Giving to yourself: Self-forgiveness

illustration by Olivia Waller

Many of us carry old wounds, shame and guilt because we find it hard to forgive ourselves or because we did not even know that the concept of self-forgiveness existed.

Self-forgiveness is the act of freeing oneself from one’s own poor decisions and hurtful mistakes through acknowledgement of these mistakes, apologising to oneself, accepting one’s apology and resolving to be better. It is letting go of the person you were and creating space for a new version of you to exist. It is untying yourself from past pain so that you are not replaying them over and over again and filling up your soul with shame and self-doubt.

Holding onto the mistakes we made in the past prevents us from growing and changing for the better. It limits what we can do because we continuously judge ourselves based on our past errors. If we did that, we cannot do any better. It keeps us in a toxic relationship with negative, critical self-talk and a state of fear and anxiety.

Why do you need to forgive yourself?

  • You matter. You matter to yourself. The way you think of yourself matters and when you hold on to the ways you have messed up, you will see yourself as your mistakes and poor decisions you have made.
  • Defining yourself by your mistakes holds you back from being a better version of you and allows you to repeat those mistakes.
  • Self-forgiveness make life easier and less burdensome. It creates more room for you to be.
  • The more willing you are to admit that you have done wrong to yours and forgive yourself, the easier it is to fail, fall and bear the pain of making mistakes. You’ll hate yourself a lot less. You will feel free, become more confident and humble.
illustration by Tory Levi

A good way to start practising how to forgive yourself is to acknowledge first the ways you messed up. You can make a list of them all.

It’ll be hard.

Trust me.

Ever wonder why some people cannot see how they f**ked up? It is because seeing your flaws and fault comes with heavy feelings of shame, anger, guilt, and disappointment at oneself. For some, that is all they can see.

Find a mirror and place it before yourself. It will be hard to look at yourself. If you do not have a mirror, you can get an empty chair or sit on your bed and place a photo of yourself in front of you. The photo could be a picture of your youngest self or your present self.

Take a moment to breathe deeply and stare at yourself and not your reflection. Look at yourself. You may break down in tears or even find it hard to focus your attention on yourself. It is okay. It is normal. Keep trying.

Breathe.

To yourself, begin to admit your mistakes and apologise using your list as a guide.
“Amanda, I am sorry. I made poor decisions in the past that were no good for you and it cost you blah blah blah. I am sorry for *insert the mistakes you made here*”

Accept your apology and let it go. Letting go means that you are no longer going to judge your present self by your past mistakes. Look at yourself as you say that you are sorry. Do not avoid eye contact with yourself. When the thought of your fuck ups come to mind, you should remind yourself that you are no longer that person and do things differently.

The important part is doing better.

As you work towards being at peace with yourself, towards less self-hatred and gentle self-acceptance, understand that there is no finish line or point of perfection. You will never stop learning, making mistakes, being hurt or hurting other people plus yourself. It is not a curse and neither is it a thing to avoid or deny as many of us do. It is simply being human. It means that as humans we will always make mistakes. It is a part of our learning process. We know the right way when we have gone the wrong one. Sometimes, we get it right and sometimes, we do not. For this reason, we must embrace eternal forgiveness for self and others.

musings of a psychotherapist living and working in Lagos, Nigeria.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store