Strangely, it can be much harder to forgive ourselves than to forgive others. We’re stuck with us all day, every day — and if familiarity breeds contempt, that makes us all the more likely to be self-critical. If you’ve ever wondered, How do I stop beating myself up?, keep reading. Here, our experts present easy ways to silence the self-blame and welcome self-love.
Meet our expert panel
- Robert Enright, PhD, a psychologist and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, founded the International Forgiveness Institute.
- Everett Worthington, PhD, Commonwealth Professor Emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University, is a leading expert on forgiveness.
- Kathryn J. Norlock, PhD, author of The Moral Psychology of Forgiveness, is the Kenneth Mark Drain Chair in Ethics Professor at Trent University in Canada.
Remember you’re worthy.
The very first step to self-forgiveness is simply knowing you deserve it, says expert Robert Enright, PhD. “This doesn’t mean letting yourself off the hook without reflecting on what’s happened; rather, it’s reminding yourself that you’re worthy when you’ve started believing the lie that you’re not.” Just reminding yourself that you deserve this nurturing will begin to transform guilt into self-compassion.
Expand your story.
It’s easy to get tunnel vision and believe that our perceived transgression defines us. But nothing could be further from the truth, says Enright. “You’re far more than that which you’re blaming yourself for.” He recommends “expanding your story” by looking back on all the good you’ve put out into the world. “You’ve served your community and you’ve acted on your love for others in innumerable ways.” Recalling everything you are broadens your perspective and helps you move on from mistakes.
Talk it out with yourself.
We tend to experience a “Jekyll and Hyde” internal dialogue between our forgiving self and our condemning self. “To reconcile these conflicting impulses, grab a chair,” says expert Everett Worthington, PhD. “Imagine the person in that chair across from you is your blaming self, and talk to her about what you learned from the situation.” Physically embodying your forgiving self helps you rebut self-blame in favor of self-love.
Lean on loved ones.
Once you’ve taken the time for self-reflection, look outside yourself to friends and family. “Enlist someone you trust to extend you empathy and just listen to you,” encourages expert Kathryn Norlock, PhD. “Self-forgiveness is really hard to do by yourself — that’s why you need someone to say, ‘I understand’ or, ‘I’m listening.’ You’re not looking for absolution, just acknowledgment. It makes an incredible difference.”
Make a plan for the future.
The main reason self-forgiveness is so important is because it helps us learn how to live up to our values in the future, notes Worthington. “Make a plan to deal with this situation differently if it comes up again,” he says. “For example, if you’ve been beating yourself up for snapping at a loved one when you were stressed-out, ask yourself what you can do to avoid that next time, like allowing yourself to get a cup of coffee to depressurize. We all fall short sometimes, but we can also all strive to do better.”
Recommit to yourself.
Showing ourselves compassion isn’t a one-off activity — we must continually recommit to it. “Because guilt is a function of memory, it bubbles up without our control, and that’s why we need to keep forgiving ourselves,” says Norlock. “The key is to remind yourself that sometimes you will let yourself down. Accept this and renew your vow to continue to be kind to yourself.”
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.