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5 Reasons to Forgive Yourself and How to Do Better Going Forward

Sadness

“At the end of life, the wish to be forgiven is ultimately the chief desire of almost every human being. In refusing to wait; in extending forgiveness to others now; we begin the long journey of becoming the person who will be large enough, able enough and generous enough to receive, at the very end, that absolution ourselves.” ~David Whyte

The last time I saw my mother she was smiling and laughing at nothing in particular. My mother has had dementia for almost ten years now. Each visit brings an onslaught of guilt and uncomfortable feelings. Could I have done something different to ease this for her?

For years I discounted my heritage and all my ancestors, and in doing so devalued her. How could I have been so heartless? How could I have stayed out all night and worried her to death when I was in my twenties? Why didn’t I stay with her in Boston after I married? The list goes on and on.

I can count each transgression and easily relive the selfishness of a younger version of me. I want to reach back in time and slap that younger self, admonishing her for losing out on caring for the person that loves her most.

I want to send her the warning that time is running out and she is wasting it on trivialities, ego-centric activities, and hurtful behavior. But I cannot reach back in time, and for many years I carried the burden of a wild adolescence that had no regard for the one who cared most about me.

There have been times when, on bent knee, I pleaded silently and tearfully for her forgiveness, but she would have none of it. She simply continued her incoherent storytelling with a smile and eyes that were viewing something in the distant past. The best I could do was to stay present with her in her story, allowing her to share whatever needed to arise unconditionally.

And then it happened.

During one visit I was again listening to her storytelling, laughing with her, sharing her jokes and following the winding path of her conversation when she suddenly stopped. Something in her eyes shifted. It was as if a light turned on for a moment. And then she said it, even using my name, which she had not recalled for years.

“Alicia, I’m fine. Let it go. Focus on your life and move on. I’m fine.”

And with the same suddenness she disappeared into the fog, her eyes coated with the same film that hides the chapters of her life. I burst into tears.

Grace is Found in Forgiveness

We discover grace in forgiveness. We unburden the baggage we carry with us when we are forgiven, and when we forgive. Transgressions, real or perceived, carry an energetic and negative tether that creates a network of dark knots that expands as we continue to carry these transgressions through our relationships and into our lives.

We believe that others hold the ability to release us through their forgiveness. When we surrender the power to forgiveness to someone else we lose the ability to recover our goodness and worth. In truth, we each hold the power to forgive simply because we are the ones that need to forgive ourselves.

In the moment that my mother spoke I felt a release and then an awareness that the forgiveness I attributed to her was really within me. I needed to forgive myself for my behavior and lack of awareness that created the guilt I carried with me. What my mother did was make me aware that I needed to “move on.” And to do so meant to forgive myself.

5 Reasons We Have to Forgive Ourselves

1. The other person may not forgive you.

For years, I was haunted by past transgressions that caused harm to someone else. The sting of the lies of the past and the impact on those that I cared about caused such shame in me that I became rigid about what was right and wrong. There was no one to call for forgiveness. Those relationships existed in the past and have long since moved on.

I had to forgive the teenager and the young woman who foolishly thought the world revolved around her needs.

If you look back into the past you’ll notice you may be carrying shame too. It’s time to forgive the person you were so that the person you are can keep growing.

2. If you don’t forgive yourself then how will you keep going?

You can’t make changes or move forward in your life carrying the weight of your mistakes.

Imagine putting all your past mistakes into a bag, adding to it each time you make a new one. The bag would become so heavy, the burden so great, that it would be impossible to keep moving forward.

It’s time to put that bag down, take out each item, and forgive so you can let go of the past and move forward, having learned the lessons that will make you a better person than before.

3. You can’t forgive others if you can’t forgive yourself.

You have to learn how to forgive, starting with yourself. If you cannot offer yourself compassion and forgiveness, you will never be able to offer the same to others.

Life’s missteps are an opportunity to learn. These mistakes are useful in that they point you away from the person you do not want to be and reveal the path of growth and authenticity that you can choose for your life.

4. The shame of the past can only be transformed through forgiveness.

I confess that I intentionally caused hurt to others out of ignorance or narcissism before I realized what true connection and love were. I've learned that when I lash out, it is a projection of the anger or discomfort I feel toward myself. Unless I forgive myself, I will carry that anger into the world and project it onto others.

Change your anger into a call to attend to something that is hurting within you. Forgiveness is the alchemy that transforms shame into self-love.

