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Can You Forgive Yourself?

“My problem stemmed from not forgiving myself.” – Shannon A. Thompson

Each of us has done things we’re not particularly proud of. It could have been something major that brought great harm or pain to another. Maybe it was some trivial matter, an action we didn’t think all that much of initially but later learned had consequences. The human tendency is to internalize the guilt, shame and sadness and repeat the self-condemnation over and over. This is not good for overall mental health and well-being, nor is it any way to live life.

The question becomes, can you forgive yourself? It’s often easier and less problematic to say we forgive others than to look directly in the mirror and grant forgiveness to the person staring back at you. If, however, as experts say, forgiveness of self must take precedence for any real healing to begin, it’s better to figure out a way to say, “I forgive you” to yourself and mean it.

Forgiveness is not walking away.

It’s important to recognize that forgiveness doesn’t mean you walk away from what you’ve done. On the contrary, you need to take responsibility for your actions, however difficult and involved that may turn out to be. No, you can’t take back your deeds, words and thoughts but you can make changes so that you behave differently from this day forward.  It is by your actions that people will know you, or look at you with a changed viewpoint if your prior actions harmed them or caused them pain.

How do you begin to forgive yourself?

But how do you begin the process of self-forgiveness? In one respect, it involves taking the broad view. If you try to scrutinize every mean thing you said or thought or did, the task may seem overwhelming. You’re more likely to give up than go on. Here’s a less overwhelming way to get started.

  • Tell yourself that you resolve to do better and take full responsibility for your actions.
  • Then say the words, “I forgive you” while you look at yourself in the mirror. This process is literal, not figurative. Stare at yourself while you say the words. This helps reinforce your intention to self-forgive. It may not seem effective at first, but if you repeat this daily at the same time as you make changes in your behavior to put the weight of your action behind your intention, you will begin the healing process.

How long does it take for self-forgiveness to work?

Most of us are all about answers, quick ones at that. It may come as no surprise, however, that learning to forgive yourself isn’t one of those quick and easy remedies. Like anything that’s worth doing, this process takes time, diligence, effort and hope. You must believe that there is a way out of self-disgust, self-hatred, self-recrimination and self-blame for self-forgiveness to have a healthy chance of success.

Instead of always measuring how you feel and holding your emotions as a yardstick to be constantly scrutinized, go with the flow. Get busy doing things that broaden your horizons, help you interact with others, do something good for someone else without any thought of reciprocity. Getting outside yourself and your concerns is a therapeutic way of soothing your conscience and furthering the self-forgiveness you so want.

When self-forgiveness becomes natural.

Over time, you’ll spend less of it focusing on whether you’ve forgiven yourself and more of it living a fulfilling, productive life. That’s really the motivation to forgive yourself, the prospect of moving forward with goals and working to achieve your dreams. When you no longer feel the need to think about self-forgiveness, it’s become second-nature. You’ve evolved to a higher state of well-being, one that is enriching, hopeful, loving and helpful.

Will this process be easy? For some, it may be a bit easier than others. Don’t expect that it will be without setbacks, however, for that is not realistic. You’ll have good days and bad days, yet the forward momentum that comes with growing self-forgiveness will begin to overtake any negativity. That’s when you’ll know that self-forgiveness has become natural.

Can You Forgive Yourself?

Suzanne Kane

Suzanne Kane is a Los Angeles-based writer, blogger and editor. Passionate about helping others live a vibrant and purposeful life, she writes daily for her website, She is a regular contributor to Psych Central. You can reach her at

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APA Reference
Kane, S. (2018). Can You Forgive Yourself?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 24 May 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.