Forgiving Oneself

“You can’t pour from an empty pitcher” is what my wife told me before I started therapy as an adult. I thought I was capable of love, but had so much anger inside of me and some toxic habits that I had picked up as coping mechanisms that I don’t think she percieved me as being able to love completely. Until I could let go or come to terms and resolve some issues, I’d never be able to love because I didn’t love myself and I wanted to improve the quality of the relationships in my life. Happiness is a choice and I couldn’t procrastinate any more.

When someone tells you a cliche, they don’t usually stick unless they resonate or, in my case, you can make it a mental image. A similar one I’ve heard is, “you can’t love others until you love yourself”, and hearing these is good enough for a lot of people. Until you work on yourself and see progress, they’re just words and it’s impossible to not have cognitive dissonance. If you’re holding onto things, it’s only once you do the work that you realize what’s possible.

If you’re religious, it goes like this: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”. How do you do that? You start by getting your self-esteem up and a feeling of worthiness through self-forgiveness. It’s not always immediately possible for you to be able to forgive yourself because you may feel like you owe something before you’re forgiven. That’s ok and it’s the reason why 12 step programs exist. You don’t need to do one to forgive yourself, but it’s ok if you need one or another action that you deem necessary. It doesn’t matter how unorthodox it may be for other people, if it makes you feel worthy of forgiveness or gives you closure, do it.

An apology can go a long way toward feeling worthy of forgiveness, but you can’t force someone to forgive you. All you can do is put yourself in the best position to get what you want and show remorse. Writing is an ideal way of organizing your thoughts and being able to reflect on it. In as detailed a way as possible, what’s your regret about a situation? How have you accepted or are you going to accept responsibility for your actions? Is there a way to repair the damage or can you provide an oath about your changes in behavior?

If you feel guilty about something and need forgiveness and you’ve done work on yourself to change, acknowledge that you’re a different person now. I love the phrase I heard once, “we are today what we were when”, which means that we act based on what we experienced earlier in life. You can’t change the past, but you can do the work now to change the future and that’s also about the attitude you have toward yourself, an attitude of forgiveness if you’re working on your issues. I know that if I compare myself to who I was even a few years ago, I’m a completely different person.




Author, English teacher and forgiveness coach

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Gary Marinin

Gary Marinin

Author, English teacher and forgiveness coach

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