I recently wrote a post on How To Forgive Those Who Have Hurt You, and it quickly became one of the most popular posts on the entire site. Holding on to grudges is one of the most painful things we can do to ourselves, and yet, it can be hard to let go. That post dealt exclusively with forgiving others, and I did my best to explain how forgiving someone has nothing to do with them and everything to do with you. But what about if you’re the one who has done something “wrong”? What if you’re the one who needs to be forgiven?
What forgiveness really is
Forgiveness is a complex subject, because it’s kind of a blanket term. It’s not an emotional state in and of itself. You cannot actually feel forgiveness. You can let go of blame, judgment, anger or guilt. You can get into the feeling of appreciation, compassion or love. Forgiveness is simply the term we use to describe those shifts. So, when we’re trying to forgive someone or ourselves, we are actually trying to release what could be one of several different states of emotion, caused by a variety of beliefs. At its core, what you’re always trying to do is to feel better about a certain situation that you are currently using as an excuse to feel bad. Period.
Asking others to forgive you
I’m going to make a controversial statement: You do not need to ever ask others to forgive you. You may want to, and I’ll discuss that in a minute, but you never need to. Let me explain:
When you’re asking someone else to forgive you, you are asking them to give you permission to feel better. And it’s not that this can’t work to some degree, but when we do this, we are giving away our power over how we feel. We are saying, “If YOU will say it’s ok, I guess then I can feel ok.”
When someone forgives us and we actually do feel better, we don’t actually feel better because they’ve forgiven us. It’s because we are using the fact that they’ve absolved us of our guilt as an excuse to feel better. This is an important distinction. In order to actually feel better, WE have to allow ourselves to do so. Someone else can’t MAKE us feel better. We can use their words or actions as an excuse to change how we feel, just as we can choose to be offended or hurt by someone else, but when it comes right down to it, it’s still our choice, our doing, our power.
So, even if you’ve “hurt” someone else, there’s never any NEED to ask for or receive their forgiveness. This is especially important to remember if the person you were hoping to get forgiveness from has died or simply refuses to give it to you. You are the one holding on to those horrible feelings and you are the only one who can release them. You don’t need anyone else for that.
If you’re having trouble with the idea of having been wronged and wanting to be asked for forgiveness, please read the original post on forgiving others.
You may still want to ask for forgiveness as a way of repairing a relationship, but that’s another story altogether.
You did a bad thing vs. “you are bad”
So, you’ve done something wrong. Let’s say that you said something truly hurtful to someone you love, and you deeply regret it. You feel like the most awful person in the world and you just can’t stop beating up on yourself. The first step towards healing is to make the distinction between having done something that you regret and actually being a bad person.
There’s a big difference in terms of vibration between thinking “I have done a bad thing” and “I am bad.” One allows for redemption, while the other condemns you as broken, possibly permanently so. People don’t do “bad” things because they are bad. No matter how horrible, we always have a valid reason for everything we do. Those reasons may not be rational or logical, but they are valid for each and every one of us in that moment (and yes, this includes murder and other atrocities). You didn’t say something hurtful to your friend because you’re mean. You said it because something that came just before that comment triggered an insecurity in you, and one of your defensive mechanisms kicked in.
Let’s say that you are insecure about your weight. You believe that you’re not good enough, and your weight has become as symbol of that. You’re shopping with your friend and she, without even realizing what she’s about to step into, makes a comment about how a certain style of jeans isn’t flattering on you. But because of your insecurity, instead of hearing “That style of jeans doesn’t show off your wonderful body”, you’re convinced that what she really meant was, “Your ass is so fat that when you sit on the beach, Greenpeace volunteers haul you back into the ocean and yell ‘Live Shamu! Live!'” One of your biggest fears (the fear that you’re not good enough) is triggered and you lash out in order to defend yourself. Before you even know what happened, you whip around, stare your friend directly in the eye and say “Yeah, well, your cankles would make Miss Piggy weep!” Now, your friend, who was simply trying to be helpful, is going to feel like you just punched her in the gut, completely unprovoked, while you will actually be feeling a bit better, having shifted out of that fear (defensiveness feels better than fear). At least until the guilt sets in.
