Forgive Yourself: A Step-by-Step Guide

You might be struggling with a relapse or having engaged in a behavior you regret. Maybe you said something you didn’t mean or lost your cool completely. Perhaps the situation has past, but you’re rattled with guilt or shame. You might be struggling with symptoms of anxiety or depression.

How do you recover? Learning how to forgive yourself is an integral part of your resilience and growth.

If you’re spiraling into self-attack or just can’t seem to crawl out of the hole you dug while berating yourself, here are a few steps you can take to forgive yourself and get back on track:

1. Recognize that you are a work in progress. No one is perfect, and we’re all trying as best  we can. Perhaps you slipped up, but you’re working on your behaviors and yourself. Acknowledge your humanity. If it’s possible to repair or correct anything related to a recent slip-up, do that now.

2. Recall how you’ve grown. What have you accomplished in this arena? If you just lapsed in your sobriety or your eating disorder recovery, remind yourself of your clean time or the days you didn’t engage in your symptoms. If you lost your temper or resorted to old behaviors, recall successes you’ve had along the way.

3. Identify what you did right. Even in the worst of relapses, outbursts, or slip-ups, there’s likely something that you did right. Maybe you acknowledged the problematic behavior to yourself or others. Maybe you found a way to stop engaging in the behavior and show up at therapy to talk about it. There’s usually something you did right in each situation. Grab hold of that and don’t let go.

4. Identify what you would like to do differently if presented this same opportunity again. Figure out what you’d do and what might help you follow through with this plan. You might come up with something like, “Next time, I’m going to take a deep breath and pause before responding” or “In the future, I’d like to reach out to a friend for help.” Having a plan in mind might prove useful when/if you’re presented with similar circumstances.

5. Affirm yourself. In your own words, remind yourself of your worth or value (even if you don’t believe this just yet). Create a narrative that contains key phrases such as, “I’m okay,””I’m a good person,” or “I’m trying hard and am allowed to slip up.”

Repeat if necessary. Continue to remind yourself that you are human and that there will be ups and downs along the way. Learning to forgive yourself can significantly expedite your recovery and growth.


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