5. To accept and value yourself you must embrace both virtues and flaws.

We human beings are flawed. We must accept that we are not perfect. We make mistakes, and sometimes we make mistakes that hurt others. However, our mistakes do not define us. They are opportunities to learn about ourselves, who we are and who we aspire to be. By acknowledging our flaws and our strengths, we can consciously choose how we live our life.

I’ve learned to forgive myself and have adopted practices that help prevent those missteps that cause guilt, regret, and shame. These practices are integrated into my life today because yes, I still mess up.

1. Practice conscious living.

Too often we hurt others due to our sheer ignorance or lack of empathy. We are not caring for others when our lives are so full and busy that we are unable to stop and notice how someone else is feeling.

When you are present to yourself and to those around you, you are conscious of your choices and actions. Your awareness of your environment increases. You will notice the person who is feeling sad or disappointed and offer them a kind word.

So many of our regrets, the things we wish we had done or said, are due to sleepwalking through our lives. Observing yourself, learning about yourself, and choosing your thoughts and actions means you are conscious and present to your life and to others.

2. Accept what you have done without denial or justification.

It's easy to justify our actions or to blame others for our mistakes. Take responsibility for your decisions and you empower yourself to choose wisely.

This requires that you face your transgressions and tend to that wound so that you can begin to heal. Do this with an open heart and allow self-love to flow so forgiveness may transform the pain into peace.

3. Identify what it feels like when you are angry, resentful, or sad so that those feelings do not hijack you into doing harm to others.

These strong feelings can take us over, and we are left wondering how we could've behaved so badly. When you become self-aware, you notice when those feelings begin to arise so you can better manage your emotions. Of course you will feel these emotions at times. This is part of our human nature. Acting on them is what causes regret and shame.

4. Practice meditation and mindful breathing.

Through mindfulness, you begin to recognize the impermanence of things so you can make healthier choices. Nothing lasts forever, whether it's joy or sadness. Sometimes we have to endure the discomfort of the moment by breathing through it until it passes. And it always passes.

5. Forgive imperfection.

Self-compassion means you accept that some days, you are doing the best you can do at the time. It's not perfect but it's good enough, and that's fine. Perfection is a heroic standard that no one meets. It sabotages your confidence and self-esteem.

How different would our world be if we forgave each other? Begin by forgiving yourself and let the waves of that forgiveness ripple out so that one day, maybe, the compassion and forgiveness you offer yourself can create more peace and tranquility in a world desperate for its own transformation.

About Alicia Rodriguez

An author, speaker, and Conscious Living expert, Alicia teaches busy executive women how to shift out of overwhelm and enhance their well-being so that they better manage their time and energy, build resiliency, and leverage their passion to lead more effectively. Visit www.aliciamrodriguez.com for information. To learn more about her 2017 women’s retreat visit Unlocking the Secrets to Conscious Living.

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  • Aelio

    Thank you, I needed this

  • Aelio, I think we are all too hard on ourselves. Compassion for others begins with compassion for oneself. Best wishes.

  • Alicia,

    Is it as if we were having a conversation.

    Members of my family deal with mental disorders (if that is the correct terminology).

    At his been at times very difficult to cope with, both in them and all affected.

    I am most certainly going to pass this article along .

    Thank you so very much,

    Joel

  • I’m so happy this helps Joel. The conversation around mental health is a complex one – no simple answers. And when it’s personal it is most certainly difficult to cope with. Best wishes.

  • Bullyinglte

    Forgiveness is so important to living a healthy life, so thank you for sharing. It has been proven that guilt and anger lead to both psychological and physiological problems, so learning to let go is not only freeing, but also healthy. Thank you for this important message.

  • You are so right Bullyingite. Only through forgiveness can we move forward unburdened.

  • Joe kovolis

    Hi Alicia.growing up I was the guy that everyone said”he see’s the good in everything and everyone”.now I’m 52.and for 4 or 5 years now,i can’t seem to see anything except the bad and negative.ive never wanted much out of this life except the bare necessities.ive never longed for anything material.ive actually ran from situations when I could’ve succeeded monetarily.never contemplated losing my spiritual being for life’s temporary pleasures.it seems like something is trying to destroy my lifelong peace of mind.any feedback would be greatly appreciated.God bless.

