Taking the Steps to Forgive Oneself

In situations where there is regret for what we cannot undo, even as we process it again and again and again, we find ourselves arriving at a place of self-judgment and self-recrimination.

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We find ourselves in situations in life where forgiving another person is complicated by the need to forgive ourselves. And in some situations, all that is needed is to forgive oneself. It’s not drawing too long a bow to say that forgiving oneself is a bigger challenge much of the time.

It’s common in life to experience the vicarious trauma of feeling responsible for other people’s actions. We know logically that these things are not our responsibility, yet we feel responsible at least partially.

This is because someone much take responsibility, and if nobody else does, we do.

Much of the time this is because we’ve not been in control of the situations that came against us. If it was our parents separating and divorcing, we couldn’t change that reality so perhaps we felt that it was up to us to do something about it. It was up to us to take responsibility, and even where they took responsibility, there was something untenable about losing our family in this way. The buck had to stop somewhere.

If it was the situation where we were abused or neglected, even though we couldn’t control what happened to us, we tend to think that there must’ve been something we could’ve done—even if that thinking is totally illogical. Logically we know there wasn’t, and because we know we had no control, and because having no control is an untenable situation, we rationalized that we must’ve been at least partly at fault, even though we know we were completely innocent. This is our mind at war with ourselves.

Of course, there’s a huge dichotomy in all of this, as our unaccepted reality warred with our logical mind. There’s little wonder we struggle to forgive ourselves. Amid such cognitive dissonance, which is just a fancy term for saying there was an incompatibility of thoughts and feelings within us, we found we couldn’t reconcile it. We couldn’t receive any peace.

Sometimes it’s situations where our dreams were crushed and we felt we could’ve or “should’ve” done something different, even if we could not have done anything differently.

In situations where there is regret for what we cannot undo, even as we process it again and again and again, we find ourselves arriving at a place of self-judgment and self-recrimination.

We reconcile that if we were responsible, we were the ones who were wrong. And whilst that’s a cold reality to swallow, perhaps it’s the key to moving forward.

If we were the only ones who could’ve prevented or stopped something, or done something different, we arrive at the same place each time. And even when we know in our mind of minds, knowing that we know that we know, that we were not at fault, the lack of justice leaves us in a place of still needing to attribute some cause. We feel scapegoated because in the absence of someone who is responsible taking responsibility, we take responsibility. And what maddens us each time is we know how maddening that principle is—taking responsibility for what we’re not and could never be responsible for.


Forgiving oneself is one of the biggest challenges many people face, and the outworking of such a challenge is we either introject with self-judgment or self-criticism or we project our anger onto others, commonly onto those closest to us. This is because, in the absence of someone to accept responsibility, we take that on, yet half of us seethes for the injustice of it.

It’s no coincidence that when people do take responsibility for the injustices they do against us, we don’t experience the flip-flop of anger toward them and anger towards us.

In coming to a place of forgiving oneself, it’s good to recognize that:

  • If we were to blame, and we can’t fix it, we are worth a second chance, and that’s centrally about agreeing that we’ve learned something. We all get it wrong from time to time, and we are all worth a second chance, especially with ourselves.
  • If we were not to blame, and in many situations, it’s like this, we can’t be responsible, and we ought not to be held to account—by ourselves most of all.

Forgiving ourselves is about accepting that none of us live in a vacuum. We are all acted upon just as we act onto others. There are always reasons for the things we do and say and why we did these things and said them.

Forgiving ourselves is about accepting the past as a dimension that can’t be changed.

Accepting what cannot be changed, therefore, is half the journey to wisdom, and the other half is having the courage to walk boldly into a new day.


This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Tribework

Featured Image by Pexels from Pixabay

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About the Author

Steve Wickham is a Kingdom Winds Contributor. He holds several roles, including husband, father, peacemaker championing peacemaking for children and adults, conflict coach and mediator, church pastor, counselor, funeral celebrant, chaplain, mentor, and Board Secretary. He holds degrees in Science, Divinity (2), and Counselling. Steve is also a Christian minister serving CyberSpace i.e. here.