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Learn to Forgive Yourself Even When You’ve Hurt Someone Else

“Be gentle first with yourself if you wish to be gentle with others.” ~Lama Yeshe

Think back to the last time somebody apologized to you about something. Did you forgive them? There is a very good chance that you did.

Now think back to the last time you harmed someone else. Have you forgiven yourself? Probably not.

We all make mistakes. Oftentimes, through our actions, somebody gets hurt.

During this past year, I served as a liaison between my fraternity and a 17-year-old cancer patient in a local hospital through the Adopt-a-Family program. This patient, Josh Goldstein, passed away around the beginning of March. (I’m not exactly sure when.)

My responsibility as liaison was to have a regular communication with Josh. I failed in this responsibility.

In the month after Josh died, I was overcome by shame. My belief that I was a fundamentally good person was shattered; how could I be so neglectful? Why did I not spend more time with him?

This feeling climaxed during “Family Hour” of Rutgers University Dance Marathon (a 32-hour, student-run event that raised over $442,000 for families that have children with cancer and blood disorders). I was standing in the rafters, listening to a speech by the mother of one of the families that we had helped.

I couldn’t bear to hear her thank us for all the wonderful things she said we had done when I felt deep down that I was a bad person!

I literally could not touch my friends who had been standing next to me because I might have contaminated them with the disease that was my poor character.

This terrible feeling continued, and tears began to stream down my face. Flashing before my eyes, I saw all the opportunities I had to visit Josh in the hospital but had chosen not to.

Then my memory came to our fraternity meeting where Josh’s death had been announced. His last wish had been that we would not forget him after he passed. I pictured Josh saying this over and over again.

And then a strange thing happened: I realized that not only was I not going to forget Josh, but that I would never make the same mistake again.

In an instant, I had forgiven myself, letting go of the pain and accepting that I could still be a good person even if I made a serious mistake.

How to Forgive Yourself Right Now

1. Accept yourself and your flaws.

Know that despite your flaws, you are okay as you are. Your flaws, rather than making you “less” of a person, are what make you who you are. What you think of as a defect actually makes you far more interesting to others.

You are not perfect. You make mistakes.

But you are also on a path of growth. Your mistakes and failures help you improve. As flawed as you may be, you must accept yourself, flaws and all, if you are to make progress in your life.

2. Remember that you are not a bad person.

You can do something wrong while still being a good person. A lot of guilt or shame can make you feel like there is something wrong with you.

Realize, right now, that there is a very big difference between doing a bad thing and being a bad person. Even when you do something that you regret, you most likely had a valid reason for doing it at the time (even if that reason doesn’t make rational sense).

You didn’t do something bad because you are a fundamentally bad person; there was an intent, or valid motivation, behind your action.

3. Talk to someone.

Sometimes you just need to get it off your chest. Talking to someone else about what is bothering you can have serious benefits.

  • Another perspective. When you are upset at yourself, emotions can cloud your reasoning abilities. A friend will often point out a reason why you deserve to forgive yourself that you never would have seen.
  • Social support. You always feel better when somebody else has your back. Knowing that other people are less critical of you then you are of yourself can be encouraging.
  • Therapy. Professional help may be necessary or at least a good decision in some cases. If your self-hatred seems insurmountable, you might want to consider this.
4. Talk to your internal voice.

It can be useful to “personalize” your internal voice. Imagine that there is some other entity that is thinking your self-critical thoughts and have a conversation with them.

It might sound silly, but you should give this entity a name, which will reinforce the idea that this voice is separate from you.

During your “conversation” I want you to ask your internal, critical voice what its positive intention is. This voice is saying what it’s saying for a reason. It might be to protect you, to prevent you from making the same mistake again, or to help you improve in some way.

When you realize that your thoughts of guilt or shame are intended for your benefit, it becomes easier to forgive yourself. You can find another way to satisfy that positive intent while reducing your guilty feelings.

In my case, one of the positive intentions of my internal voice constantly shaming me was to help me remember Josh after he passed. Since forgiving myself, I have dedicated each of my yoga sessions to Josh, which ensures that he will not be forgotten.

