How To Forgive Yourself - How To Stop Feeling Guilty
How to Redeem Yourself
Every now and again you may find yourself in a situation where you've done or said something you regret. After this situation you may feel embarrassed and wish you could take back what happened. Unfortunately you cannot turn back time and have a 'do over’. Instead you can work to make things right and redeem yourself in the eyes of those you’ve wronged.
Overcoming Your Wrongdoing
Determine what you did wrong.Wrongdoing (or betrayal) can include a number of different situations. In general it means that you’ve broken some sort of agreement (formal or informal) with someone or something.
- Examples of possible wrongdoings — you might have wronged your spouse through cheating, broken someone’s trust by lying, or gone against your moral or ethical code by stealing something.
Acknowledge your wrongdoing before the other person finds out.You know you’ve betrayed someone, so don’t wait to talk to this person when it is discovered via another means. Waiting for the other person to find out from someone else will only make things a lot worse, and will make a resolution much harder to accomplish.
Commit yourself to permanent change.Committing any sort of wrong is hard to overcome. It may take the other person a long time to trust you again. You need to help achieve that trust by committing to be different or changing in the future. And once you’ve made that commitment, you need to actually follow through and be different or change.
Answer the hard questions.The person you wronged will likely ask you a lot of questions about what you did. This person will likely want to know all the details, including why you did it and what you were thinking. Work to answer these questions in a honest way that doesn’t end up blaming others.
- For example, if you cheated on your partner, they may ask you why you did it. If you seriously want to overcome the cheating and make your relationship work, blaming your partner for your cheating is not the answer. Instead you need to answer honestly about whyyouwent ahead with the cheating — e.g. because you did not have enough confidence to talk to your partner about your needs and instead turned somewhere else to get satisfaction.
Be prepared for the long haul.Depending on the extent of your wrongdoing, the healing process may take a very long time. You need to give the person you betrayed the time to regain the trust in you that used to exist, and you need to actively demonstrate you want that trust back.
Take responsibility for what you did.Do not attempt to make excuses, come up with rationalizations or justifications, or avoid explaining what happened or why it happened.
- For example, if you shoplifted don’t say you did it because all your friends do it too. This is an excuse where you are attempting to remove any personal blame for your personal actions. This type of excuse will not get back the trust of the person you betrayed.
Saying You're Sorry
Ensure your apology includes the three Rs.The three Rs of an apology are regret, responsibility and remedy. Regret means being empathetic and acknowledging that what you did was hurtful. Responsibility means to accept that you made a mistake and that it’s your responsibility to fix it and make amends. Remedy means that you realize you need to make up for your actions.
Be sincere.One of the biggest aspects of an apology is your sincerity. This comes from the fact that you actually regret what you did and you realize you hurt someone. If you don’t feel sorry for what you did, or you either don’t accept or don’t care that you hurt someone with your actions, your apology will not be sincere.
- Regret doesn’t mean you admit you did anything hurtful on purpose. It means you realize that what you did was hurtful to another person and you’re sorry you hurt that person.
- Some examples of how you can apologize such that you show your sincerity and regret are:
- I’m very sorry for what I did. I really regret having hurt you.
- I am so sorry. I realize I hurt your feelings and I feel absolutely awful about it.
Take responsibility for your actions.As with regret, taking responsibility doesn’t mean you intentionally meant to hurt anyone. Responsibility is demonstrating to the person you hurt that you are accepting the blame for what happened.
- Some examples of how you can apologize such that you take responsibility are:
- I am very sorry. I know you’ve had trouble trusting people and me lying to you hasn’t made that any better. I should not have lied to you.
- I am so sorry. There is absolutely no good excuse for what I did. I know I hurt you and I take full responsibility for that.
- Some examples of how you can apologize such that you take responsibility are:
Remedy the situation.You can’t take back what you said, or have a do-over, but you can make up for it somehow. This restitution to the person you hurt could be promising never to do it again, or to make up for the situation by doing something specific.
