Forgiving Myself

FB_IMG_1519095987421Have you ever done something that you really were ashamed of?  Something that you thought if others knew what you did they would no longer love or respect you?  Maybe you struggle with an addiction, maybe it was an affair, or possibly it is the angry outbursts at the people you love.  What ever it was or is it makes you feel like a fraud. It has you trapped under a load of guilt and shame that feels inescapable and makes you want to hide.  The truth is we have all done things that we are ashamed of, things that need forgiveness.  Often we need the forgiveness of others, but even more often we need to learn to forgive ourselves.  Here is how you can be set free from the bondage of shame and guilt through forgiveness.

Step 1: Acknowledge what you did that was wrong.   Admit it was wrong, define how and why it was wrong.  At first glance, this might seem like a great way to make yourself feel even worse about what you did, but the truth is that you can only heal from what you can acknowledge.  You have to admit that you were wrong and know what it was that you did wrong and why it was wrong.

Step 2:  Acknowledge how your actions negatively affected you and others.  Every action has a consequence, and typically the consequence affects more than the one person who committed the offense.  First look at what the offense did to you.  How did it make you feel?  How did it make you think of yourself?  What are some of the consequences you will have to face?  Next think about how it affected the other person.  How might they have felt?  What might they have thought?  How did your actions hurt them?  What consequences do they have to face because of what you did?

Step 3:  Consider what you can do better next time.  Have a plan of how you want to respond if you are in that situation again.  Think about how you want to act, what you wish you would’ve done differently.  Develop a plan for the next time that will reflect the desire of your heart to behave better.  Consider what triggered you to behave or react in the manner that you did.  Were they internal or external factors?  For example; what were the things you believed about yourself, the other person, or the circumstance?  Was it something that tempted or triggered you?  What were you hoping to accomplish with your actions? How could that have been better accomplished?  What can you change so that things will go better next time?  Write out your plan.

As you work through this step you may find yourself stumped or blaming the other person for your actions.  Or you may discover that the you need help to thoroughly address the issues that led to the offense.  Do not let either of those things discourage you.  Seek out help in the advise of a trusted friend or counselor to work through this step if you need to.  It may take awhile to completely work through this step.  In the mean time simply do your best and make it part of your “plan”.   For instance, “one thing I will do so that I can handle things better next time is pursue counseling so I can figure out how I got myself in this mess”.  Then simply move on to step 4.

Step 4:  Consider what you can do to make it right.  How can you make restitution for what you did wrong?  It will not change the past, what you did still happened, and the damage remains.  But is there anything on your end you can do to try to make things right?  For example if you stole money from someone you can repay what you stole and add interest.  If you broke something you can offer to replace it.  Restitution does not erase what you did wrong, but it may help to set things straight and shows that your hearts desire is to make things right.

Step 5: Confess to God. The whole purpose of the gospel is to proclaim the good news that we are loved and that we can be forgiven from our sins.  A pastor I know used to say “1John 1:9 is the greatest mental health verse in the bible”.  It states that “if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.  What that means is that if you, no matter what you have done, if you confess your sins you are 100% forgiven!  The bible says that your sins are removed from you as far as the “east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12), that you are made clean and holy in the sight of God.  Why is this so important?  Because if a perfect and holy God is not going to hold your past against you then you do not need to hold  your past against yourself.  You are free to forgive yourself and move forward.  Here is an example of what to pray:

“Lord Jesus, I admit that I was wrong when I (insert specifically what you did wrong).  I believe that you died to pay the price for all my sins past, present and future.  I admit that I need your forgiveness and love.  Help me to follow you, and to do what you would have me do.  I accept your payment for my sin and your forgiveness.  Amen.”