  • Dora

    So Alicia — I saw this post some time ago — tried to connect with you and Life got crazy! First, I hope that your retreat in Ecuador was a success!! Next, I did not want to miss an opportunity to talk about how fantastic this post is, because I refer back to it often, both for myself and for friends. There are TONS of articles written about forgiveness (over 200 on Tiny Buddha alone! [smile]), and I have read A LOT of them, but yours makes two points that have resonated with me like no other, as I walk “The Self-Forgiveness Trail:” The FIRST point was “what if the other person never forgives you?” I think often we humans stew in unforgiveness of ourselves as a silent punishment for the deed (I know I have done this!) but secretly hope that the other person (or people will forgive). In many instances I do recognize it’s important to someone to be forgiven by someone they’ve wronged, but as you’ve noted, sometimes, it’s just never going to happen, so when do we self-love enough to let ourselves off the hook? This one I am trying to practice daily! I love your “bag of rocks” characterization – it really drives home how heavy unforgiveness can be!

    The SECOND point you make is to think about the behavior that was the catalyst for the deed in the first place. YES!! With my most challenging mistakes, I had to think long and hard about where I was (in my head and in my Life) that got me to the point of the act. This is a tough one, because many will dismiss this discussion as an excuse or justification, a point with which I don’t agree. I think understanding what drove the hurtful behavior is the #1 way to head off a repeat performance! I don’t really hear a lot of people talk about this part and regrettably I think the mental health community has not been as helpful in this regard, as the current approaches favor focuses on the present/future versus the past. But I think it can be a challenge to do that if you’re not clear on the foundation from which you want to make change, so I appreciate so much you making this point. For me, that meant doing my best to not duplicate (ever . . . again . . .), the environment that fueled the behavior.

    I believe that human beings are fundamentally good and that negative circumstances can change us for the worse, not the better – a state I want to believe is temporary, because THEN we can do what everyone likes to talk about, which is focusing on the “now” and the future . . . and worked toward being that “best version” of ourselves that we want so much. Such as helpful article Alicia – it is saved in my “Inspiration” file – THANK YOU!! Hugs!!

  • Jessica Toussaint

    You are a good and beautiful person Joe. You are a wonderful being. You’re a good human being that doesn’t deserve this crushing weight on top of you. You said that you’ve never longed for anything material and only wanted the bare necessities of life. Right there that makes you pure in heart. You are a wonderful person Joe. And I ask that you think of things that you’ve done well. Times where you made a person smile. Times where you brought joy to someones face. All the times you’ve laughed, smiled, and cried out of joy. You have done so much good in your many years of living and I can tell that from what you wrote. You are a marvelous person Joe and you are very special. Also, speaking to a friend or family member or even a therapist could help to pin point why you’ve been feeling the way you do. I pray that your find your peace Joe. Amen

  • Hi Joe, sorry for the delay but I just saw this. So…You are still that guy that has the positive attitude but life has thrown you a few curve balls causing you discomfort and perhaps suffering. Don’t mistake your circumstances for your identity (who you are). They are not the same.

    One thing I want you to know that is absolutely true is that everything changes and is in constant motion. The sun rises, the day progresses, the night falls, the moon comes out and the sun rises again and we have a new day. The same with our lives. There are cycles where we enjoy more comfort, and other cycles where we experience suffering. “This too shall pass.” has always been a good mantra for me.

    I spent about 7 years in the grip of loss. Major major losses in my life. There were days I didn’t want to get up. There were days I only experienced darkness. But I kept the faith that things would change and that there was something here for me to learn if I could just get out of my pity-party. And there were…lots. Years later I live on the coast of Ecuador with a spiritual partner, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, doing the work I was born to do. And If those terrible years had not happened, I would still be living and under ordinary life, not expressing my potential, joy and gifts. So did it suck? Yes. Do I appreciate it now? Yes.

    We don’t evolve in comfort Joe. We evolve through suffering and if you can understand that suffering and discomfort can be the portals to your evolution then you eventually appreciate suffering but only if suffering is for a greater purpose. If you suffer because you didn’t have the money to buy a Porsche or get that promotion, well, not good enough. If you suffer because you are seeing something about your life that keeps you from being all that you could be, if you suffer when you see something that needs to be changed and although you have the power to change it you don’t, well that is suffering that can be transformed to spiritual energy.

    This is what being Conscious is about. To observe and come to understand the nature of your human condition and elevate beyond that to experience yourself as a spiritual being having a human experience.

    I find it interesting that you posted under my article on forgiveness. Joe, what and who do you need to forgive? Forgiveness releases you from a prison you create. The door of a new possibility opens when we forgive ourselves or others.

    And succeeding financially is NOT exclusive of living a spiritual life. Both can co-exist well when you are conscious, awake and authentic. You don’t have to sacrifice one for the other.

    I hope these thoughts are helpful Joe. My best wishes. Alicia