In the moment that you made this defensive comment, you had a very valid reason for it: You subconsciously felt attacked and you fought back. Again, our reasons are very rarely rational (most fears aren’t). But because you’re not consciously aware of this fear, you see your friend running off in tears and you then crumble into a heap of self loathing. How could you have said such a hurtful thing? Where the hell did that even come from? I guarantee, that every time you said or did something that you consider to be “awful”, you were triggered in some way just before the incident happened.
The point here is that when you understand your motivation for doing “bad” things, you can make the distinction between having done something hurtful and being an evil person.
You are not a bad person. You did something you regret, but at the time, you had a valid reason (valid to you). Use the incident to help you find that trigger and the underlying belief it’s connected to and release that belief. The more often you do this, the less triggers you’ll have, the less you’ll be “hurt” by others, and the more you’ll be able to react consciously (the way you actually want to).
Our subconscious reactions
Let’s face it: Most of our reactions are subconscious. We react before we even think about it. And even when we do take a moment, we are often seemingly driven by emotional forces we can’t control. In the moment, we often don’t really feel like we have much of a choice. And sure, one could argue that we ALWAYS have a choice, and I would agree, only not when we’re talking about the moment of reaction.
We have a choice to look at our thoughts, beliefs and emotions and decide that we don’t like where we’re heading. We can choose to think differently, shift our beliefs and therefore cause ourselves to act differently, even when we have no time to think about it. We have the choice to become self-aware, to understand what drives us and to change those driving forces if we don’t like how they make us feel.
We sometimes have the choice to control our reactions in the moment, IF the trigger that set us off was mild. But if the trigger was a strong one, our subconscious causes us to defend ourselves well before our conscious mind can even begin to get involved. In the moment of offense, you almost certainly didn’t consciously choose to react the way you did. Knowing this can help you to finally let yourself off the hook and work towards forgiveness and healing.
Now, I know that a lot of you are going to be reading this and thinking, “Melody’s saying that we don’t have to take responsibility for our actions. She’s saying we don’t have a choice.” And just to be clear, I’m not saying that at all. In fact, by understanding how our actions and reactions truly come about, we are in a position to not only take full responsibility but also to change our future reactions (instead of just trying to control them with willpower).
There’s a big difference between saying “I realize now how my beliefs caused me to say those hurtful things. I see that in that moment my subconscious felt it had no choice but to defend me. But knowing this, I can now change my beliefs and therefore my behavior and react the way I actually want to in the future” and “I now have carte blanche to do whatever the hell I want. If I hurt someone, it wasn’t my fault because I had no choice.”
The first statement leads to greater self-awareness and a more conscious, authentic and ultimately happier life. The second statement is made by a person who is stuck in extreme powerlessness, looking for a way out of that and has found a way to justify lashing out at others. Anyone actually reading this post, however, is most likely working on increasing self-awareness and is therefore not at great risk of getting stuck in this kind of mindset. Remember that I tailor my articles to a specific audience and that my blog is unlikely to appeal to or even be found by someone who will read this and proclaim, “You mean I can kill as many people as I want and not feel guilty about it?” You know… just so we’re clear. 😉
The key is self-awareness
Truly forgiving yourself (and others) necessitates a shift in how you perceive yourself and your actions. The first question you want to ask yourself is: “Why did I really do that?” It means paying attention to what triggered you and how you felt in those moments. It means digging around in your subconscious and facing your fears. It means learning to see yourself the way that Who You Really Are sees you. You are perfect. On your journey, you sometimes do imperfect things, but as I said, you will always have a valid reason for them in that moment. When you become aware of those reasons, you’ll begin to see that even though you may have preferred to react in a different way, it actually made perfect sense for you to do or say what you did, given the beliefs you hold, even if those beliefs are totally wacked. And when you see how in that moment, given what you now know about yourself, you didn’t really have much of a choice but to react the way you did, because from the point of view of your subconscious, what you did was actually the best possible option, you can let go of the need to punish yourself. You can let go of the idea that you are broken or damaged or beyond repair. You can take full responsibility and feel the empowerment that comes with finally knowing how to ensure that in the future, you’ll be able to react authentically, instead of from a place of fear. You can see yourself with acceptance, compassion, and love. And you can finally forgive yourself.
A friend introduced me to your blog and am really enjoying myself.
