Your past

How To Learn To Forgive Yourself

Article last updated on August 16, 2021

The main thing I struggled with when writing this post was being honest with myself.

Learning about myself and obsessing over internal self awareness definitely helped but the truth is, there are times when it feels like forgiving yourself isn’t possible.

Are you busy or effective?
If your revenue is growing at a snail's pace it's time for a reality check.
Are you busy or effective?
If your revenue is growing at a snail's pace it's time for a reality check.

You may be struggling with guilt over something you did years ago; maybe you were bullied as a child and still struggle with self-esteem issues today.

Maybe you have been hurt by someone else who has since moved on but left their mark behind.

Whatever the case may be, if you find yourself feeling stuck, in this article we’ll go over how to move past self-judgment and guilt so you can start living with more ease and joy.

If you did something wrong, it doesn’t mean you have to like what you did; it just means you understand why you made those choices and are willing to let them go.

Forgiving yourself isn’t about being perfect – it’s about accepting who you are right now and making changes when necessary.

If you want to learn how to be happy again, then you must first forgive yourself.

How To Forgive Yourself

To forgive yourself, you must understand that you don’t get to choose whether you’re going to make mistakes.

You are going to make them and that’s ok, but you do get to decide whether or not you’ll live with that weight on your shoulders.

Your past

We aren’t always given an opportunity to change our decisions, but we are responsible for choosing how we react to them and hold onto them.

And while sometimes it might seem impossible to forgive ourselves, it really comes down to two things: accepting responsibility and making amends.

But there are many reasons why people struggle with self-forgiveness.

Some may hold onto anger because they believe it would hurt too much to forgive themselves.

Others might not know where to begin. Still others don’t even realize there’s anything to forgive at all.

Whatever the reason for holding on to negative feelings towards yourself, here are some tips to help get started on how to learn to forgive yourself.

Identify what needs forgiving and understand why you feel guilty

The most important thing to remember before forgiving yourself is that you’re human.

We make mistakes every day, sometimes big ones.

The only difference between us and everyone else is our ability to recognize these mistakes and correct ourselves.

When someone makes an error, he/she has no control over whether or not they’ll do it again.

However, once you’ve acknowledged your own shortcomings, you can choose to either continue down the path of negativity or change course.

Feelings of guilt are natural responses to doing things that aren’t good for you.

They come from within and reflect back upon you as though you were judging yourself harshly.

If you find guilty feelings ask yourself why? Once you identify the cause behind your actions, you can decide which way to proceed.

If you’re struggling with self-forgiveness, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What do I regret?
  • Do I wish I could change things?
  • Am I angry with myself?
  • Is there anyone else involved?
  • Can I see where I went wrong?
  • Did I know better?
  • Was I aware of the potential outcomes?

Accept your mistakes and learn from them

Once you acknowledge that you were responsible for whatever happened, you should try to figure out exactly what went wrong.

This could include things such as poor judgment, lack of planning, or simply bad luck.

By learning from your mistakes, you can avoid repeating them in the future.

You are not a bad person because you made a mistake.

In fact, you’re probably quite capable of handling any situation without having to rely on outside assistance.

Don’t dwell on what could have been

It’s easy to dwell on what could have been instead of focusing on what actually was.

Instead of thinking “I wish I hadn’t…” think “What am I grateful for?”

In other words, focus on everything good that came out of the situation rather than dwelling on what didn’t happen.

There will be some life event that doesn’t go according to plan but if you let those thoughts consume you, you won’t move past this experience into something positive.

Let go of anger & guilt

If you find yourself feeling angry or guilty after acknowledging your faults, remind yourself that you aren’t obligated to keep carrying around these emotions.

Once you release any resentment or regret, you can finally put the incident behind you.

Your mental health depends on being able to live free from negative emotions like anger and guilt.

When you start letting go of these feelings, you begin to heal emotionally.

