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How to Forgive Yourself & Free Yourself of the Weight of Guilt

For some reason, learning how to forgive yourself is so much more difficult than forgiving others. If you can do it, it can change your life.

how to forgive yourself

We learned how to forgive others as children. A kid in school takes your toy, they apologize, and you forgive them. How easy? Well, learning how to forgive yourself isn’t as simple.

We don’t give ourselves the understanding, respect, and acceptance we give others. We hold ourselves to a higher standard than we do others and put extra pressure on ourselves. More than anything, we make ourselves feel guilty for mistakes we’ve made and carry that with us for a long time. 

We blame ourselves for our problems. Instead of forgiving ourselves and moving on, we hold onto that blame and use it as an excuse not to try, or worse, to self-sabotage. But forgiveness doesn’t mean you forget what you did wrong. Just like forgiving someone else doesn’t mean you forget how they hurt you or disappointed you. Forgiving someone helps you let go of anger and resentment.

Forgiveness isn’t for others but for ourselves. We don’t forgive someone to make them feel better, we do it so we can let go of the bad feelings that make us bitter and move on with a clearer and more positive mindset. Makes sense, right? Well, why don’t we follow this same outlook when we need to forgive ourselves?

[Read: How to find yourself again after a seriously low point in your life]

Why do we have such a hard time forgiving ourselves? 

Forgiving ourselves is not easy. Even those of us that seem to let ourselves off the hook rather easily may not really be forgiving. Rather, we are in denial about making a mistake. Instead of working through those feelings and developing that forgiveness, we ignore it. That doesn’t help us though. In fact, quickly ignoring our mistakes leaves us resenting ourselves. 

There is relatively deep self-reflection needed in order to forgive yourself. We must work through all the emotions that led to what we did, and how we can learn from them, to find true forgiveness. The reason it is so hard to do that is we like to avoid negative feelings. We want to move on with a quick fix instead of really taking a long hard look in the mirror. 

But, when we skip that step and move on without truly forgiving ourselves, we slowly attack our self-esteem. We don’t learn from our mistakes and let go of the guilt, so we hold onto it. Without even realizing it, we cling to those things and slowly start seeing ourselves as less deserving of happiness. We then punish ourselves for being imperfect by placing blame on ourselves.

[Read: The 13 signs of self-loathing and the damage it can do to your life]

Sure, we did something. Yes, it is our fault, but we can take accountability while forgiving ourselves. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

Why it’s so important to forgive yourself

Without forgiving yourself, you hold onto a lot of anger, sadness, and resentment. You sit in this personal pit of guilt. And because you are angry with yourself, you have no one to apologize to. You can’t go to someone and say sorry and feel better. You need to work with yourself. It is hard, but that is what makes it so worth it. 

Forgiveness is growth, strength, and progress. It shows your ability to accept things that are out of your control. You can’t turn back time, and mistakes will always be made. Forgiveness is the act of releasing the negative feeling your experience. 

Just like forgiving someone else doesn’t mean you ignore what they did, or you think they were right, or that they don’t need to take accountability. Forgiving someone releases you from the burden of revenge or justice. It lets you move forward with clarity and without bitterness. It is the same for you. In order to forgive yourself, turn those feelings you may offer to others toward yourself. 

If you’re regularly asking yourself, am I a bad person? Stop and read this!

If you can’t learn to forgive yourself, you will carry those negative feelings around until you come to hate yourself, essentially holding a grudge against yourself. You don’t want to make yourself an enemy.

Being able to forgive shows a strength of character. It means you can see the wrongdoing, you acknowledge the pain it caused, and you can feel bad about that. But forgiveness means you keep moving forward rather than living within that mistake and letting it weigh you down. Forgiveness is essentially the only way to free yourself from the shackles of your past.

How to forgive yourself

You now get why learning how to forgive yourself is so important and why it is so difficult, but how do you do it? Even when something makes perfect sense and sounds simple, it doesn’t mean it will be. Practically, you know that forgiving yourself is the right thing to do and is better for you, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

Forgiving yourself means you need to actively accept that a mistake was made and not let that steer your focus on the future. The thing about forgiving yourself is that you need to stop fighting with yourself. Like many people, you’re probably a bit stubborn, but it comes out the most when you’re fighting yourself. 

[Read: How to become a better person by following these 9 golden rules]

Part of you wants to cling to guilt because it means you can keep messing up and blaming yourself. But, if you forgive yourself, it shows strength and a willingness to grow and change, and that can be scary. 