Thanks a lot for what you are doing.
I’m glad you are enjoying the articles, Serwaa. This is just a tip of the icerbeg, you are yet to experience her awesomeness. Her articles are very educative and knowledgeable, I’m reading them forever!
I came across your blog after I have been stuck in a rut for the past few days. Last week I said something pretty horrible and stupid to someone I care about in a moment of madness. It was fairly silly. I know I cannot undo what has been done, but I am very sorry, regretful, and know that it will never happen again.
I have apologised, and explained however illogical or irrational what the triggers and insecurities were that led up to the words that were said. He has been unable to look past it, and has given me the cold shoulder.
It makes me feel very sad that just one moment of blindness has led to this situation. Personally I find it easier to forgive others before I can forgive myself, and whilst I am not expecting forgiveness (I take responsibility for what was said) – I am finding it very difficult to be at peace with myself.
I hope that I can absorb the information in your post, and learn to truly forgive myself for what happened, and I hope in time, he can be at peace with himself, too.
Thank you. I found this to be very helpful. I appreciate you and your work. Namaste.
You’re welcvome Khalida. And thanks for your kind feedback.
I feel awful with ma self for a lot of things a hell lot but I want to change it however I don’t kno if I can do it
You can Bruke. Just hang in there and do your best to be kinder to yourself. That adds up quite quickly.
You may really benefit from this video as well: http://www.deliberateblog.com/2011/12/13/how-to-love-yourself/
Thank you so much for this post, guilt and not being able to forgive myself before had led me to depression and anxiety. This post really helped me a lot. I save this post so that every time I feel down, I would come back and read it again. after reading everyone’s comment, I realize that there are so many people out there having trouble forgiving themselves. It can’t rain forever, I am so glad I found this blog.
You’re so very welcome Phuong. And thank you so much for leaving your wonderful comment here.
Sending you huge hugs!
Thank you so so much for this. I was really struggling tonight with feelings of guilt and shame and I knew in my mind I had no reason too and that the situation that I chose to feel this way over was out of my control. This really grounded me and Im going to share this with my friends and family. Thanks for your strength and honesty and wise words.
You’re so very welcome Carly. And thank you for taking the time to write this comment. I’m so happy that these words have brought you some clarity and comfort.
Huge hugs for you!
I know that the central dogma of LOA is feeling good. How about if you are spending more of your time reaching this place than being productive? I mean, what if you are spending more of your time trying to feel good, and succeeding, than let’s say doing homework or any type of work? Is this indicative of anything in particular, or is it okay, the work will get done in time, no problem? Just wondering because there are some deadlines some of us must work with.
If you are truly feeling good, the work will get done. It took me a long time to trust this process (and I’m not there 100% of the time), but practice does help. I realized that a lot of things work out differently than my control freak self thought they had to. But if I could allow for that, they did work out and with a lot less effort than I could’ve imagined.
You have to let things happen in their own timing. Of course, if you have a deadline tomorrow and you are not really able to relax and feel truly good, then you can take action (it will be the better feeling choice). but if you do that, take a few minutes to line up with this action journey being fun and easy. Don’t take action while thinking “I SO don’t want to be here.”
Does that answer it?
Oh, man, that is my mistake! When faced with these situations, I’m like “I so do not want to be here and do this.” Well, it will take practice on my part in these cases. Got to keep whistling that happy tune or thinking about that dreamy sunset!
Thanks a bunch! Hugs!
I just want to say WOW…..your words are amazing.
I have been beating myself and unable to let go of this guilt I have been feeling.
A few months ago I had taken a course and ordered all of my materials to start my side business up. I had stressed to this gentlemen that owns this supply company how I was very much afraid to take such a costly leap but he reassured me that there wasn’t anything to worry about. Like a fool, I trusted his words and believed in him.
Now 2 months and almost $3000. later, I have nothing. No supplies, no money returned and now absolutely no contact back from him.
I haven’t been able to let go of this huge mistake I have made and am getting sick over it. I lose sleep every night and I seem to beat myself up more.
How do I let go?
How do I forgive myself for this terrible and very COSTLY mistake, so that I can move forward? The guilt eats at me everyday and I am so afraid it will win.
Please, any advice would be more than greatly appreciated.
