5 Myths of Forgiving Yourself

Are you holding a grudge against yourself? For most of us, holding that grudge feels like anger, disappointment and judgment directed towards our self. That feels awful, huh? Don’t worry, we can do something about it.

I’m often given the opportunity to speak about inner compassion. It doesn’t matter where I go, from beautiful churches to the rough and tumble rooms of addiction recovery centers, someone will approach me afterwards because the have heard my message but they can’t forgive themselves. They launch into their arguments about why, while at the same time looking for hope in my eyes, and curious if I will say something to change it for them.

Yes, I can say something about that.

There is a way out, a way to freedom. Self-forgiveness. You are worthy.

First, let me convince you that forgiving yourself is a good idea, and not just some feel-good mumbo jumbo. Forgiving yourself makes you more mentally healthy. You are more likely to experience anxiety and depression if you are unable to forgive yourself (Maltby et al, 2001). Also, when you forgive yourself, self-worth increases and you are more likely to act constructively (Wohl et al, 2008). Good stuff. I want that stuff.

The actual process of self-forgiveness can be pretty simple, but I’ve found if doesn’t work unless we sweep a load of crap out of the way. In our culture, there are many misconceptions or myths around self-forgiveness. These myths get in the way of us being able to forgive ourselves. Let’s remove those barriers.

In our culture, there are many misconceptions or myths around self-forgiveness.

The 5 Myths of Forgiving Yourself

1) I don’t deserve it.

Many people believe that something they did was so bad that they don’t deserve forgiveness, or that there is something intrinsically bad about them that makes them undeserving. But that is not true. You are worthy of self-forgiveness regardless of what you have done. You don’t need get anyone else’s permission or approval to practice forgiveness of yourself. The opportunity is open to you right now, and in each moment. You are human; this is your birthright.

2) It’s just an excuse.

Self-forgiveness is not an excuse for bad behavior. If you have harmed someone else, then take action to make things right. This may look like reparations or apologizing. If you’re not sure what you need to do, get some advice from a trusted friend. But once you’ve done your part to make things better, it’s time to forgive yourself.

3) I’m letting myself off the hook

We can be very harsh judges of ourselves, far harsher than how we judge others. Think abut the situation you need to forgive yourself for. Now consider what you are saying to yourself, would you say that same thing to a friend? It’s ineffective to motivate others with harsh criticism, but we somehow think that harsh criticism will motivate us to be a better person. It’s doesn’t. You can put down the sword of cruel language and give yourself forgiveness and even a little pep talk (like you might give a friend in the same situation).

4) It will make me misbehave

Forgiving yourself is a powerful act of self-compassion. True self-compassion acts in a way that is supportive and healthy. Just like you would not allow a child to repeat harmful behaviors, you can practice self-compassion by limiting your own harmful behaviors. Forgiving yourself actually makes you stronger and better equipped to take healthier actions. Self-forgiveness does not make you soft; it actually motivates you to be a better person.

5) I should only have to forgive myself once.

Forgiving yourself is a process, not a magical solution. You may need to “practice” forgiving yourself many times for the same thing. It’s normal to have troubling thoughts of shame about what we did or said recur. Having to forgive yourself multiple times is not a failure, it is evidence that you are using forgiveness as a practice to strengthen yourself.

Each time you put down the sword of harsh criticism and decide to forgive yourself, you release yourself from bondage. Living a life of joy and freedom is the purpose of self-forgiveness.

You got this.

Do you know other myths of forgiveness? Let me know!

Maltby, J., Macaskill, A., & Day, L. (2001). Failure to forgive self and others: A replication and extension of the relationship between forgiveness, personality, social desirability and general health. Personality and Individual Differences, 30(5), 881-885.
Michael J A Wohl; Lise DeShea; Rebekah L Wahkinney; Looking Within: Measuring State Self-Forgiveness and Its Relationship to Psychological Well-Being, Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science; Jan 2008; 40, 1

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