From Guilt to Grace: The Power of Self-Forgiveness

Why didn’t I ask my grandma more questions before it was too late? Why didn’t I take more videos of the kids when they were little? Why didn’t I stand up for myself during my marriage? These were just a few of the boulders I used to lug around.

Most of us walk around with unaddressed guilt about past mistakes and regret for missed opportunities. These are the tender spots in ourselves that we tiptoe around and from which we lash out when wounded. Whether we are aware of it or not, we carry regret in our bodies—in our stiff shoulders, sour stomachs and tight throats.

Adding the shame that often follows a divorce on top of the general judgments we make against ourselves can make it difficult to heal and move on.

Self-Forgiveness is a Selfless Act

It’s true that sometimes, you don’t measure up to your own aspirations. However, holding yourself in contempt as a form of self-punishment is a pattern that doesn’t serve you. The reality is that ongoing and unaddressed guilt is toxic emotional waste. When these feelings come up or recur, recognize them for what they are—an opportunity.

They are coming up to be acknowledged and released, not pushed back down only to come back up on endless repeat. When you address and release them, you free yourself from your self-imposed bondage. If you feel like you “deserve” to feel guilty because of your past, you are completely missing the point. You deserve your own love and forgiveness.

It may be counter intuitive, but self-forgiveness is a selfless act. It’s the most direct route to growing into a more loving, forgiving and compassionate person.

How to do compassionate self-forgiveness:

First, decide to let it be OK that you’ve done things in the past that you would do differently today. By the way, that is true for EVERYONE. Think of judgments and criticisms that you have placed against yourself and start with a list of the top three or four that come to mind.

I should have __________________________________________

I wish I wouldn’t have ___________________________________

If I had it to over I would _________________________________

Why did/didn’t I _______________________________________?

Now, place your hand on your heart as a way of connecting to the most forgiving part of yourself. Think of a person or animal you love and allow your heart to open. From this soft, warm place share your love with yourself by saying forgiveness statements followed by truth statements for each self-judgment. For example:

  • I forgive myself for judging myself as a neglectful granddaughter for not asking my grandmother more questions when she was alive. The truth is that I loved and enjoyed her when I was with her. Although knowing more about her past would be interesting, her legacy is the part of her that lives on in me and my continuing love for her—that’s enough. I am enough.


  • I forgive myself for judging myself as a bad parent for not taking more videos of the kids. The truth is that gave my kids my love and attention and, while I was not perfect, I kept my commitment to being a good mom. That’s enough. I am enough.


  • I forgive myself for judging myself as weak for not standing up for myself during my marriage. The truth is that I did the best I could with what I knew and was capable of at that time. I’m grateful to myself for going back and reviewing my pattern of giving in to keep peace during my marriage and for working on standing up for myself in important relationships. That’s enough. I am enough.

Do this until you feel a lightening of your heart—it may take a few times in one session or repetition over several days—that’s OK. You’re worth it.

Forgive Yourself Even if Others Don’t

If you need to apologize or make amends as part of the process—own it and do it. Your empathy for the other person’s pain is often increased when you own and acknowledge your part in it. But, and this is a BIG BUT, don’t let your self-forgiveness hinge on someone else forgiving you. Separate what you did from who you are. You made a mistake? Yes. But that doesn’t change the fact that you are still a precious being worthy of your own love and forgiveness, regardless of whether or not someone else thinks otherwise.

Self-compassion is the act of giving yourself space for falling short, getting up and carrying on. It’s also giving yourself grace and recognizing that, like everyone else, you’re an imperfect human doing the best you can.


Deb Purdy, is a transformation coach, speaker, workshop leader and author of
Something Gained: 7 Shifts to Be Stronger, Smarter and Happier After Divorce.

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