Self-forgiveness can be a challenge when you are struggling with your past, but there are ways to truly forgive yourself. It is a process that is never too late to start.
Self-Forgiveness: Tips For Letting Go Of Guilt And Healing
People may tell you that forgiveness is the kindest thing that you can do. When someone hurts you or wrongs you, forgive them – not for them, but for yourself.
Anger and frustration with someone else just eats away at you and you are the one who suffers, not the other person. There is lots of truth in this, but there is a similar situation that you may not have pondered.
Have you ever thought about how you have hurt yourself? Whether you’ve made mistakes that you can’t take back or led yourself on a destructive path, forgiveness is not just about your relationships with other people. It is also about your relationship with yourself.
Forgiving is not easy. It takes an immense amount of work and courage to come to terms with something, let go of the past, and move on. And while it may be difficult to find the strength to forgive other people and allow that release, it can be much harder to forgive yourself.
The process of self-forgiveness is harder because you know yourself and your intentions better than anyone else. You know the selfishness or anger you may have felt, and the act of forgiveness requires you to let go of that grudge that you’ve gotten so used to.
This brings us to the question of punishment. Are you finding it hard to forgive yourself because you don’t know how to forgive yourself or do you believe that you deserve to be punished for the mistakes you have made?
When we know better, we do better. And if you have lived a life trying to do better, but still haven’t found the path to forgiving yourself, it’s time. It is time to forgive yourself.
1. Process Your Feelings
Most of us are familiar with the bad feelings we experience when we’ve done something wrong. Our stress levels go up, we have feelings of worthlessness, and we start engaging in negative self-talk.
When one goes through something like this, they tend to not only take full responsibility for the occurrence, but bury their feelings of shame and try to push it all away.
An extremely important part of forgiveness is to learn to look inward. Make a conscious effort to look at the wrong action and try to acknowledge the uncomfortable feelings you’re having about it.
Think through what happened. Did you make the choices that you did based on past experiences? Have different situations left you more defensive or untrusting? What led you to do what independent variables may have changed the outcome in that situation? What could you do differently next time?
Feelings of regret will happen, but it is impossible to get past them if you don’t try to process areas of your life that could be better.
2. Accept Responsibility
You cannot undo your past mistakes, but you can accept responsibility for them. Admitting to yourself and others that you did something wrong, regret doing it, and will make sure to do better is the first step in the self-forgiveness process.
Owning the “wrong” and taking responsibility for it not only informs others that you are aware of what happened, but it begins to release the stranglehold the issue has had on you.
No sincere apology is complete without taking responsibility for your actions. You cannot just run away from mistakes, you have to confront them.
The more you run away, the more they will follow you, so it is a fruitless effort. Whether you see the people involved in the “wrong” or not, you know about it and it is festering inside of you.
If you can accept that you have hurt people, ask forgiveness from others, and know that you intend to do better, your subconscious will hear you. You can’t run away from yourself or the truths that you hold, no matter how hard you try – and no matter what methods you may use to numb those truths.
Most things don’t happen in a vacuum, so it may be true that what you feel guilty about includes something that someone else did to you. And the feelings that you have about that person or those people are completely valid.
But if you have ownership for making mistakes within the situation, you need to own them. You only have power over yourself, not other people.
And regardless of whether they have admitted their own responsibility for a situation or not, you deserve to live a freer, less burdened life. And that starts with accepting responsibility for your contributions and actions with a heartfelt apology.
3. Try to Repair the Damage
Is there any way you can make things right? If you have hurt someone, is there any way you can make up for the damage? If you see a path for doing that, follow it.
Tell the person that you are truly sorry for your past behaviors. Own it and try to think of a productive way of making real reparations. Help the person feel that you truly understand what happened and that it may have affected them in harmful ways. They need to know that there won’t be a next time.
Sometimes saying you are sorry is all that is needed for a new start. If you owe money, set up a payment plan or save up and pay off the debt. If they still have feelings of anger, really hear them, as part of your healing process and as validation to them. Do the right thing – whether they forgive you or not.
You are in charge of your mental health and the negative emotions that you are managing. It is a good thing to apologize and try to make amends.
If the other person isn’t ready or they feel that too much time has passed, that cannot be your responsibility. Your job is to be the best person that you can be, so stay the course and let them have their feelings.