5. Do the best friend test.

Imagine your best friend had done exactly what you did and then came to you for advice. What would you tell them?

You would reassure them and tell them not to be so hard on themselves. You would tell them that everyone makes mistakes. You would tell them that they deserve to be forgiven.

Why can’t you say this to yourself?

(Erin Pavlina has written a fantastic example of using this technique that I highly recommend checking out!)

Forgiving yourself is far more challenging than forgiving someone else because you must live with yourself and your thoughts 24/7. Despite the challenge, emotionally healthy people must have the capacity to forgive themselves when they have made a mistake.

When you forgive yourself, you are not pretending as though it never happened. On the contrary, you are acknowledging that your actions have consequences. But the consequences need not include self-inflicted negative feelings.

Not forgiving yourself is like picking at an open wound; you are only making a bad situation worse. The wound is already there, but you do have control over your reaction to it, and you can stop it from getting worse.

If you can forgive yourself when you make a mistake, it becomes easier for you to address the consequences of your action in a productive way.

Photo by flickrPrince

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About Michael Davidson

Michael Davidson has written for over a year about finding happiness and health. The keys to his heart are dark chocolate and an encyclopedic knowledge of Simpsons quotes. Get his free 8 day e-course on how to create a healthy lifestyle that makes you happy and follow him on Twitter.

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  • Namrata

    Just what I needed! I recently went through a brief moment when I did realise that it was my mistake and that I had hurt someone bad. It dint matter that the other person had also hurt me and hurt me more. I just couldnt deal with the fact that I might be a fundamentally bad person! But then I had to reason out between the incident and me as a person, just like this article talks off, and I feel better :)

  • desires1989

    Hey, I guess,in talking to your internal voice, it should be written depersonalize your internal voice rather than personalizing…..Just noted..hope it would be corrected..

  • http://www.mypurplebutterfly.net/ Cathy PW Belyea

    this is so beautiful and deep and so true. thanks for sharing.

  • DannySCR

    This is very true! I read an article on here a few weeks bad about forgiving yourself and a message that stuck to me was ” treat yourself as you would a good friend in such a situation” and that applies exactly to what you said. Hope everythings going fine at Rutgers, atleast You’re football team is picking up!

  • The Purpose Hunters

    This was a great reminder and I love the best friend test. It can be so easy to go into judgment of self and carry that around for years. And it is easy to think, who cares this only effects me but the truth of the matter is, it effect everyone one in your life because the more stuff you carry around with you, the less of your true essence you allow other to see.

  • http://twitter.com/CarmeloBryan Carmelo Bryan

    Hey Mikey … very nice realization and post. We are self-critical beings, aren’t we? So hard on ourselves at times. Good for you for coming out of that situation and learning a valuable lesson!

    Forgiving ourselves is tough, not ever judging ourselves in the first place is a great place to be too! If we can practice self awareness and observation by that “other you” as you say, it’s really effective.

    You made some excellent points which are really helpful.

  • The Brave and Happy One

    So much gratitude for sharing this!

  • Michael Davidson

    I’m glad you realized the separation between your actions and yourself. It’s one of those things that’s almost “too obvious”. It’s quite clear that the essence of our being isn’t a specific action we took, but for whatever reason we choose to put blinders on and shame ourselves.

  • Michael Davidson

    Thanks for the kind words! You are right though. Fundamentally, we should be less judgmental of ourselves. Of course, it takes time to cultivate that mindset. This post was more about band-aids you can apply in the short term while becoming less judgmental in the long term.

  • Michael Davidson

    Thank you for pointing that out. Accepting yourself has a trickle down effect because you can express yourself more genuinely to others.

  • Michael Davidson

    That’s a very good rule of thumb. And yes, Rutgers is doing quite well now! Unfortunately it has to be the year after I graduate :(

  • Michael Davidson

    Thanks for the kind words!

  • Michael Davidson

    Thank you! It’s tough….but easier to share than keep it bottled up inside.

  • Michael Davidson

    I’m sorry but I’m not exactly sure what you mean by this. Can you elaborate?