Basically, you get over the guilt by understanding how and why you made the decision you made in the first place. You were reacting from a certain perspective, and when you don’t fully understand that, it’s easy to simplify your actions as you look back on them and just consider it a stupid mistake.
When you figure out that you had very valid (to you, at the time) reasons for making the decisions you did, the guilt lifts.
Does that help?
Hey Melody 🙂
Yes, it does help! I have been doing alot of reading lately to learn how to let go of guilt and to allow ME to forgive myself.
I know it is more than just this situation in my life that has lead me down this path of always feeling guilty for things.
I have made some huge changes in my life in the past year and a half.
I’m 43 and decided to move on my own to discover “ME”….to make “ME” a priority for a change. What does Kim want? What makes Kim happy?
For so long I have always done for everyone else, never being selfish, always giving and yet somehow what mattered to me, didn’t exist!
I have struggled for most of my life with being happy and have decided that enough is enough. I love life and all of the opportunities that life has to offer.
I have allowed my emotionally sensitive self to keep me from feeling just THE very thing that I want more than anything………………….HAPPINESS!
Your blog has been a wonderful thing for me and some of the words have really hit home!
My goal now is to live and breath happiness!!! I know I have alot of work ahead of me…..but also know, I am worth it!
It’s time I started forgiving myself for the things I can’t change and focus on the things I CAN change 🙂
Superbly stated Kim! And thank you for your kind words. 🙂
Keep up the great “work”. The payoff is so freaking worth it.
I just wanted to say thank you so much for all of your articles, but this one in particular REALLY hit home with me. I have done some really really terrible things in my life and everyone else has forgiven me a-n-d forgotten but I have not ever been able to forgive myself. I have tried so many times but somehow it always just lingered in the back of my mind. I’ve always considered myself to basically be a good person and have always tried to do the right thing but for some reason (and all of this is pre LOA thinking and exposure, my first exposure was March 2011 when I had a LIFE transformation) every now and then I just would do really stupid stupid things, I mean B-A-D. The last thing I did was Dec. of 2009 I like a big dummy drove on a suspended licience and of course I got caught. The funny thing is that It was the very first and only time behind the wheel since my licence was suspended. I’m the kind of person that the person next to me could sell drugs, steal and do all sorts of crimes all day long and NEVER get caught yet I could j walk and they would probably lock ME up.
I have never been good at being bad. Anyhow I have done way worse things than the licence but it was about 20 years ago and like I said I have been forgiven by everyone but me. Now thanks to you writting your article I want to thank you for helping me and providing the tools to help me to PERMANTLY once and for FORGIVE myself and FORGET. Journey has a song “Be Good To Yourself” and in the song is a phrase it says “to forgive is to forget”. That song is such a help to me when I forget lessons learned and reminds me of all of thing s I have learned from YOU and “The Secret” as well as other LOA sources. Thank You so very extremely much, Blane
Thank you so much for this wonderful comment! I feel honored to have played a small part in your journey.
One of the things that will be helpful to you will be to get a bigger perspective of things. For example, I don’t consider driving with a suspended license to be an awful thing. It’s a non-issue, as far as I’m concerned. When you see your actions not as the cause, but as symptoms of your beliefs and your emotional state, you will begin to see that trying to simply control your actions will get you nowhere. But changing your beliefs will. When seen from a larger perspective (start by viewing things through the lens of your whole life span), you’ll come to see this as a blip on your road, not as a major event. And that goes for all of your wrongdoings.
The only really important question is: Where do you want to go from here? How do you want to feel? Who do you want to be? Ok, that’s more than one question, but it’s all about the NOW, not the past. If you had been as conscious and self-aware in your past, and if you had been able to ask yourself these questions then, you would have acted very differently. But you didn’t and as you stated, you did the best that you could do. What more can you ask of yourself.
Keep doing your best and life will get better and better, particularly now that you’re aware of your true motivation for your actions.
Oh, and you also clearly have a belief that causes you to expect being caught. Just saying. 🙂
Huge happy shiny puppy hugs to you my new friend, (your light shines very, very brightly),
This was a great post. I recently encountered a situation where deeper issues with a person came out in an interaction and I felt extremely guilty for some of the things I said. Being the reflective person I am, I was fully aware of what triggered my behavior but like you said, sometimes right in that very moment, we are not in that mode and we just react. You made an excellent point about doing something bad vs. being a bad person. I think on a conscious level, this is something that we are aware of but when we are experiencing these sorts of things, we lose sight of that.
