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How to Forgive Yourself

Refusing or being unable to forgive yourself for a past mistake, judgement, or transgression can be a heavy burden to carry. Guilt can drive you to engage in coping mechanisms that are unhealthy or dangerous, such as substance abuse or repetitive thought patterns.

Guest author post by Patrick Bailey

Carrying guilt can have a negative impact on your overall health and well-being, causing strain and stress on all the major organs of the body. Guilt can make it more difficult to digest food, raise your blood pressure, and contribute to aches and pains where there once were none.

It’s important to lighten the load and forgive yourself, but the question is how. There are a number of therapeutic approaches that you can take to learn how to forgive yourself when you are finding it hard to do so. Many inpatient alcohol rehab centers teach these tactics. They can help you forgive yourself, which could be an integral step in your road to recovery. While it can be tough to forgive yourself, here are some tips to start trying:

Be Gentler

Treat yourself in the kind and gentle way that you would want others to treat you. Think of how you might engage with a beloved relative or older friend and treat yourself the same way. Mistreating yourself or using negative self-talk as your day-to-day narrative is debilitating. Consider adopting kindness and forgiveness and use these approaches every time you talk to yourself or become lost in thoughts.
Typically, forgiveness involves letting go of resentments and animosities regarding other people. When we forgive someone, we abandon ideas of vengeance or penance. Many people consider forgiveness a form of empathy. Forgiving someone for something that they have done is compassionate, but forgiveness benefits both the person who behaved badly and the person who has been wronged. Holding grudges and bearing resentments can take a toll on your health over time, both physical and mental.

Use Mindfulness

Another way to practice self-compassion that can help pave the way toward self-forgiveness is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a regular and consistent awareness of what is around us, how we are feeling, and where we are at this very moment.

Being mindful also involves the realization that forgiveness is not an over-and-done scenario, but rather a daily, ongoing process. Each day, it could be necessary to revisit and take inventory of why you are moving forward and forgiving yourself.

Meditation can help move you forward and keep you from descending back into grief, guilt, or shame. Consider using this mindful exercise to practice self-forgiveness:

  • In a quiet space, sit comfortably with your eyes closed.
  • Ask yourself (either silently or aloud) for forgiveness from those that you have wronged or hurt.
  • Offer your forgiveness to others that may have wronged or hurt you.
  • Assert forgiveness toward yourself for poor thoughts and judgments that have brought you down.
  • Try to do this daily. It doesn’t take long, a few minutes at most. Over time, it could become a natural practice that creates a calming, restorative feeling.

Practice Gratitude

If you try seeing the glass as being half-full rather than near-empty and you might experience more joy from simple pleasures.
Some people like to write a gratitude journal to document their blessings. This journal provides written proof of a person’s gratitude. Reading through it can help people see that even during tough times, they do have reasons to celebrate.

Give of Yourself

When you are on the path to forgiving yourself, consider putting time and effort into serving others. Some people may have an easier time forgiving themselves if they feel they are doing something positive. To them, volunteering or serving others may feel like they’re paying society back for their past wrongs. Making a difference in someone else’s life can be powerfully fulfilling. It can boost people’s self-esteem, making them more likely to feel better about themselves and forgive themselves.

Create a Legacy

Consider making something lasting that emulates the version of yourself that you want others to see. Whether you paint a mural in your home or do home improvements for senior citizens, do something that others will remember and possibly replicate one day.
You can gather photos and create albums for future generations or donate money to plant trees in your family’s name. Over time, create a legacy that you want to outlive you.

Stop Overthinking

Revisiting and replaying the errors of your past is not constructive or productive. When you hear negative self-talk or begin to overthink, try to shift your thoughts to something more positive. You may not have control over which thoughts pop up in your head, but you are in charge of the decision if you wanna engage in the thought. So, rather think about a recent trip, the beach, a favorite food, or a beloved friend. Anything but the thing that makes you feel poorly.

Another way to quickly shift your thoughts is to take ten deep, slow breaths. This gives you time to refocus your thoughts and gain some clarity. This doesn’t mean you are denying your past, but ruminating is not helpful as you work on forgiving yourself.

Start New Rituals

Start a ritual in the name of self-forgiveness. If you perform this ritual consistently, your commitment can help lighten your burden of guilt or shame. Whether it is gardening or exercising or doing something else, the ritual is up to you.
Completing these tasks or objectives can make you feel more worthy of forgiveness and fasten healing. They can distract you from negative thoughts and help you focus on more positive, constructive perspectives and activities.

Apologize for the Past

When you feel like you have wronged someone else, don’t you typically apologize? Don’t you expect others to do this when they wrong you? Why not apologize to yourself?

If you struggle with forgiving yourself, you feel guilt or blame, which means you are sorry and regret something in your past. By apologizing to yourself, you give yourself the gift of moving forward. Life is short, so don’t be your own worst enemy or self-saboteur.

Letting go of past guilt and forgiving yourself can be hard, but you can use these tips to move on and free yourself of your burdens. Making a sincere commitment to do better can be cathartic, making it easier to forgive.

Sources – Forgiveness: Letting Go of Grudges and Bitterness – Practice Self-Compassion with Forgiveness – 12 Ways to Forgive Yourself for a Past Mistake – 6 Ways to Forgive Yourself and Start Moving Forward

Text by Patrick Bailey, photos by Spencer Selover and Emiliano Arano, title illustration by BenLeander.


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Patrick Bailey is a professional writer mainly in the fields of mental health, addiction, and living in recovery. He attempts to stay on top of the latest news in the addiction and the mental health world and enjoy writing about these topics to break the stigma associated with them. 

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