The thing is, you are worthy of forgiveness from yourself. You are worthy of the hard work it takes to improve yourself. You just need to learn how to forgive yourself until it becomes the norm for you.

1. Accept the reality

Before being able to forgive yourself for anything, accept the way things are. What happened, happened, and you can’t turn back the clock. You must take some time to focus on the fact that a mistake was made and now you have to move forward from that. [Read: How to deal with guilt and drop that heavy baggage you carry around]

2. Look on the bright side

When you struggle to forgive yourself, you are focusing on the mistakes you’ve made. You are blaming yourself for something not working out. Yes, you made a mistake, but focusing on the good things you’ve done can help you realize that you deserve forgiveness. 

Think about the good choices you made that turned out well. Focus on what good came out of this situation. [Read: How to hone and increase your positive emotions in a negative world]

3. What can you learn from this?

Every mistake comes with a lesson. When you struggle to forgive yourself, you replay that mistake over and over, but instead of dwelling, think about what you would do in the future. What would you do differently next time? That shows you’ve learned something. So, yes, you made a mistake or messed up, but this experience was not wasted. 

4. Take responsibility

Accept responsibility for whatever you did. One reason you may not forgive yourself is that deep down you’re in denial that you did something wrong. Taking accountability is hard, especially when you try to mean it, but without that, you won’t be able to truly forgive yourself. 

You must be willing to admit when you’re wrong and accept your imperfections. You should understand the consequences of your actions. This doesn’t mean you have to feel guilty, it means you should process the fallout of what happened so you can learn and move forward, including forgiving yourself. 

5. Realize mistakes are inevitable

Accept that there is nothing wrong with you. Everyone makes mistakes, no matter how far they go to cover them up. Mistakes happen. You messed up. The odds are you’ll mess up again, and that is okay. You need to let yourself off the hook a bit. You can take accountability for something and forgive yourself for it. [Read: How to be mature – A guide to grow up and face life like an adult]

6. How would you help a friend through this?

If your friend was feeling how you are, how would you help them? Would you tell them to relax or help them realize what a good person they are? Would you explain that this one mistake does not erase everything else in their life?

We tend to be much harder on ourselves when we’ve made a mistake, yet show so much compassion for our friends. Treat yourself with the compassion and understanding you would offer a friend.

7. Redirect negativity

It is normal to have negative thoughts. Sometimes you’re trying to sleep and a mistake you made creeps up on you. You overthink and wonder how you could have been so wrong or foolish. As common as this is, letting it take over will only drive you away from the freedom that is forgiveness. 

Whenever you notice yourself drifting in negative territory, redirect your thoughts to something more positive. If a friend was saying something negative about themselves, you’d correct and redirect, do the same thing in your mind. [Read: Is your negative thinking ruining your life?]

8. Don’t relive it

It is normal to replay mistakes over and over in our minds. We are analyzing the experience. We want to look at every detail. The thing is, no matter how many times you do that, it won’t change the outcome. It will only make you more frustrated.

Whether you realize where you went wrong or not, it will drive you crazy to keep reliving something that makes you upset. Instead of focusing on what happened or what you could have done differently, think about moving forward without this memory haunting you.

9. Make amends

Forgiving yourself isn’t always a completely internal struggle. Sometimes you can’t forgive yourself until you’ve made amends with those you’ve hurt. The thing about this is that it isn’t for you. Making amends is to help them feel better. It will be difficult. But once you’ve faced that head-on with the person you’ve wronged, you can face yourself with a lighter weight on your shoulders. [Read: How to make yourself happy – 20 habits of highly successful people]

10. Be patient

Forgiving yourself isn’t as simple as a snap of the fingers. It takes time. Even once you think you’ve let go of the resentment against yourself, you may have bad days when you can’t help but think of your mistakes. It is okay. There will always be good and bad days, but it is part of the process. [Read: 10 mind tricks to regain control and get your life together]

11. Don’t let this mistake define you

You’ve made a mistake, probably a few of them, but that is okay. Those mistakes do not define you. How you react to those mistakes is what defines you. How you deal with them and face them is what propels you forward and lets you move on.

[Read: Feeling like a failure? How to find your will and change your mindset]

You can learn how to forgive yourself. Just give yourself the time, patience, and understanding you’d give a friend. You are worth it too!

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Samantha Ann
My name is Samantha Ann. I am 28 years old. It was always my dream to become an advice columnist, so after years of off and online dating and eventually finding...