let go of mistakes. She recommends repeating a phrase such as “I did the best I could at the time with the knowledge that I had.
Now, I’ll do better,” as a way to challenge and remind yourself of your worthiness for forgiveness.
Alternatively, Cope proposes using the four-sentence mantra popularized by therapist Ihaleakala Hew Len, PhD which has its roots in traditional Hawaiian reconciliation practice known as ho’oponopono: “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.”
This form of repentance can be used directly when addressing another person, however, it is possible to address yourself with it in order to find peace within oneself and establish an attitude of forgiveness.
7. Remember That Forgiveness Is A Process.
Forgiveness of yourself is not a one-time event that can be accomplished with a simple “I’m sorry”. It is an active process that requires effort and patience.
In some instances, it may benefit from the assistance of a therapist or other mental health professional to help guide you through it.
This process should be viewed as ongoing rather than a single instance; rather than seeing forgiveness as a doorway, think of it as something you will need to engage with over time.
It may require repetition and practice before the full effects are felt. Self-forgiveness is an important step in releasing grudges and allowing healing to take place.
Cecilia Rose is WiseLivn’s Lifestyle Writer based in New York, covering topics ranging from beauty to mental health to relationships. She previously was a Wellness Reporter at USA TODAY and received her BA in psychology and journalism at Georgetown University.