Take responsibility for your actions

When you decide to forgive yourself, you’re taking responsibility for your actions.

That means you admit that you caused harm by doing something wrong.

As long as you blame another person or place the blame elsewhere, you won’t truly be forgiven.

Great example is taking care of physical health where we don’t expect someone who has diabetes to eat healthy food choices every day.

The same goes for emotional well-being.

No matter how much we want to make changes, our circumstances may prevent us from making progress. But when we recognize that we’re at fault, we can then make an effort to improve ourselves.

Remember how important self-love is

Self-love is essential to happiness.

Without loving yourself, you cannot love anyone else. So while you’re working toward forgiveness, spend time nurturing your innermost needs.

Make sure you give yourself plenty of attention and care. It is a healing process so it takes time.

If you do nothing more than just sit with your own pain, you’ll eventually get over it.

Be patient with yourself

You may experience setbacks along the way. If this happens, just pick up right back where you left off.

There’s nothing more frustrating than having to start over when you thought you’d already made progress.

It is a conscious choice to continue forgiving yourself even though there might still be things about yourself that bother you.

It is maybe a silly example but even when businesses that want to increase net profit and average order value need to be patient with themselves. It takes time to see the results.

Talk about your issues

Talking with others about your issues can help you gain perspective.

You might even discover that there are people close to you who share similar experiences.

Negative events are normal part of life; they simply come and go.

By talking openly about them, you can learn valuable lessons and grow stronger.

Find ways to improve yourself

There are many ways to improve yourself. One example would be getting involved in activities that challenge you mentally and physically.

Another option would be volunteering at a local shelter or food bank. These opportunities allow you to learn new skills and meet new people.

Give back

Giving back doesn’t necessarily mean donating money; it can also involve helping someone less fortunate than you.

Volunteering provides you with a chance to make a difference without spending much effort.

Meaningful life comes from giving back.

Don’t forget what matters most in life

It’s easy to lose sight of what really matters most in life. Whether you have children or not, family should always remain number one priority.

Friendships are important too because they provide support during difficult times.

And finally, self-care is vital since no one else will ever do it for you to live an authentic life.

Get help from others

Sometimes we don’t realize our own shortcomings until someone points them out to us.

Asking for help doesn’t mean giving up on yourself. Instead, it shows strength and courage.

This could include friends, family members, counselors, pastors, teachers, coaches, mentors, etc. They can provide valuable insight into situations that have been difficult for you.

Remember that bad feelings slowly disappear when we share them with others.

The Importance Of Forgiving Yourself And Moving Forward

I was thinking how much forgiving myself has helped me move forward.

I am very grateful for my mistakes and failures as well as successes.

The reason why I think forgiving myself helps me move forward is because if I didn’t forgive myself then I wouldn’t know how far I’ve gone.

When I started writing down everything that happened to me, I realized that I had forgiven myself for some of those things, but I hadn’t fully forgiven myself yet.

But these are my takeaways so far…

When you make mistakes, they impact every area of your life. Whether it was an intentional decision or not, there may be consequences for your actions.

When you don’t acknowledge these consequences, you create negative feelings within yourself.

These emotions cause stress which leads to anxiety, depression, anger, frustration, fear, worry, etc., and ultimately affects everything from relationships to health.

Forgive yourself for hurting someone else

When we hurt people, we usually don’t intend to cause harm. We just want to make ourselves happy.

Unfortunately, when our happiness comes at another person’s expense, we end up hurting both parties.

In addition to being selfish, such an act may also violate social norms. If you did anything to intentionally hurt someone else, then you owe him/her an apology.

However, if you didn’t do anything wrong, then you shouldn’t apologize because he/she has no reason to hold any grudges against you.

If you’ve harmed someone unintentionally, try to understand why you acted as you did. Was it due to ignorance? Were you under extreme pressure? Did you lack self control? Or were you simply unaware of what you were doing?

Whatever the case may be, you should strive to avoid making those kinds of decisions again.