Step 6:  Confess to the person you wronged.  This is a very difficult step.  It can be extremely hard to go to someone you hurt and admit you were wrong.  Honestly, they may also have some fault in the matter, but it is not up to you to bring that up to them in this process.  This is about you admitting your faults and seeking forgiveness.  Your confession can be written or in person, but you may find it helpful to write it out first and practice what you want to say so you don’t get side tracked and begin rattling off the list of reasons why you did what you did or all the things they did that were wrong.  Your confession should be specific.  Here is an example:

“(Name of person you wronged), I am sorry that I (specifically state what you did wrong).  I imagine that what I did caused you to feel or experience (state what consequences you think they may have experienced due to your offense).  In the future I want to do better.  (State how you would like to behave differently and your reasons for wanting to behave differently).  Will you please forgive me?”

The person may forgive you and you can together reconcile and decide how to move forward.  Or they may choose not to forgive you.  Even if they do not forgive you, you can still continue with the process of forgiving yourself!  The forgiveness of yourself is NOT contingent on them forgiving you. God has forgiven you, therefore you are forgiven.  Additionally, you are doing what you can to try to make things right in the relationship.  If they do not extend forgiveness, you can accept that, you can forgive them for that, and you can continue to move forward in the process.

Here are a couple of additional thoughts on confessing to the person.  In some cases it may not be possible to confess to the person who you wronged, perhaps they are not accepting communication from you or they have passed away.  In those cases you can symbolically confess through writing your confession in a letter and pretending to read it to them.  You can envision them accepting your apology and extending forgiveness.  You can also pray for an opportunity to confess to them in person in the future.  In other cases it may not be safe for you to confess directly to the person you wronged.  If personal safety is an issue you need to carefully assess the situation and take necessary precautions to keep yourself and others safe.

Step 7:  Offer to make restitution.  Here is where you can offer the ideas you thought of previously to do what you can to try to make things right.  You can also ask the other person if there is something they can think of that you can do to make it right.  If what they suggest is acceptable to you, then you can do what is suggested.  If what they suggest is demeaning, demoralizing, or something you are unable or uncomfortable doing then you do not need to do it.  The purpose of offering restitution is to show your hearts desire of wanting to make things better and reconcile the relationship through an outward gesture.  It is not to punish yourself nor is it to allow the other person to punish you.  If there is nothing that can be done, it does not nullify the forgiveness.  You are still forgiven and can still extend forgiveness to yourself.

Step 8:  Accept the consequences.  All actions have a consequence.  When we wrong someone there may be a consequence of distance in the relationship, new boundaries may need to be set or a lack of trust may have developed.  Or perhaps what you did will result in legal consequences that need to be faced, fines paid, and other restrictions being placed on you.  You can accept the consequences and continue to move forward.  While you are in this process it may be difficult to remember to be kind to yourself.  You are not defined by your past and the things you have done wrong.  It is important that you remind yourself that you are free from the negative labels that you have applied to yourself because of your actions. Speak kindly to yourself.  The consequences are only a result of what happened and will one day come to an end.  In the future you will make better choices and get better results.  You are still loved by God.  You still have value and a purpose.  You are still in a process of learning and growing.

Step 9:  Forgive yourself.  Release yourself from having your identity tied to your actions.  While your past has helped to make you who you are becoming it is not the definitive answer on who you are as a person.  From every mistake you have made you have learned.  You are growing in character and maturity.  It may be helpful to write this out and keep it to review as needed. I have included two options, one for Christians (A) and one for non-Christians(B).

A.) “I have acknowledged that I was wrong when I (insert offense).  I have done everything I can to set things right between (insert name of person) and myself.  I have confessed my offense to God and I have accepted his forgiveness.  I have determined to try to do better in the future.  There is nothing more I can do.  I will no longer beat myself up over this offense.  Because of what Jesus did on the cross I am released from the guilt and shame tied to this offense.  I have learned valuable lessons from my mistakes and I will hold on to those as I move forward. I choose to agree with God that I am forgiven from this offense and with His help I will continue to accept the truth and agree with God that I am loved by Him and that he has a plan for me.”