It’s one thing to understand this stuff intellectually. It’s a completely different matter to KNOW it experientially. We can figure out the theory all day long, but there’s no substitute for actually going through the experience and then shifting our beliefs and then feeling better. So, it doesn’t matter how well we know this stuff, we all still struggle at least a bit when we’re faced with our own onslaught of emotions. 🙂
How right you are. And thanks for sharing that great quote. When we feel guilt, we’re trying to forgive ourselves for having done something. When we feel shame, we’re trying to forgive ourselves for who we are. Ew.
That’s so funny Veeh! I almost used that quote! I love it, too. I remember the first time I heard those words, it caused a big shift in my perspective. I realized that we tend to look back on our past selves and judge ourselves through the eyes of our current knowledge. But we didn’t know then what we know now. We didn’t have the same vibration. We weren’t the same people. We can’t apply today’s standards to yesterday’s actions (not ever). All we can do is focus on now, how we feel now and what we do now. Why mess up the now by choosing the look at the past in a way that feels awful?
It’s another great post related to forgiveness. You are right, it depends on us how we feel, nobody could make us feel better.I really like your thoughts and the tips you have shared here to forgive ourself are really helpful.
Thanks so much Pete! I’m glad you found the post helpful.
@Veeh: Thanks for sharing that Maya Angelou quote — I’ve never seen that one before and I’ve added it to my inspiration list. 🙂
@Melody: Your posts are always so timely it’s freaky. This is something else that I need to work on. I understand the idea that we have to allow ourselves to feel better, and that we use other people’s forgiveness, or lack thereof, as an excuse to let ourselves feel better or not. And I understand that, ultimately, we choose how we feel about any given situation. And it drives me batty that I “get” all the concepts, but I can’t “do” them yet. I guess it comes down to what you said to me a while back about the whole LOA thing being an emotional rather than an intellectual exercise. 🙁
It will come. Don’t work too hard at this. Let it go. I know, that’s hard, too, but honestly, if you push to hard in any direction (even towards enlightenment), it’s like putting on the brakes. So, relax and ALLOW the clarity to come. And yep, it’s an emotional journey, which usually means that you can’t just snap your fingers and “get” it. You have to be willing to feel what you’re feeling and that includes being willing to feel bad when that’s where you’re at right now.
You’re getting it. Maybe it’s not happening as instantly as you’d like, but you’re getting it. Remember it’s a journey and you’re right smack in the middle of it. Stop trying to jump to the end. 😀
Huge happy shiny puppy hugs!
You crack me up. 🙂
I just posted a blog article this morning about working on letting go and going with the flow, and then I just checked my email and there was your response…. about letting go.
All right, Universe. I get it. 😉
The Universe always knew you would. 😆
Last year, i manifested some drastic crap, when I was suffering immense guilt, over my past actions…when i made the connection, and dropped the guilt (cant change the past, can only change myself) the crap dissolved! it actually amazed me at the time, the contrast in the quality of my life, in the two time periods!
Yes Naomi!!! This is exactly what happens! When you change how you feel NOW, you change your vibration and you begin to manifest from that new point of view. When you change how you feel drastically, you change what you manifest drastically. Bravo!!
What a beautiful post! Thank you.
There’s an idea from Taoism (and other sources of wisdom) that has helped me a lot with avoiding wanting to forgive myself. The idea is that when something bothers you, take a step back, whether physically or emotionally. When you step back, you diffuse the situation, more or less disarming the other person. And you give your true self that split second to surface. When somebody knows your buttons, that extra second of not reacting can let you see the trigger for what it really is, not an attack but a lovely flag waving – woohoo – something to work on!
When you act/speak/live from your true self, forgiveness becomes obsolete. I’ve sometimes wondered about the teaching that God forgives, since the Universe has to have known all along that there’s nothing TO forgive. Blame is one of our less useful human inventions.
