What Is Self-Forgiveness And Why Is It Important To Your Mental Health?

Updated October 21, 2020

Self-forgiveness is not easy because it involves recognizing uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. Some view the act as a reminder of not being a perfect person. Others see it as a way to love yourself while accepting your imperfections. People want to move on but find it hard to do so without doing what is necessary to make peace from within. Forgiving yourself requires understanding, empathy, and thoughtfulness. People may not realize they have the ability to forgive themselves because it is something you must practice while recognizing it as a choice. How you do this may impact multiple areas in your life.

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Self-Forgiveness Defined

Choosing to forgive yourself doesn’t mean you are weak. It does not mean you are off the hook for what happened. It does not mean you tolerate behaviors that occurred. Forgiveness, whether of someone else or yourself, means you accept actions and behaviors that occurred while willing to move forward. You are eager to move on, knowing you can’t change what happened. Forgiving yourself means letting go of the feelings and emotions associated with what went wrong. You let go of any resentment or anger. It may be easier to do this when forgiving others, but many find it hard to do this for themselves.

What Happens When You Forgive Yourself

Several things happen when you take steps to forgive yourself. You accept responsibility for what happened. You express remorse, guilt, or other similar emotions that point out what you did was wrong or unacceptable. You make amends with yourself while restoring self-trust. It helps to focus your thoughts on taking better actions in the future.

When you’re responsible, you show compassion for yourself while putting things behind you. The first step to forgiving yourself is recognizing what happened and taking responsibility. You shouldn’t make excuses or justify why you did it. You face the facts and leave it by accepting your actions. Accepting your actions limits the amount of guilt and regret.

It is normal to feel guilty when you’ve done something wrong. It helps to look at your guilt as a starting point to change your behavior. Feeling guilt is considered healthy because you can view yourself as a good person that made a mistake. You may see yourself as a bad person when feeling shameful. Shame brings unwanted feelings that could lead to depression or addiction. When you acknowledge mistakes, it doesn’t take away from your values.

Taking steps to forgive yourself includes taking appropriate actions to make amends. Usually, when you forgive someone, they do something to make it up to you. You’ll need to consider what action is necessary to help yourself feel like you earned forgiveness. Learning how to forgive is part of understanding what to do to make things right again. If you need to apologize, do so meaningfully. You may think doing this benefits the other person more, but it is just as beneficial for you too. Later on, you won’t regret not taking the opportunity or wondering if you should have done more.

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Forgiving yourself lets you move forward with a renewed focus on your thoughts and actions. You’re less likely to hate yourself later or dwell on the situation, which could hurt your self-esteem. At this point, you’re ready to learn how to grow and be open to understanding why you expressed such actions. Consider what you’ve learned and how it can help later. Understand why you behaved that way, can you prevent it in the future, and why you expressed it. Practicing these actions put you in a better position to forgive yourself in the future.

Why It Matters To Your Mental Health

Understanding the act of forgiving yourself is significant to personal growth and self-improvement. One of the most crucial benefits of self-forgiveness is improving your self-image. As you learn and practice how to forgive yourself, it reduces the risk of anxiety and depressive symptoms. You learn self-compassion, and you naturally boost your self-esteem. People are more likely to maintain positive productivity and reach goals.

If you don’t exercise ways to forgive yourself, your mental health suffers in more ways than one. People may not realize how their mental health suffers. If you don’t learn or practice aspects of forgiveness, you beat yourself up often and will struggle to move on from mistakes. It may not be as easy as you think to forgive others if you are not willing to forgive yourself meaningfully.

Your mental health is essential in different areas of your life. It plays a vital role in decision-making and problem-solving. When you feel good about yourself, you’ll make better choices with long-term effects. Forgiveness is a choice that says you want what is best for yourself. It is a reminder that you have to make tough choices and work through consequences to see results.

Other Health Benefits

Learning and practicing forgiveness benefits your physical health. You reduce the risk of physical aspects such as pain, high blood pressure, and increased cholesterol levels. Forgiveness helps you stay calm and keeps your mind and actions focused. You’re likely to do activities that benefit your body while coping with unwanted emotions. Relationships with people you care about benefit from forgiveness. You’re more likely to establish a healthy emotional bond while being able to repair them when something happens.

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Why Self-Forgiveness Is Not Easy

Forgiving yourself isn’t easy because it is hard to accept the fact you made a mistake. Dwelling on it may lead to self-hatred, which is what you should avoid. It may not be easy to forgive yourself if you’re not able to take back what happened or make things right. It is hard to come to terms with something that doesn’t line up with your values or beliefs.  Sometimes deep feelings of regret and guilt result in doing something that’s not part of your character.

People rather ruminate the problem instead because they don’t want to admit to their actions. Forgiveness requires a person to change when acknowledging what they did, and some are not ready to do so. Assuming you need to change your ways is a start, but you need to engage in appropriate action to move on effectively.

How To Practice Self-Forgiveness

Practicing how to forgive yourself encourages your mind and body to calm itself when facing unwanted emotions. When you don’t forgive yourself, it is easy to fall into a mental trap of shame, anger, and despair. Instead of beating yourself up about the situation, you can be proactive. Forgiving yourself reinforces this aspect while keeping anxiety and depression at bay. However, practicing also helps you learn valuable lessons essential to self-improvement. Here are tips to help you practice:

Spend time understanding what forgiveness means. Sometimes people are quick to overlook the concept of forgiveness because they assume it means what happened was okay. It doesn’t not. Think about when a friend hurt you unintentionally, and they apologize while asking for your forgiveness. You may have felt worried or hurt for a minute, but when they acknowledged what they did, you felt better. It was easy for you to move on and not let it bother you. The concept is similar when forgiving yourself, accept you need to be honest about your feelings. Be okay with not being perfect and that you will make mistakes. You can’t grow if you’re not willing to move forward meaningfully. Hold yourself accountable by being responsible. It makes it easier to release unwanted feelings, so they don’t get to you.

Acknowledge your feelings and what you did. You can’t learn from what happened unless you are honest about it. Put aside any judgment and focus on the situation for what it is. What emotions are you feeling? You gain an in-depth understanding of the situation. Your feelings don’t define how you respond to the situation. Taking the time to acknowledge details helps you see things clearly while minimizing remorse and fault. You’ll also want to admit the lesson learned and how to improve moving forward.

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Apologize, make changes, and be compassionate. Apologizing says you feel bad about the pain you caused. It is essential to acknowledge the emotions of someone else. Making changes includes doing meaningful actions that will make a difference in the future. The changes you make may reflect what you learned from the situation. You may need to change your behavior, attitude, or how you perceive things. It may include getting involved in a meaningful way, such as giving your time and energy to ensure things are made right. Compassion includes taking time to love yourself. Self-love is vital to helping you practice forgiveness of others and yourself. You learn how to treat yourself with kindness and how to accept yourself.

Self-forgiveness is significant to your emotional health. You can practice forgiveness through self-help methods and by working with an online therapist or counselor. You don’t have to be ashamed of making mistakes. You can learn healthy ways to forgive to improve your wellbeing and your outlook on life.


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