B.) “I have acknowledged that I was wrong when I (insert offense).  I have done everything I can to set things right between (insert name of person) and myself.  I have confessed my offense and tried to make things right.  I have determined to continue to try to do better in the future.  There is nothing more I can do.  I will no longer beat myself up over this offense.  I release myself from guilt and shame tied to this offense.  I have learned valuable lessons from my mistakes and I will hold on to those as I move forward.   I choose to forgive myself and I will accept the truth that I am loved and valuable.”

Step 10: Instate your plan.  You made a plan on how you can respond better or choose better, begin doing those things.  Envision yourself being the kind of person you want to be and work toward that goal.  Remember you are not perfect and this will not go perfectly, you are in process and it will take time to make these things become more natural and more of who you are.  Keep going, keep pressing forward, don’t let slip-ups stop you.  It doesn’t matter how many times you fall, just keep getting up and trying again.

Step 11:  Continue to remind yourself that you have done everything you can to make things right and that you are forgiven.  It is so easy to fall into the trap of shame and guilt, but it is not helpful to you or anyone else.  Continuously rehearing the shame and guilt will actually keep you trapped in the very behaviors you are trying to change and may create even more insecurities and issues.  Instead, remind yourself often that you are forgiven, you are loved, you are valuable and your are still in the process of learning and growing.  When you catch yourself wallowing in remorse or pity remind yourself that all of that is in the past and that you have decided to move forward.

How To Forgive

received_909583429213312Have you ever really wanted forgive someone but just couldn’t seem to make it happen?  No matter how hard you try to forgive them you just keep feeling hurt and angry when you think about what they did to you.  Forgiving someone is hard work.  It is more than just making a decision to forgive, telling yourself you have forgiven them, and then never mentioning the offense again.  Forgiving is a process with many layers, and while some of those things are parts of the forgiveness process, they certainly are not the whole process.  While you may or may not be ready to forgive the person who hurt you at this moment, it may still be beneficial to understand what would be involved if you did decide to forgive that person.

The Process of Forgiveness

Step 1:  Identify each individual offense.  Be specific about exactly what they did to you.  It is important that you recall exactly what happened as you remember it.  What were the words that were said and the actions that they did?

This may come easy, give fuel to your anger, and seem counter productive initially.  However, the point in identifying and remembering each offense is to remind you of the offenses against you.  Forgiveness is needed because you were wronged.  What the other person did was wrong, hurtful, or painful from your perspective, and you are acknowledging that in this part of the process.

Step 2:  Identify your feelings about the offense.  How did it make you feel?  Try to use one word descriptions for your feelings.  For example: lonely, rejected, angry, hurt, ashamed, abandoned, scared etc.  Try to identify and label as many feeling as you can that you experienced relating to each specific offense.

This part of the process is often very emotionally painful as you remember and focus specifically on how the actions of another person affected you.  Even though it may be very difficult, it is important for you to acknowledge these emotions in order to begin the healing process.

Step 3: Identify what consequences you may have had to pay as a result of the offense.  For example if your partner has an addiction you may have had to help pay for legal fines, drive to court dates, or pick them up in the middle of the night.

This is where you are acknowledging what life is like as a result of their actions.  This is also where you are beginning the process of taking responsibility for your own choices and responses.  In time you may choose different responses then you have in the past, but at this moment you are simply acknowledging how things are in the present.

Step 4:  Remember your personal need for forgiveness.  It’s no secret that you are not perfect, none of us are.  There have been many times when you have also needed to receive forgiveness.  Remember the times when you have been the person who did wrong or hurt someone.  Remember how it felt to feel ashamed for something you had done or said.  Finally, remember the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus who died for all your sins, past, present and future, so that he could forever have a relationship with you.

Step 5: Try to empathize with the offender.  Maybe they were tired, scared, or reacting out of a place of emotional insecurity.  The potential reasons don’t excuse their behavior or make it right, and it certainly doesn’t make it any less painful.  However, sometimes remembering that they have weaknesses just like you have weakness’ may make it a little easier to extend forgiveness.