    I’m pretty sure it would be “depersonalizing” your inner voice to give it a name. Then it becomes a separate entity, rather than a part of yourself.

    Thanks for the comment!

  • leticia

    What if the person you hurt hasnt forgave you, and is constantly reminding you of the hurt you caused them, making it that much harder to forgive yourself? I know that its not right of this person its just emotionally abusing and the guilt and shame is building up. Im trying to forgive myself. And ive fought so hard for this persons forgiveness. I think i realized i need to stop asking for his forgiveness and work on me. This person constantly puts me down, breaks my charachterand just adds guilt. This article is very helpful.

  • Michael Davidson

    I think in that case it’s best to focus on #1 and 2, accepting yourself and realizing that you are not a bad person. Yes, they are making it more challenging to forgive yourself. But nobody other than yourself is relevant to this. You can forgive yourself without needing anyone else’s permission.

    I’m sure you already recognize this. It’s tough to put it into practice, but you just have to not let them control your relationship with yourself.

  • desires1989

    You’ve written this
    “It can be useful to “personalize” your internal voice”.

    Don’t you think if we want to see our internal voice as a separate entity, then it would have to be depersonalized so that we can realize that its that voice speaking, and not to be identified with that.

    Please let me know if I have misunderstood something.

  • Michael Davidson

    Thank you for clarifying. Now I understand what you are saying.

    You are correct, and personalizing is not the word I should have used there. A more accurate word might be “anthropomorphize” that voice, but I don’t know if that would have communicated my main point as clearly. When I said personalize, I meant to make it as though it were a person.

  • giftedwithbrokenness

    What about the possibility of making amends? I don’t think you addressed that at all.

  • Namrata

    Totally agree with that. Also it is a gradual process. Everytime I tried make a quick fix out of a solution, I fumbled. Accepting that change needs time, was the biggest lesson for me. :) Thank you for the great article and apologies for replying so late :D

  • Kyah

    This has really helped me, thank you.

  • dave415

    WHEN I THINK OF SOME OF MY PAST JUDGEMENT, IT IS CLEAR HOW MY SELF RIGHTEOUSNESS CAUSED ME SPIRITUAL HARM.

  • Guest

    WHEN I THINK OF SOME OF MY PAST JUDGEMENTS, IT IS CLEAR HOW MY SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS CAUSED MY SPIRITUAL HARM.

  • vinnikeez

    Even thought, you have to accept that someone(s) are angry which we deserve? Always remember this quote:-

    “If people refuse to look at you in a new light and they can only see you for what you were, only see you for the mistakes you’ve made, if they don’t realize that you are not your mistakes, then they have to go.”

  • GettingMyLifeBack&FindingME

    I needed this outlet today. I keep telling myself that I have forgiven myself but I really haven’t. I keep punishing myself for all the hurt and pain I have caused the people in my life who cared for me the most. I feel like somedays I have accepted my responsibility for my actions and then It hits me that I haven’t. I keep telling myself that I am not a bad person and the even good people do bad things sometimes. I am sorry if this is rambling but I can’t talk to my friends as I am not sure they will understand anymore. I embezzeled money from a company I worked for and criminal charges were pressed against me, I now at 42 have a felony record and am trying to get my life back. I have never in my life broken a law other than a speeding ticket. I have always been a good person who has always put others needs before my own. This trait alone helped me get to this position in my life. I never was good at putting myself first.
    I look back and realize that I was in a bad relationship and I am trying to also accept the responsibility of letting myself be in a controlling verbally abusive relationship. When I say and type it I feel like I am using it as an excuse. I could never see what all my friends and family saw. How do I come to terms with that? How do I accept that? I want to let my past go and build my future, some days I really have it together and feel like I am on the right track, then wham I run into a wall and realize I am still punishing myself for my actions and not accepting my circumstances.. Like everything is an excuse to make me feel better about what I did.
    I could go on and on but just an outlet for people who don’t know me and my situation feels a bit freeing.
    Thank you!

  • GettingMyLifeBack&FindingME

    Love this quote!