- Some examples of how you can apologize such that you offer a remedy are:
- I am so sorry I made us late for the movie and we missed the start. Next time we go to the movies, it’s on me!
- I regret having lied to you yesterday. It was totally the wrong thing to do and I will never do it again.
- I’m sorry for treating you so badly at the meeting, I really do not know what got into me. I will do everything in my power to make sure that I never act like that again.
- Some examples of how you can apologize such that you offer a remedy are:
Do not use apologies to get what you want.Any and all apologies should be sincere. If you’ve decided to apologize for something because someone else told you you should, or because you realize that an apology will get you something in return, you’ve made the wrong decision. An apology like this will be noticed for its insincerity and will only make you come off worse.
Plan your apology in advance of giving it.When we realize we’ve made a mistake, it can be really easy to try to come up with every excuse under the sun as to why it isn’t our fault. Before you apologize to the person you’ve hurt you need to recognize the mistake for what it is and forgive yourself first.
- Start by realizing you made a mistake and there are no good excuses for why it happened.
- Think about what you did and how it’s affected other people. Think about how you’d feel if you were on the receiving end.
- Recognize that humans make mistake and you are just a human. Forgive yourself for making the mistake and try to eliminate your feeling of guilt.
- Work to forgive the other person, if required. If the mistake you made was because you’re in a conflict with this other person, you may also need to forgive them before you can apologize. In a situation like this you need to be the bigger person and recognize your mistake and take responsibility for it, even if the other person refuses to do so.
- Plan out how you’re going to apologize, including what you’re going to say, how you’re going to make amends, and where you’re going to present the apology. Try not to apologize without at least a little bit of preparation or you may get tangled up in what you’re saying if you’re really nervous.
Allow the person you’ve wronged to think over your offer.Don’t rush the situation. The person you’ve wronged may need some time to think through what happened and decide what to do.
- When you talk to the person you’ve wronged, specifically tell this person you’ll follow-up after a certain period of time. Allow the person to inform you if more or less time is needed, or how the decision will be communicated.
- Different situations require different amounts of time. If you forgot your wife’s birthday, she might need 24 hours to cool down and give you an answer. But if you hit a neighbour’s dog or crashed someone else’s car, several days or weeks may be needed to determine the best possible method for you to make amends.
Listen actively to the response to your apology.Once the person you’ve apologized to has had time to think about your apology, listen to the response this person gives you. It is important that you not only listen to what is said, but you read between the lines and understand what is meant.
- Listen intently to the person in an environment free from distractions. If you’re in a crowded coffee shop or in a place with TVs playing in the background, suggest relocating somewhere with less distractions.
- Do not lose focus of the fact that the person is talking. If you’re too tired or have something on your mind that isn’t allowing you to fully concentrate, maybe this isn’t the best time to have this conversation.
- Avoid trying to defend yourself if the person is upset or angry. This person may simply need some time to vent because you hurt them. Your job at this point is simply to listen.
- Pay attention to your own body language. Look directly at the person talking. Make sure your facial expression is appropriate for what is being said. Don’t cross your arms in front of you. Nod or say yes to encourage the person to continue talking.
- Repeat back to the person what was said in order to ensure you fully understand and to show the person you were sincerely paying attention.
Learning From Your Mistakes
Open yourself to new ideas.When you've gained experience at something, or have had time to generate a strong opinion about something, it can be hard to consider other perspectives or opinions. This behaviour can make you come across as thinking you’re always right or are too stubborn to listen. Allow yourself to consider other perspectives and options, and don’t assume you’re always right.
- This is especially important if you’ve wronged someone. Your initial thinking when you wronged them may have been that your perspective was the ‘right’ perspective, or that you were doing it for the right reasons. Re-evaluate that now and take a moment to understand the perspectives you did not consider before.
Show yourself compassion.Take a moment to realize that you have value. Realize that you deserve to be cared for and loved. Try to avoid endlessly judging and criticizing yourself for the wrong you have done. Show yourself the same level of compassion that you would show someone else.
