How to Forgive Yourself

Forgiveness is often defined as a deliberate decision to let go of feelings of anger, resentment, and retribution toward someone who you believe has wronged you. However, while you may be quite generous in your ability to forgive others, you may be much harder on yourself.

Everyone makes mistakes, but learning how to learn from these errors, let go, move on, and forgive yourself is important for mental health and well-being. Discovery why self-forgiveness can be beneficial and explore some steps that may help you learn how to forgive yourself.

How to forgive yourself

Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Learning How to Forgive Yourself

Self-forgiveness is not about letting yourself off the hook, nor is it a sign of weakness. The act of forgiveness, whether you are forgiving yourself or someone who has wronged you, does not suggest that you are condoning the behavior. To forgive yourself, you should:

  1. Understand your emotions
  2. Accept responsibility for what happened
  3. Treat yourself with kindness and compassion
  4. Express remorse for your mistakes
  5. Make amends and apologize (including apologizing to yourself)
  6. Look for ways to learn from the experience
  7. Focus on making better choices in the future

Forgiveness means that you accept the behavior, you accept what has happened, and you are willing to move past it and move on with your life without ruminating over past events that cannot be changed. One therapeutic approach to self-forgiveness suggests that four key actions can be helpful.

The 4 R's of Self-Forgiveness

  1. Responsibility
  2. Remorse
  3. Restoration
  4. Renewal

Understand Your Emotions

Becoming aware of the emotions you are experiencing is an important part of learning to forgive yourself. Research has found that identifying and labeling your emotion can help reduce the intensity of your feelings. This can help you better regulate emotions, including those linked to feelings of guilt and shame.

Accept Responsibility for Your Actions

Forgiving yourself is about more than just putting the past behind you and moving on. It is about accepting what has happened and showing compassion to yourself.

Facing what you have done or what has happened is the first step toward self-forgiveness. It's also the hardest step. If you have been making excuses, rationalizing, or justifying your actions in order to make them seem acceptable, it is time to face up and accept what you have done.

By taking responsibility and accepting that you have engaged in actions that have hurt others, you can avoid negative emotions, such as excessive regret and guilt.

Treat Yourself With Kindness and Compassion

Forgiving yourself requires confronting your actions and showing remorse for what happened, but it is important to approach this with self-compassion. The key is to treat yourself with the same kindness that you would show to another person. Try to avoid being self-critical and instead be compassionate while still acknowledging that you made a mistake and want to do better in the future.

Express Remorse for Your Mistakes

As a result of taking responsibility, you may experience a range of negative feelings, including guilt and shame. When you've done something wrong, it's completely normal, even healthy, to feel guilty about it. These feelings of guilt and remorse can serve as a springboard to positive behavior change.

While guilt implies that you're a good person who did something bad, shame makes you see yourself as a bad person. This can bring up feelings of worthlessness which, left unresolved, can lead to addiction, depression, and aggression. Understand that making mistakes that you feel guilty about does not make you a bad person or undermine your intrinsic value.

Make Amends and Apologize

Making amends is an important part of forgiveness, even when the person you are forgiving is yourself. Just as you might not forgive someone else until they've made it up to you in some way, forgiving yourself is more likely to stick when you feel like you've earned it.

One way to move past your guilt is to take action to rectify your mistakes. Apologize if it is called for and look for ways that you can make it up to whomever you have hurt.

It may seem as if this portion of the process benefits only the person you've harmed, but there's something in it for you as well. Fixing your mistake means you'll never have to wonder if you could have done more.

Learn From the Experience

Everyone makes mistakes and has things for which they feel sorry or regretful. Falling into the trap of rumination, self-hatred, or even pity can be damaging and make it difficult to maintain your self-esteem and motivation.

Forgiving yourself often requires finding a way to learn from the experience and grow as a person. To do this, you need to understand why you behaved the way you did and why you feel guilty. What steps can you take to prevent the same behaviors again in the future? Yes, you might have messed up, but it was a learning experience that can help you make better choices in the future.

Try to Do Better

Forgiving yourself also means making an active effort to do better in the future. As you approach similar situations, reflect on how you felt about your past mistakes. Rather than feeling guilty about those past errors, remind yourself about what you learned and how you can use that knowledge and experience to guide your actions going forward.

