Self-Forgiveness: It's Important For You

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 25, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Learning to forgive ourselves when we’ve made a mistake is often easier said than done, especially if we generally lack the skills necessary to work through conflict, make amends, and move on. Fortunately, self-forgiveness is much like a muscle: it can be practiced, and with time, it often becomes something that’s a lot easier to rely on. 

Understanding what challenges you might face as you practice self-forgiveness and seek professional support may be beneficial.

When we make a mistake

Learning how to practice self-acceptance and self-forgiveness is not always easy, largely because it typically 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. 

Many people want to move on but find it hard to do so without doing what is necessary to make peace from within. Forgiving yourself often requires understanding, empathy, and thoughtfulness. People may not realize they can 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.

Learning to forgive yourself isn’t always easy

Self-forgiveness defined

Choosing to forgive yourself doesn’t mean you are weak. Likewise, it does not mean you are off the hook for what happened or that you’re happy about what’s happened. Forgiveness, whether of someone else or yourself, can mean you accept actions and behaviors that occurred while willing to move forward. 

Forgiving yourself may mean letting go of the feelings and emotions associated with what went wrong. Many find it difficult to learn to forgive themselves because it can be tricky to move on without resolution. It’s easy to be our own biggest critic, but it may help to try and extend yourself the same grace as you might to anyone else.

What happens when you forgive yourself

Several things may happen when you take steps to forgive yourself. You’ll likely first accept responsibility for what happened. You might express remorse, guilt, or other similar emotions that point out that what you did was wrong or unacceptable. Then, you may shift your focus to making amends with yourself while restoring self-trust.

In many cases, you might find that the path to self-forgiveness involves reaching out to others who may have been hurt. Even if forgiving yourself is your priority, it can be useful to reach out to others, even if just to talk through what you’re feeling. 

Getty / Maskot

Why forgiveness matters to your mental health

Understanding the act of forgiving yourself can be significant in terms of 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, you may be able to reduce your risk of developing related mental health concerns, like anxiety or symptoms of depression. You may also naturally boost your own sense of self-worth, productivity, and motivation as you begin to let go of the past and look toward the future. 

A lack of self-forgiveness can have other implications, too. Long-term self-doubt, low self-esteem, poor communication skills, and other consequences might develop as a result. It can likewise be hard to learn how to apply these skills to relationships with others without practice. 

Other health benefits

Learning and practicing self-forgiveness may also benefit your physical health. For example, research shows you may reduce your risk of things like high blood pressure and increased cholesterol levels through forgiveness. Self-forgiveness can help you stay calm and keep your mind focused.

You may also be likely to do activities that benefit your body while navigating unwanted emotions and forgiveness. Exercising more frequently, practicing mindfulness techniques, and working through your thoughts can have benefits that extend beyond your mental health.

How to practice self-forgiveness

Practicing how to forgive yourself is an approach that can encourage your mind and body to calm themselves when facing unwanted emotions. When you don’t forgive yourself, it can be easy to fall into a mental trap of shame, anger, and low self-esteem. Instead of beating yourself up about the situation, you can be proactive in your attempts to let go and move on. 

Below are a few tips that might help you get started.

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 have to, though. Forgiveness may simply be a form of acceptance of your own humanity. Because it asks you to understand and make peace with what’s happened, self-forgiveness may help you discover what you need to do to find a sense of closure.

Acknowledge your feelings and what you did

You likely 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? What do they suggest about the best way to move forward?

Your feelings don't define how you respond to the situation either

In fact, taking some time to process them might help you make a decision that’s less swayed by their influence and more by your desire to make things better. 

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Learning to forgive yourself isn’t always easy

Apologize, make changes, and be compassionate

Apologizing may offer you a chance to make amends, find ways to make things better, and connect with those who may have been impacted by your actions. As you apologize, it can be beneficial to not only acknowledge the emotions of others but also ways that you’ll strive to try and make it up to them. Try your best to find ways to make changes, including meaningful actions that might make a difference in the future. You may need to change your behavior, attitude, or how you perceive things to truly be able to apologize as genuinely as you might like.

Seek professional guidance

In many cases, working with a mental health professional can help you discover the insight and guidance you might need to learn to forgive yourself. The professionals may allow you to undergo forgiveness therapy and other methods to help you forgive yourself easily. With online therapy options, it’s possible to connect with a therapist from the comfort of your own home, which can save you both time and money.

Even if you haven’t considered it as an option for processing self-forgiveness, online therapy is known to be an effective treatment for various mental health disorders and symptoms. A review of 17 studies found that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person options and is generally more cost-effective for patients, which means that it might be an approachable way to find support and solutions that work for you.


Self-forgiveness can be significant to an individual's emotional health. You can practice self-forgiveness through self-help methods and by working with an online therapist or counselor. While self-forgiveness may take time and effort to achieve, there are ways to learn healthy strategies for learning to let things go and shift your attention to the future.

You are deserving of positive self-esteem
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