Forgiving others isn’t always easy. When someone hurts you, it can require major strength (and maturity) to take a deep breath, put your ego aside, and accept a sincere apology. But what happens if the person you need to let off the hook is, er, yourself? Many of us are too self-critical and it can be really, really difficult to forgive yourself for making a mistake or hurting someone.
Maybe you’ve even already asked someone else for forgiveness, but you can’t figure out how to let go of guilt. Or maybe you need to grant yourself forgiveness for an annoying pattern that does more harm in your life than you’d like (people-pleasing anyone?). Perhaps you’re even wrestling with how to forgive yourself for something terrible—whether you actually committed an extremely not-okay offense, or your brain is spinning a minor incident into a story that evokes more shame than it deserves.
Whether you made a few careless comments at a wedding and now you’re on the wrong end of a possible friend breakup, or you’re tired of never sticking up for yourself, it can feel downright impossible to end the self-condemnation and let that shit go. And you may not even understand why it’s so hard to forgive yourself for past mistakes, no matter how ready you are (or think you are) to shed the burden of carrying these guilty feelings with you.
Often, “the reason why it can be challenging for some people to move into forgiveness is because it’s not just about that one event,” Courtney Cope, LMFT, a principle manager of clinical operations at online therapy platform BetterHelp, tells SELF. Whether the misstep is forgetting a friend’s birthday, say, or a bigger transgression like cheating on a partner, “the event triggers other negative emotions, and the person will then begin to recall all of the things they’ve done wrong,” she says.
Cope adds that resorting to shame, blame, or anger when you make a mistake can all feed into the struggle to self-forgive. No matter what thoughts or feelings have you stuck, we hope the expert advice below will help you forgive yourself and move on (because you deserve it).1. Affirm your ability to forgive yourself.
If you can barely even think about what you did without quickly needing to focus on literally anything else—or if it’s sending you into a spiral of unhelpful, repetitive thoughts about the situation—that’s totally normal, Cope says. As a result, “people wrestling with self-forgiveness can feel depression, anxiety, or insomnia, and in more extreme examples, it might culminate in self-harm or self-medicating with substances.”
When whatever you did (or didn’t do) is weighing heavily on your mind, self-forgiveness might feel unachievable, which is why telling yourself you can move past this is an important step in the healing process, Fanny Tristan, LSCW-R, a New York City–based therapist, tells SELF. “Start by asking yourself, Do I believe in my ability to get better? To change and improve, while recognizing that I’m flawed just like everybody else?” Tristan recommends. Even if your brain responds with a resounding “NO,” challenging your negative thoughts in this way can help you begin to see the possibility of forgiving yourself, which is required to actually start doing it, she says.2. Treat yourself like you would a best friend.
“When we’ve done something that is outside our moral comfort zone, often we start beating ourselves up about it, which doesn’t really help. So we have to practice a lot of self-compassion,” Emily Jamea, PhD, LMFT, tells SELF.