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Limitations of Forgiving Yourself

While self-forgiveness is a powerful practice, it's important to recognize that this model is not intended for people who unfairly blame themselves for something they aren't responsible for.

People who have suffered abuse, trauma, or loss, for example, may feel shame and guilt even though they had no control. This can be particularly true when people feel they should have been able to predict, and therefore avoid, a negative outcome (an example of what is known as the hindsight bias).

Benefits of Forgiving Yourself

The standard axiom within psychology has been that forgiveness is a good thing and that it conveys a number of benefits, whether you have experienced a minor slight or have suffered a much more serious grievance. This includes both forgiving others as well as yourself.

Mental Health

Letting go and offering yourself forgiveness can help boost your feelings of wellness and improve your image of yourself. Numerous studies have demonstrated that when people practice self-forgiveness, they experience lower levels of depression and anxiety. Similarly, self-compassion is associated with higher levels of success, productivity, focus, and concentration.

Physical Health

The act of forgiveness can also positively impact your physical health. Research shows that forgiveness can improve cholesterol levels, reduce bodily pain, and blood pressure, and lower your risk of a heart attack.


Having a compassionate and forgiving attitude toward yourself is also a critical component of successful relationships. Being able to forge close emotional bonds with other people is important, but so is the ability to repair those bonds when they become fraught or damaged.

One study found that both parties benefit from the "offending partner" showing self-forgiveness. Specifically, both partners tended to feel more relationship satisfaction and have fewer negative thoughts about each other as a result of genuine self-forgiveness.

Challenges in Forgiving Yourself

So what is it that makes self-forgiveness so difficult at times? Why do people often continue to punish and berate themselves over relatively minor mistakes? Engaging in actions that are not in line with our own values or self-beliefs can lead to feelings of guilt and regret—or worse, self-loathing.

Some people are just naturally more prone to rumination, which can make it easier to dwell on negative feelings. The fact that self-forgiveness involves acknowledging wrongdoing and admitting that you might need to change can make the process more challenging.

Lastly, people who are not yet ready to change may find it harder to truly forgive themselves. Instead, of admitting they might need to change, they might engage in a sort of pseudo-self-forgiveness by simply overlooking or excusing their behavior.

Potential Drawbacks of Forging Yourself

While self-forgiveness is generally thought of as a positive action that can help restore the sense of self, there is also research indicating that it can sometimes have a detrimental effect. The major pitfall of self-forgiveness is that it can sometimes reduce empathy for those who have been hurt by your actions.

Although self-forgiveness often relieves feelings of guilt, there are times this inward focus may make it more difficult to identify with others. You can avoid this by consciously practicing empathy with those who have been affected by your actions.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I let go of guilt and forgive myself?

    Letting go of the guilt you feel often takes time. Focus on self-compassion, apologize if needed, and work on making amends. Instead of ruminating on feelings of guilt, focus on what you've learned and how you plan to do better going forward.

  • Why can't I seem to forgive myself?

    There are a number of reasons why you might be struggling to forgive yourself. It might be because you're worried about making the same mistake again. Or perhaps you're worried about how facing your actions might undermine your self-image or damage your self-esteem. In such cases, taking gradual steps to truly change can be helpful. Talking to a mental health professional can help you process your feelings, develop new coping skills, and find ways to avoid the same mistakes in the future.

  • How do you forgive yourself for terrible things?

    The more serious your mistake, the longer it may take to move past it. Regret can be normal, but it is important to take steps to move past it. You might feel grief about what happened, but it is important to allow yourself to feel and accept your emotions.

    As you move forward, pay attention to the things you are doing to change and learn from the experience, and focus on the feelings of gratitude for what you've learned and the opportunity you have to keep trying.

A Word From Verywell

Forgiving people who have hurt you can be challenging, but forgiving yourself can be just as difficult. It is important to remember that learning how to forgive yourself is not a one-size-fits-all process.

It is never simple or easy, but working on this form of self-compassion can convey a number of possible health benefits. In addition to reducing stress, depression, and anxiety, self-forgiveness can also have positive effects on your physical health and relationships.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."