This approach to life allows you to move on while still maintaining respect for other individuals.

Forgiveness of yourself is the first step

You shouldn’t expect anyone else to forgive you if you haven’t forgiven yourself first.

After all, how could they know what you’ve been going through? They wouldn’t understand why you made certain choices.

So before asking someone else to forgive you, ask yourself if you deserve it.

Only after you answer yes will you be able to truly let go of your mistakes.

Hence, forgiving yourself means letting go of guilt and shame.

It takes time to get over something like this but once you start feeling better about yourself, others around you will notice too!

Meaningful life lessons are learned by living each day fully aware of who you really are.

When you’re honest with yourself, you’ll find that you become more compassionate towards everyone else.

To forgive yourself and live a meaningful life, you can see some common themes…

  1. Don’t beat yourself up. That only makes things harder on yourself. Instead, focus on learning from the experience, so you won’t repeat it.
  2. Take responsibility for your part in the situation. Even though you weren’t responsible for the outcome, you still had a hand in creating the problem. So even if you’re not 100% sure who caused the issue, you are partially responsible. Accepting blame doesn’t necessarily mean accepting fault; it just means acknowledging where you went wrong.
  3. Be honest with yourself. This includes admitting when you have failed. The more honest you can be with yourself, the less likely you’ll find yourself repeating past behaviors.
  4. Learn from the experience. What happened? How does it relate to other situations? Can you learn from it? Are there ways you can improve next time?
  5. Let it go. Once you realize you aren’t responsible for causing the damage, you can move on. You might feel guilty for having feelings of anger towards the person involved, but that’s natural. Just remember that you’re allowed to feel whatever emotions come into play without needing to justify them.

Difference between forgiving others and forgiving ourselves

The difference between forgiving someone else and forgiving yourself can be difficult to understand at first glance.

However, it becomes clear when we consider what happens if we don’t forgive ourselves for our mistakes:

We become resentful towards those who have hurt us. We may even blame them for causing us pain.

This leads to anger, resentment, bitterness, and other negative emotions.

These feelings are not productive; they only serve to keep us stuck in the past. They prevent us from living fully in the present moment.

We begin to believe that there is something wrong with us because we cannot seem to move beyond these painful memories.

If this continues long enough, we start thinking that no matter what we do, nothing good ever comes from anything bad happening to us.

In fact, we might come to think that everything bad that happens to us is somehow our fault.

If we continue down this path, we end up feeling guilty about things that happened decades ago.

Guilt causes us to focus on the past instead of looking ahead.

As time passes, guilt gets worse until eventually we find ourselves unable to forgive ourselves for any wrongdoing whatsoever.

When it comes to forgiving others, there are two types:

Forgiving another person

When we forgive someone else, we let go of their actions against us.

We release them from responsibility for hurting us.

We can only do this if we first acknowledge our own pain and hurt.

If we don’t understand how they made us feel, it’s impossible to know what kind of impact those words had on us.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning bad behavior; rather, it means letting go of any feelings of anger or resentment toward the other person.

Forgiving oneself

When we forgive ourselves, we acknowledge that we were responsible for whatever caused us harm.

We realize that we made choices that led to certain outcomes. We recognize that we had control over some aspects of our lives but did not exercise it properly.

In short, we admit that we could have acted differently.

This type of self-forgiveness allows us to make amends by taking action to change our future behaviors.

Self-forgiveness isn’t easy. But once we’ve acknowledged our part in creating an undesirable outcome, we’re free to choose whether or not to live with regret.

Books on How to Forgive Yourself

I love to read about personal growth, but the topic of forgiveness was something that I was drawn to at first.

I was thinking “what’s the point of reading this self-forgiveness stuff?” Oh, boy I was wrong.

These books helped me gain insight into my own issues and gave me tools to help myself grow as an individual.

Here are 3 books that may help you forgive yourself if you find yourself struggling with forgiving yourself.

