Can you forgive yourself? Practicing self-forgiveness by Sharlene Ho

Offending or hurting others is an inevitable part of life. It can be a minor offense, such as failing to submit a work report or a major offense that causes serious harm to others, such as accidents. Causing significant damage to someone can later develop to self-blame, shame, or deep sorrow on the part of the offender. Recollections of previous wrongdoings are accumulated over a lifetime and can result in considerable guilt. Persistent ruminations about problematic past events may trigger feelings of hopelessness or despair, leading to mental health problems.

Although confronting painful memories may increase rumination, it can also provide opportunities for self-acceptance. As we reminisce, we learn to accept our past transgressions, acknowledge both our successes and failures, and develop a new view of ourselves.

When you don’t succeed yet in achieving your goals, can you forgive yourself?

When you are not taking necessary actions to help yourself or someone else, can you forgive yourself?

When you hurt someone, can you forgive yourself?

Failure to forgive ourselves may lead to self-estrangement or self-destruction. Sometimes it is not easy to forgive ourselves because we keep on remembering our past wrongdoings, but it does not mean that it is impossible. Self-forgiveness unfolds over time, but the challenge is how to start. Once we forgive ourselves for our past transgressions, it can lead to significant growth and renewed mental health.

The process of self-forgiveness entails:

Accepting responsibility

  • It includes acknowledging wrongdoing, recognizing that one could and should have done things differently, and realizing one’s imperfections.
  • Without taking responsibility, it leads to “pseudo-self-forgiveness,” wherein the offenders justify or rationalize their offenses, make excuses, shift the blame to other people, and fail to own up to the consequences of their behaviors.
  • Accepting responsibility includes reviewing the factors that occur during the offense, examining the needs or motivations that led to the wrongdoing, and exploring the consequences of staying stuck in forgiveness.

Recognizing and confronting emotions

  • Accepting responsibility may bring overwhelming negative emotions, such as guilt and shame. Acknowledgment and expression of these feelings is an essential component of self-forgiveness.
  • It is important to realize that all people are imperfect, and self-punishment is not a necessary response to wrongdoing. Differentiate the behavior from the person. Understand that it is the behavior that is undesirable and not the person.
  • Confront emotions through letter writing. Writing your internal pain and other negative feelings can help in understanding and reflecting on the experience.

Restoration

  • Once the responsibility is accepted, and the emotions are confronted, making reparations to those they hurt, and identifying ways to change the behavior become the next step.
  • Failure to engage in recommitment may be at risk of committing similar offenses in the future, and the transgressions are left unresolved until these patterns are addressed.
  • Seek amends by imagining that the person whom you hurt is in front of you and verbalize an apology for the damage brought by the offense.          

Renewal and recreation

  • After accomplishing the previous processes, it now leads to renewed compassion, acceptance, and respect for oneself.
  • Release the lingering negative emotions about the offense and re-narrate their offense by focusing on the lessons learned and the positive behavior change.
  • Writing a letter of self-forgiveness to yourself can lead to renewed self. Through the letter, tell yourself that you accept your past wrongdoings, release your lingering feelings, and commit to improving for the better.

Forgiving ourselves does not indicate that our behaviors are acceptable or disregarded. Instead, it emphasizes our intrinsic ability to take responsibility for our wrongdoings, overcome negative feelings associated with the offense, and accept that we can change. It allows us to learn from our past experiences and avoid similar offenses in the future. It teaches us to set aside linger self-punishment and approach our self with compassion kindness.

Have you forgiven yourself?

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