One more thought – I think there’s value in saying you’re sorry (and it has nothing to do with blame or guilt). When you explain that you spoke or reacted too quickly, you open the door for a genuine conversation about whatever happened. I tried to model this for my children, so they’d never think they needed to be perfect. An honest – “I goofed. I’ll try not to do it again.” – gives both participants comfort and space.
Hugs to all!
Hey Mary Carol,
I found (at least for myself), I had to reach quite a high level of self awareness and diffuse a lot of triggers before I got the point where I could take a step back in the moment. I think this is because when nothing triggers you that strongly anymore AND you have a lot of practice shifting your perspective, it becomes possible to practice this with very little reaction time. It’s no surprise that you can do it. 🙂
And I totally agree: God doesn’t forgive. There’s nothing to forgive. But this can be a really difficult concept for people to grasp… You have to get past retribution, past thinking that we can do anything to actually damage each other and really “get” who we really are in order to fully embrace the idea that none of us is bad or evil or can ever actually do something wrong. I love that I know that, and I love that I attract others who know it, too (like you). But let’s be honest, this is pretty high level stuff. 🙂
You know, I think I’ll write a post about the value of saying “sorry”. That is a whole other story. There’s a huge difference between saying you’re sorry so that you may get absolution, and saying you’re sorry in order to foster the kind of conversation you’re talking about. And I think it’s worth exploring.
Yay! (Having an awesome day. I’m all bouncy)
Happy Shiny Puppy Hugs!
Hi again Melody and all,
Thanks for the validation!! I think many people are able to slow down and not react in certain situations in their lives, for example at work. Teachers, doctors, nurses, and many others learn to take that step back early in their careers, or they don’t have careers! The trick is to learn to apply that same skill in our daily lives with family and friends. To me, it’s less daunting to think of applying a skill you already have, than to think of unlearning and retraining a “bad habit.”
Start where you are, and take a little step forward!
Great point Mary Carol. I hadn’t thought of that. People who have trained themselves not to react under any circumstances. I guess we can add soldiers to that mix…
I have a question, though: Do these people also not react immediately when it comes to their personal lives? Like, when they’re having a fight with their significant other? It’s one thing to be stoic at work, but at home?
Even more hugs (there is an endless supply)
That’s a good question. I think people who’ve consciously trained themselves to take a step back, to listen actively, etc, have a bit easier time transferring these skills to family life. But it’s not a guarantee. For myself, I was pretty good pretty quickly at not reacting hastily to the teenagers I was teaching, but I’d still be way over-emotional sometimes to my own kids at home. Practice, practice…
My guess would be a time lag of maybe five years (professional -> personal), but I could be making that up! It does really help to get training and support, and to practice daily. That said, there are still some buttons I react to – maybe not overtly, but my insides can get all in a twist.
It’s not actually that you want to be stoic – it’s more like thoughtful and flexibly responsive. An active considered response rather than a reactive one.
Interesting topic! Thanks again for bringing it up!
I think I have to stay with my original statement – when we’re not triggered as strongly, we have more time to react. I think that “teaching ourselves not to react as quickly” is just another way of saying “clearing those triggers so that our response is not as strong.” I mean, as a teacher, your students would’ve pushed the same buttons and their variations over and over again, allowing you to become better at handling them (not everyone does, of course). So, you cleared a bunch of triggers at work, or at least lessened them, but that didn’t automatically clear everything at home. Still fits. 🙂
Today, I decided that maybe I should sit in meditation and try to forgive myself for things that I feel guilty/ashamed for, so I could finally move on with my life.. I then had this thought “Hm, maybe something new is up on Melody’s blog..”.. Now that’s a fun synchronicity.. 😀
He, he. LOA strikes again, eh? I always write intuitively. That means that I choose my subject of the day by what feels the best to me. The Universe lets me know what people need to hear that day. Thank you so much for the validation. It seems I heard correctly. 🙂
Yes! Self awareness is the key. Mel, this post flows freely into the other one really (How to forgive those who have hurt you) because empowering ourselves makes us mentally stronger and helps deal with forgiving others. This sequence would work for me. Maybe it is different for different people. My two cents 😀 I love the post, as always.
Thanks so much Vidya! This post actually come out of the comments left on the other one. It seems to be an issues that everyone struggles with. I’m so glad you liked them. :o)
Huge hugs to you!