These three books offer advice on how to overcome self-condemnation and guilt.

They teach us not to judge ourselves harshly but rather to try our hardest to live righteously.

These books show us that we should always strive to be better persons.

Forgiveness Is A Choice – By Dr. Robert Enright

Dr. Robert Enright has been practicing medicine since he was 18 years old.

He graduated from Harvard Medical School and completed his residency training at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

In addition to being a doctor, Dr. Enright is also a writer and speaker.

His book “Forgiveness Is A Choice” was published in 2004.

This book teaches readers how they can change their lives by learning to forgive themselves.

The author explains that everyone needs to practice forgiveness so that they can have healthy relationships with other people.

The Power Of Self Compassion – By Kristin Neff

Kristin Neff is a professor of psychology at the University of Texas Austin. She earned her PhD degree in clinical psychology from Stanford University.

Her research focuses on positive emotions such as love, joy, gratitude, hope, interest, pride, amusement, awe, and serenity.

Her first book titled “Self Compassion” was released in 2010. This book helps readers develop more compassionate attitudes towards themselves.

According to the author, self-compassion allows individuals to cope effectively during difficult situations.

When You Can’t Forgive Yourself – By Darlene Lancer

Darlene Lancer is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She is certified in both individual therapy and couples counseling.

She has worked for over 20 years providing services to clients dealing with issues like addiction, abuse, divorce, grief, loss, trauma, and many other problems.

She writes articles and blogs regularly about topics related to emotional health.

Questions About Self Forgiveness

When should you not forgive yourself?

Never. It is self-destructive to hold onto unforgiven thoughts and beliefs.

You must learn to forgive yourself so that you can heal emotionally and move forward.

In addition, you’ll want to avoid situations where you are likely to encounter people who remind you of the event.

The more reminders you see, hear, smell, taste, etc., the harder it will be to forget.

Sometimes, however, you won’t be able to completely erase the memory of a particular incident. That’s okay!

Just remember that you didn’t cause the situation. No one forced you into being involved.

And even though you may still blame yourself, at least now you know why you behaved as you did.

This knowledge helps you better prepare for similar events in the future.

How to start a journey of forgiving myself?

The following tips will help you get started on your journey towards healing.

  1. Acceptance – First and foremost, you must accept that you deserve love and respect just like everyone else does.
  2. Empathy – Next, try to put yourself in the shoes of the other party. What would you think if you found out that someone was treating you badly because of something you’d done years before? Would you believe them? Probably not. So why should you expect anyone else to?
  3. Compassion – Finally, show genuine sympathy for the other person. Try to imagine how he/she feels when you treat him/her poorly. Imagine how much you might care if you knew that his/her day wasn’t going well.
  4. Understanding – Now comes the hard part: Understand why you reacted the way you did. Was there anything about the situation that triggered your emotions? Did you act impulsively without thinking things through? Or maybe you felt threatened by the other person’s comments. Whatever the reason, try to figure out exactly what happened. Then ask yourself these questions: Why did I react the way I did? How could I have handled the situation differently? Could I have prevented the problem altogether? If so, then why didn’t I do this?
  5. Action – Once you understand the reasons behind your actions, decide which ones you want to address first. Do you really want to continue living with resentment toward the other person? Is forgiving yourself worth the effort? Will you ever truly trust another human again? These are important considerations. Only after answering those questions honestly will you be ready to start making changes.
  6. Change – After deciding to begin working on changing your behavior, set some goals for yourself. Perhaps you’re looking to improve certain relationships within your family or circle of friends. Maybe you want to stop drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes. Regardless of what goal you choose, make sure they’re realistic. Don’t promise yourself that you’ll never drink again unless you’ve been sober for several months. Instead, focus on small improvements over time.
  7. Commitment – Lastly, commit to doing whatever it takes to reach your goals. You can always change course later if necessary. But don’t let fear keep you from taking action. Remember, no matter where you go, you can only grow stronger.