Step 6:  Make the choice to forgive. This choice is made with the full knowledge that what the other person did was wrong and is deserving of punishment.  The choice is made with the full knowledge that what the other person did hurt you and has affected you in many ways.

Step 7:  Personally act on your forgiveness.  This is where you may want to write out your declaration to forgive the other person.   You may also choose to pray through your declaration to forgive.  The following is an example of a written declaration:

I, (insert your name), choose to forgive (insert the offenders name) for: (list the specific offenses) which caused me to feel (list feelings) and experience (list consequences you faced).  I will no longer seek revenge or retaliation for these offenses.  I choose to no longer ruminate on the offenses and I will not bring them up against (insert offenders name).  I choose to release (insert offenders name) from any obligation to make things right between us or to make me feel better.  I will take responsibility for my responses and my actions and I release (insert the offenders name) into the hands of Jesus.  Just as Jesus forgave me, so I forgive (insert offenders name).

Step 8:  Publicly act on your forgiveness:  If the person has sought out your forgiveness you would go to them and let them know that you have forgiven them.  You may choose to share your personal declaration with them.  After you have forgiven them the two of you may choose to discuss your individual needs and what things you could each work on to improve the relationship.

If the person has not sought out your forgiveness, does not acknowledge their wrong doing, or has passed away, you may want to demonstrate your forgiveness in an alternate manner.  One way this can be done is to have a picture of the person or visualize the person and read through your personal declaration of forgiveness to them.  Another way is to symbolically write out their offenses on sheets of paper and then burn the paper in a fire.

Step 9:  Make any necessary changes in your responses to their behavior.  One of the things that tends to hinder forgiveness is when we continue to be victims of another persons actions.  This is why is it is important to evaluate your own behaviors and responses to their actions and make necessary adjustments.  You may find that you need distance from the person to heal or that you need to put some boundaries in place so that you are not continually being hurt.  This is different than retaliation because in retaliation you are out to hurt the other individual, with boundaries you are trying to protect yourself from being hurt.  You may find it helpful to talk to a counselor or a mature trusted friend about personal changes that you might need to make.

Step 10:  Pray for yourself and the offender.  Pray for good and blessing in their life, or simply pray reminding yourself that you have placed the other person in the hands of Jesus.  This is an important step because it will help you desire to see good in them, in their life, and in your relationship.  Also, it is important because it connects you with divine power to strengthen, encourage, and empower you in the forgiveness process.

Step 11:  Continue to remind yourself of your decision to forgive and repeat the forgiveness processes as memories of past offenses resurface or as new offenses occur.  Relationships are messy, therefore forgiveness is often a process that needs to occur many times to cover the offenses.  Sometimes, after you have forgiven you will remember a new aspect or a new offense, and you will need to forgive again.  Having to go through the process many times does not mean you haven’t forgiven, it simply means your forgiveness is a work in progress.




Forgiveness: What It Is Not and What It Is


Have you ever wondered if you have truly forgiven someone?  Or perhaps you have with held forgiveness because you know the other person really meant to hurt you and deserves to not be forgiven.  Or maybe you fall into the category of “I don’t even know what it means to forgive”.    Forgiveness is something we all struggle with in one way or another at some point in our lives.  I have compiled this list to help explain what forgiveness is and what it is not.

Forgiveness is not forgetting.  We are not called to forget a offenses against us.  In fact, sometimes it would be dangerous to ignore all the aspects of something that happened and continue repeating behaviors and relational patterns that created the original hurt. However, there is a difference between remembering what happened and learning from it, and repeatedly rehearsing the offenses and building bitterness and resentment.

