The Heart of Forgiveness, Part 3: Forgiving Myself

The Heart of Forgiveness, Part 3: Forgiving Myself

How many times have I put my foot in it, and wish I could take back some of the things I have said or done? Or what about those significant hurtful behaviours of the past that I wish I could erase completely?

In the moment, we can feel justified by the hurtful or off-hand things we said or did, and later, perhaps minutes, hours, days or years, we can become quite embarrassed and full of regret about some of these things.

Fortunately we are not alone in cringing about some of the things we have said or decisions we have made that weren’t so great. All of us slip up from time to time, and I’m sure most of us have had, or still carry, feelings of regret or remorse about something. For some however, it seems that we cast a harsher judgment on ourselves than we do on others, and our regretful words and actions may seem to be unforgivable to us. Why would we be so much harsher on ourselves?

Perhaps it is because we have high expectations of ourselves and do not expect that we would slip up, like others do! I may put myself above the behaviours of others and make judgments about their words and actions, then become mortified when I realise that I am not so different or so perfect after all. Perhaps I worry excessively about other peoples’ judgments about my behaviour if they only knew what I had done, or maybe I believe that my behaviour has been so bad that it cannot even be forgiven by God or the Universe.

In feeling overly critical and unforgiving of ourselves, we may react in one of the following ways: we may completely dismiss and try to forget about the event that has caused us grief; or conversely, we may become quite introspective and dwell on the slip-up, focusing all our energy on the negative aspects including self-disappointment, guilt and resultant lowered self esteem. If we have failed to forgive ourselves and continue to carry guilt, we are prone to anger outbursts or depression, and self sabotage, and it is likely that we don’t even realize where it is coming from.

Forgiving myself is not about letting myself off the hook for those things for which I am responsible. Nor is it becoming even more defensive and self-righteous, trying to convince myself or others that it was really someone else’s fault. Nor is it about flogging myself over and over for slipping up – and some of us are so expert at that!

Forgiving myself is about understanding and accepting that I am not perfect, and that I reacted in the moment because I was triggered in some way. In the case of regretful significant decisions and behavior, forgiving myself is understanding and accepting that I couldn’t see any other reasonable option for my life at that time, or that I was otherwise influenced or confused.

It is usually the case that there is more than one reason involved for embarrassing or regretful behavior, so it is not useful or fair to cling onto one aspect only of the situation simply to keep putting yourself down. It is important to keep perspective, taking into account the whole context of the situation, and not just the bits you choose to focus on. This is not about excusing the behavior, but rather putting it into context with more understanding of your vulnerabilities and shortcomings.

We can become so disappointed in ourselves, and obsess about the damage we have caused or the negative opinions that would be formed by others if they knew, but it does not serve yourself or your loved ones well to become despondent because you slipped up. Recognition, understanding and compassionate acceptance are the key steps to forgiving ourselves. When we are able to do that, we can begin to move on, and can resolve to behave differently in future.

Forgiving ourselves leaves us open to accept more love into our lives, and enables us to reach out with greater love to others. It may help to speak to a professional counsellor if you still struggle with self-forgiveness.

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  1. Simone Winchester says

    Thanks for sharing Marg.

    I always believe that messages or thoughts or actions come into our lives at any given point in time that is intended. This is without exception for me. Thank you for sharing, it provides me much reflection .

    I hope you are well and you had a wonderful Christmas. Happy New Year Marg.


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