Should I always try to forgive myself first before trying to forgive someone else?

Yes. If you don’t accept yourself and can not accept others, but you should never be expected to forgive anyone for anything unless they have asked for it.

If you are being forced into forgiving them, then this could cause more harm than good.

Forgiveness isn’t something we do because others ask us to; rather, it’s an act of self-love.

When you choose to forgive yourself, you’re choosing love over hate.

This can help you move on from any past mistakes and heal any wounds caused by those actions.

Why does it take time for us to learn to let go of our mistakes?

It can be hard to understand why we don’t just move on from past events when they happen.

We may think about them over and over again, wondering what could have been different if only this had happened instead of that.

But there are many reasons why we hold onto these thoughts:

  • Our ego wants to keep control by keeping things as they were. This keeps us stuck because we’re not allowing ourselves to grow.
  • The pain associated with regretting our choices causes us to avoid facing reality.
  • Fear prevents us from letting go of old patterns.
  • Guilt makes us believe that we deserve punishment for bad decisions.
  • Shame holds us back from accepting responsibility for our own lives.
  • Anger at how unfair life has treated us leads us to blame others for our problems.
  • Resentment towards people who hurt us causes us to lash out against them.
  • Self-pity allows us to wallow in misery without having to face up to our responsibilities.
  • Pride stops us from admitting that we made wrong choices.
  • Loneliness forces us to stay isolated so we won’t have to deal with rejection.

What happens when we don’t forgive ourselves?

When we hold on to our mistakes, it can lead us down an endless path of self-destruction.

We may find ourselves feeling guilty of things we did years ago, even though they were not intentional at the time.

This guilt leads us to make more bad choices because we are punishing ourselves with thoughts like “I am such a terrible person! I deserve this punishment!” These negative thought patterns keep us stuck in a cycle of negativity.

They prevent us from growing emotionally and spiritually.

If we continue to punish ourselves, we’ll eventually become bitter and resentful toward everyone around us.

This bitterness will manifest itself in ways that aren’t healthy for either ourselves or other people.

In fact, holding grudges against others doesn’t bring happiness—it brings suffering.

Sooner or later, we must release our anger and resentment.

Otherwise, we risk becoming depressed and unhappy. We might try to justify our behavior by saying “Well, he/she deserved it.” Or maybe we say “He/She was always mean to me!”

However, no matter how much justification we give ourselves, none of it changes the truth. No amount of rationalization can change the facts.

Forgiving ourselves means releasing the burden of guilt and shame.

By doing so, we free ourselves to live happier, healthier lives.

Can you forgive yourself if you hurt someone else?

Yes! Just because you were unable to control your impulses does not mean you should blame others for their reactions.

Blaming people only creates resentment and causes problems between you and other individuals.

Instead, focus on taking responsibility for your actions and working towards improving yourself.

If you’ve been struggling with forgiving yourself, try writing down some reasons why you think you deserve punishment.

Then ask yourself: “Is my reason valid?” Once you answer yes, write down what you’re going to do differently next time.

For example, instead of thinking about how awful you felt after making a poor decision, you could remind yourself that you had good intentions but didn’t follow through.

You could then decide whether you want to be kinder to yourself next time.

If you still choose to let yourself off the hook, remember that there’s nothing wrong with being human.

Everyone messes up sometimes. The important thing is learning from those experiences and using them as opportunities to grow.


Forgiving yourself is a beautiful process for which you need strength and vulnerability.

Hence, it takes courage to face your inner demons head on.

You must learn to love yourself before you can truly love anyone else.

You deserve to heal. And healing begins within.

This requires humility and honesty.

Only then can you move forward into a new chapter of your life.

All in all, it’s worth every second spent learning to forgive yourself.

Marko Matijasevic

Marko is performance-based growth strategist, focusing on business growth while maintaining a strong emphasis on authenticity in every individual he works with.