Forgiveness is not reconciliation.  To reconcile with someone means to restore friendly relations with them, or to bring an account to balance.  We can 100% forgive someone and not be reconciled to them.  Reconciliation can be stopped on their end because they choose to not reconcile with you. Once you have offered your forgiveness that is all you can do, you can not make the other person accept your offer.  You have done your part in trying to reconcile the relationship and there is nothing more you can do.

Forgiveness is not restoration.  Restoration means to restore to a former condition.  You can forgive a person and choose not to continue to engage in relationship with them.  Especially in abusive relationships you may need to work through forgiveness and set boundaries regarding contact or interactions with the other person.  These boundaries act as a protective factor for you and for them so the relationship, and the individuals will not be further damaged.

Forgiveness is not letting go of consequences.  You can forgive someone and still they may have to face the consequences of their actions. You may even be the enforcer of some of the consequences.  For example if your child steals a piece of candy, you can forgive them, but still make them return the candy and make restitution.  Enforcing the consequences does not nullify the forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not minimizing or denying what happened. When you forgive someone you fully acknowledge the pain and hurt of the offense.  Minimizing or denying what happened makes it impossible to forgive.

Forgiveness is not no longer feeling the hurt and pain that resulted from the offense.  You can forgive someone and still feel pain from their offense.  An obvious example would be if you broke my leg, I could forgive you, but my leg could still hurt.  Another example would be if you were in a relationship where there was an affair you could still feel mistrust even though you had forgiven your spouse.  Forgiving someone does not absolve you from all feelings related to the offense.

Forgiveness is not healing.  Forgiveness and healing are two very different things.  Forgiveness may be a part of healing, but it is not the whole process of healing.  Healing may involve many other aspects including counseling, spiritual guidance, time, distance, learning of new habits, setting boundaries, etc.  You can forgive someone and still need to seek further help to heal from the offense.

Forgiveness is not usually a “one and done” event.  Typically forgiveness comes in layers as you remember different offenses or different aspects of an offense. As you remember new things or different details you can continue in the process of forgiving with the assurance that you had previously forgiven other aspects of the offense.

 So you may be asking yourself “if these are all the things that forgiveness is not, then what is forgiveness?”  Here is what forgiveness is…..

Forgiveness is costly.  To forgive someone will cost you a high price.  You will need to experience and acknowledge the pain that someone has caused you.  You cannot forgive what you cannot acknowledge.  When Jesus died for our sins he did not pretend that it was easy, nor did he deny that we had done anything wrong.  He fully acknowledged the pain, the cost, and our error.

Forgiveness is a choice.  We have a choice to forgive or not to forgive.  In scripture we are told to “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you” Colossians 3:13.  If we choose not to forgive we run the risk of becoming bitter, spiteful, angry and resentful.

Forgiveness is releasing the other person from our vengeance.  When we forgive we will no longer try to get back at the other person or retaliate against them.  We will no longer ruminate on all that was done to hurt us.  This is different from not holding them to a standard of justice.  They still may need to face consequences of their actions, however we will not seek out additional vengeance out of our spite.

Forgiveness is a decision before it is a feeling.  We choose to forgive, then we eventually will feel like we have forgiven.  Typically there is some time between the decision and the feeling.  The length of time may depend on the depth of the hurt and the time that has passed since the offense happened.  You can make the decision to forgive, act on the forgiveness and then continue to work through the emotions.  This would not be denying the emotions, it would simply mean letting them pass through the filter of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a process.  When you first forgive someone  you may not be fully aware of all the varying aspects of an offense.  With time new offenses may occur and may reveal areas of old hurts that are still needing forgiveness.  This is not uncommon and does not mean you didn’t forgive the person.  It simply means that you have more forgiveness you can work through.

Forgiveness is freeing.  Through the process of forgiveness you can become free from the bondage of anger and resentment.  You are able to release the one who has hurt you and in doing you are free to experience your own healing.


1.)  What information is new or surprising to you about forgiveness?

2.)  How can you use this information to make your relationships healthier or to promote your own healing?