  • JMO

    This is very good advice, although, i can not forgive myself for the things that I have done. If I imagined myself telling my best friend all the bad things I have done, I am sure that I would not get reassurance that I am not a bad person. They would think me to be a bad person.

  • JMO

    If you had criminal charges pressed against you and a felony record, that means you were already punished and did your time, so you don’t have to keep punishing yourself. It is now okay for you to move on in peace.

  • JMO

    Very good comment. I have wronged my own brother by speaking bad of him to everyone and anyone because of the pain I felt for him not being a good uncle to my daughter and being there for her because it caused me and my daughter great pain because she loved him so much. Still, it wasn’t right of me to keep talking badly about him even though I felt he deserved it. I know I hurt him, but he won’t forgive me even though I tell him and show him how sorry I am. How does one deal with this situation? What if you are treating someone else bad because of the way they hurt you? What if you have stopped feeling anger towards this person and start treating good and kind but they refuse to accept it or change their ways? I’m just so confused and I really wish that someone one day comes into my life, analyzes it, and tell me what’s going on.

  • JMO

    I think personalize was correct. I totally got what you were saying. If you personalize your inner voice, that means you are giving it , it’s own idenity.

  • GettingMyLifeBack&FindingME

    Thank you:)

  • EtherealScribe

    Thank you for the article. I’m reaching out to TinyBuddha for a way to feel better right now. I work the overnight at a house for people with developmental disabilities and I’m also a full time student. Between classes and work, I’ve just been really exhausted and my body has been aching. I started sleeping for a good chunk of time at work. Without realizing it, I let laundry slide and a few nights I neglected to change a woman that I support because I was sleeping. In the morning, I couldn’t finish the shower routine and get her dressed because I was physically exhausted. I didn’t even think of it as neglectful until my boss confronted me. I’ve decided to move on to another job; one less complicated. I just don’t know how I’m going to forgive myself for what I did to that woman. I’m not usual that type of person. At least, I don’t think so. It hurts so much right now, all I can do is cry.

  • lovelife

    But if the other person has also hurt you then you shouldn’t feel bad

  • kari

    Thank you, much needed

  • patricia

    I am reading this while in tremendous pain from a mistake I made yesterday. I am a dog groomer and a dog who was under my care raced out a door as I opened it. The dog was immediately hit by a car, and killed. I can not stop crying and reeling. I love dogs more that I can describe. I take care of so many dogs – I don’t understand how I could have done something so stupid. My heart is so broken and I want so desperately to take away the pain that I caused the dogs owner.

  • Eli Overbey

    Michael,

    Great article. It is astounding how much guilt can ruin a person – emotionally, spiritually, and physical. We created a “forgiveness” wall.. We have had a great reaction and pouring out of people that want to get things off of their chest. If you’d like to check it out: http://thriveworks.com/blog/how-to-forgive-yourself-start-letting-go-of-past-regrets/

  • Carlene Vitale

    I hope you’re feeling better now and have forgiven you for this.

  • Faye Green

    what if it is your own flesh and blood living under the same roof

  • anonymous

    The word everyone is looking for is ‘personify’. I forgive myself for being such a pedant.

  • anonymous

    What about apologising to people? Is it ever wrong to apologise to people? There’s someone I’d really like to apologise to, someone from years ago, but I feel like if I did so then I might just be stressing them out or bringing up old pain. Would it be selfish of me to apologise? To cut a long story short I was going through a nervous breakdown and at some point within that my boyfriend left me. I was the epitome of crazy ex: phoning, texting, emailing, accusing him of all sorts of bizarre things. And this continued on and off for 18 months! He was exceptionally patient with me at the time. I can have compassion for myself in that I can see that I was not in my right mind and now that I am recovered it will never happen again, but I’m still struggling not to feel angry with myself and I’m extremely embarrassed. Also, I feel like if I was to reach out after all these years and apologise – I also want to tell him how much I appreciate his patience and kindness with me when I was such a difficult person to be around – then it might just be for myself. I mean, I intend it for him too, but it would also make me feel better to apologise. I don’t want to just bother him, though. Would you apologise? I can’t make my mind up as to whether or not it is selfish!