4. Write Yourself Letters
Imagine that it is not you, but your best friend or family member who has hurt someone and has deep feelings of guilt. They feel like a bad person and their negative feelings are eating them up inside.
What would you say to them? Would you tell them that they deserve the suffering they are experiencing? Or would you tell them that while maybe they made a poor decision, it can ultimately be a learning experience?
That they are a good person who is learning to be an even better person. That they can release the burden of self-hatred and allow the idea of self-forgiveness to enter their life.
We all make mistakes, and you are no different. It makes you human. But the only way that you are going to allow yourself to move through this difficult time is to practice self-compassion. It is time to be your own best friend.
Write yourself a letter on paper or in a journal. Do this as often as you need to, but at least once a week for a month. This writing should be focused on the past actions that haunt you, and you can write them to your present self, or your past or future self as needed.
Be honest and vulnerable in these letters, as if you were talking to a good friend. Do you understand why the bad things happened? What was happening in your life at that time? What were you missing and what positive things have you learned since?
It is very easy to have limiting beliefs when we are thinking about ourselves, but when we are trying to comfort family members or friends, we tend to focus on their good qualities and good intentions. Be generous with yourself the same way.
5. Make the Changes
No one can accept an apology when they see the same behaviors happening over and over, and that goes for you as well. If you want to have healthy relationships with yourself and others, it is time to fix the bad behavior.
Whether this means confronting an addiction, thinking more of others, or getting your act together, it is time to make some changes. Self-forgiveness means that you intend to do better. You will still make minor mistakes, as all human beings do, but you can have a better life with a more peaceful you.
You cannot continue to repeat your mistakes and expect that the negative thoughts will go away. It is a process and you are worth the investment. You know your true self (hurt, happy, angry, and all), and you deserve to have positive relationships in your life, so make the necessary changes.
6. Do Not Linger in the Past
One of the most important parts of forgiving yourself is learning not to dwell on the past. Everyone has a past, and most of us have moments that we are not proud of. But staying with that past can affect both your physical health and mental health. It will continue to drag you down if you let it.
This is easier said than done, but you can get there. Use your letters to yourself to say goodbye to past mistakes. Remind yourself that you are a new person who intends to approach your future in a healthy way.
When guilty feelings arrive, take some deep breaths and come up with positive mantras to lift your spirits. All of these are effective ways of taking baby steps in the right direction, so practice them as needed.
You won’t forget your past, and it wouldn’t benefit you if you did. We are all a product of our experiences, and some of the negative moments that you lived through will make you a better human being.
But as you see positive behavior changes within yourself, many of these moments will become memories that lack the emotional intensity that they used to contain. And that means that you are learning to forgive yourself.
7. Have Patience
One of the benefits of self-forgiveness is that it is a continuous process. Personal growth takes time. Whether you have major insights right away or find some peace of mind over a long time, it is important to keep at it.
Your inner critic will never fully go away. No matter what good things happen to you, our own expectations of perfection can creep in. But everyday life isn’t perfect and you won’t be perfect because nobody ever is.
True self-forgiveness will come over time. As you watch yourself own mistakes that you’ve made, stand in your new sense of self, and try to make the right choice next time, your present moment will look a lot different than the person who made those other choices.
Everyone goes through a hard time at one point or another and while forgiving others is something that we are familiar with, our emotional well-being is just as important as anyone else’s. And being flawless is too high an expectation.
The good news is that every day is a new day. We can’t be proud of every decision we make, but we are works in progress. You are human, and if you can let go of what is holding you back, you’ll see the positive effects on your life.
Brenda B says
How do you always know what to say & when? Your words are needed by me right now! Thanks for your compassion, empathy, & insight.
Alli Doubek says
I’m so glad this helped! It’s definitely something we all manage. Thank you so much for your kind words. 🙂
Your words in this article touched me on many levels. I have experienced everything you mentioned. It’s taken me 30 years of therapy and the most loving husband to get where I am today. Forgiving myself has not only rejuvenated me but has caused past relationships to be renewed and refreshed. I am so grateful to you for spelling out what is necessary for self-forgiveness. Bless you.
Alli Doubek says
I’m so glad these words connected with you. I think we all struggle with self-forgiveness on different levels, but we don’t all do the work that it sounds like you are doing. Good for you and I truly hope that things continue to get easier and easier.