- Show yourself self-compassion by writing yourself a letter. Pretend you’re someone else and write the letter to yourself providing advice and showing compassion.
- Write down the negative thoughts or criticisms you’re saying or thinking to yourself. Read them over and consider whether you’d actually say those things to a friend.
Do not give power to your fears.As children we often avoid doing things because we’re afraid of the outcome. Unfortunately we carry this behavior into our adult years and it prevents us from doing things that could otherwise benefit us. When you’re considering doing something new, don’t allow the fear of what might happen prevent you from giving it a try.
- Alternatively, you may have had a bad experience previously that is making you fearful of trying it again. For example, maybe you had a car accident when you were learning to drive, so you never bothered to get your driver’s license. Don’t allow this one mistake in your past to cause you to suffer in the future.
- If you’ve wronged someone you may be hesitant to put yourself in a similar situation in the future for fear that you’ll repeat your mistake. Realize that you now know what you did wrong and you can focus on not repeating that mistake — you do not need to avoid the situation.
Be your real self.The shame we feel can originate from a number of places, including our childhoods and what we were taught in school and at home. Most of the things that cause us to feel shame were learned subconsciously and as adults we continue to feel shame about these things because we haven’t been able to acknowledge who we really are.
- Your real self is who you want to be for your own personal reasons. It is not the self your parents or teachers wanted you to be for their reasons.
- Showing your real self to others can not only be liberating, it can build deep relationships with those people. You may find yourself being able to relax around these people because you know they trust you and they won’t judge you.
- You may have wronged someone based on a preconceived notion you subconsciously learned as a child. You are now feeling ashamed of yourself because the notions you used in the situation are not ones you actually believe in.
Face the realities of your life.Reality can be annoying, difficult and painful. And because of those annoyances, difficulties and pain, it can be tempting to pretend these realities don't exist. But it can also be dangerous to pretend these realities don’t exist. Take the chance to face your realities and you will likely find yourself feeling liberated, renewed and energetic.
- The reality is that you wronged someone. This reality will be hard to face and admit, but in order to heal and get past the hurt, you have to acknowledge the reality of what you did.
Think … don’t overthink.If you have an analytical mind chances are you think about everything in your life in a lot of detail. This type of thinking can be useful at times, but can be damaging at other times. It is hard to change the way you think, but at the very least, try to recognize when you’re dwelling on something so you can identify its origin.
- If you find yourself dwelling on something, do something to distract yourself. Watch your favourite movie, read an interesting book, colour, go for a walk outside, etc.
- Knowing you’ve wronged someone does mean you’re going to have to think about what you did, and think about potential solutions to the problem(s) you caused. But it doesn’t mean you have to dwell on the situation endlessly. Dwelling can lead to stress and anxiety.
QuestionWhat can I do if I have caused a fight between the professor and myself?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerGo to the professor, apologize sincerely and acknowledge that you were in the wrong.Thanks!
QuestionI hurt this popular kid in my school because he made me angry. We're past that, but now everyone is treating me like I'm some weird outcast. What should I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerJust try to ignore them. They'll get over it. Things like this seem like a big deal in the moment, but they get forgotten pretty quickly.Thanks!
QuestionMy daughter won't talk to me, what should I do?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerJust give her some space and when she's ready she will.Thanks!
QuestionI said something to my mother and sister that I didn't want to say, what should I do?Top AnswererApologize, but only once, at risk of it losing its sincerity. Make sure you understand why it was wrong and think about what lessons you can learn. Make every effort not to ever do that again. Next, find a way to show your mom and sis that you understand, have learned and will avoid it. Next, understand that it is impossible to make zero mistakes in life; all people know this, so to some degree this is acceptable, forgivable. But, if you drive a nail into their skin by insulting them, this only pulls it out, it doesn't heal the scars. That's why you should never hurt anyone: it can never be undone.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if I've done something really bad, like stealing?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf possible, return whatever you stole, come clean, and apologize. Learn a lesson from this. Remember how bad it feels to be disappointed with yourself, and never make another mistake like this.Thanks!
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