What is Self-Forgiveness?

November 5, 2015

Categories: Forgiveness

Self-forgiveness isn’t easy. You probably have had the experience of doing something you regret. Maybe you hurt someone you cared about. Maybe you fell short of the standards you set for yourself. Whatever happened, it might have been difficult for you to move on from what you did. Maybe you kept thinking and ruminating about it. It’s difficult to forgive yourself and move on.

Some people have even questioned whether self-forgiveness is a good thing. Most people agree that forgiveness of others is a positive thing. Forgiveness of others has physical and mental health benefits, and it’s often an important step in reconciling a broken relationship.

But what about forgiving yourself? Some people have argued that forgiving yourself isn’t a good thing, because it’s like letting yourself off the hook. You made the mistake or committed the offense—what right do you have to just ‘decide’ to forgive yourself and move on? From a moral perspective, it doesn’t seem quite as straightforward.

A friend and colleague of mine, Brandon Griffin, has done some great thinking and work on self-forgiveness. He has done quite a bit of research on self-forgiveness, and he also has a lot of experience working with combat veterans who are struggling with self-forgiveness. Brandon says self-forgiveness involves two parts—and it is important to consider both.

First, self-forgiveness involves a change in emotions toward the self from negative to positive. This is similar to how a lot of folks describe forgiveness of others. Forgiveness of self involves a change in how we view ourselves. Instead of feeling a lot of guilt, shame, and anger toward ourselves, we begin to replace those feelings with empathy, compassion, and love toward ourselves. Our view of self begins to shift.

Second, self-forgiveness involves a reaffirmation of values. This is the piece that differentiates self-forgiveness from just letting ourselves off the hook. When we hurt someone or commit an offense, we often go against a value that we hold. For example, maybe we had a value of love and respect for our spouse, but we had an affair. Our actions went against our cherished values. This part of self-forgiveness involves reaffirming our core values, and making a commitment (as best we can) to align our future actions with our values.

Discussion: What do you think about Brandon’s two-part definition of self-forgiveness? Do you think both a change in emotions and a reaffirmation of values is important? Which part of self-forgiveness do you struggle with the most?


Related Thoughts


  1. […] people who are depressed and don’t like themselves very much. It can be difficult for people to forgive themselves and give themselves grace. I know at times I have struggled to love myself […]

  2. Richard September 28, 2018 at 6:23 am - Reply

    Is there a verse in the Bible concerning “self forgiveness?”

    • Joshua Hook September 28, 2018 at 1:12 pm - Reply

      I can’t think of a specific verse on self-forgiveness, but I think being forgiven by God and forgiving ourselves are closely connected (or at least I think they should be). If God has forgiven me, why shouldn’t I forgive myself? I also think about the verse where we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves. If we are called to forgive our neighbor seventy times seven, shouldn’t we also forgive ourselves?

      • Adedamola February 10, 2021 at 12:52 pm - Reply

        Exactly! This is Wisdom. If you cant forgive ourselves, how do we expect God to forgive us? We do not truly repent if we can’t have compassion on ourselves and let things go first.

    • Adedamola February 10, 2021 at 12:49 pm - Reply

      Self-forgiveness is basically repentance in the bible. Forgiving yourself and Reaffirming only that which expresses love (your True values) is how you repent.

  3. […] Forgive yourself and others for past mistakes. […]

  4. […] he “comes to his senses,” the younger son still struggles with a focus on himself. He struggles to forgive himself and move on. He comes up with a plan to present himself as one of his father’s “hired […]

  5. B.Jx October 14, 2020 at 5:50 am - Reply

    “…it’s like letting yourself off the hook. You made the mistake or committed the offense—what right do you have to just ‘decide’ to forgive yourself and move on? From a moral perspective, it doesn’t seem quite as straightforward.“

    This is my exact problem and I can find no resolution to it. I cannot experience this “self-forgiveness” unless it operates in a framework that makes sense. I didn’t do anything to god. I didn’t do anything to myself. I did do things that have made people leave my life so their forgiveness is off the table. I see no option but to carry the weight. I see a lot of guides on ‘how’ but I can find no cogent justification for this. I would love to find it, I would love to be able to just let it go, but it just doesn’t make sense to me.

  6. Ross Mendenhall July 13, 2021 at 2:48 pm - Reply

    I am struggling with self forgiveness right now. Why forgive myself when those closeat for their own really good reasons can’t? I think forgiving myself would help me find peace, and they want that for me too?

Leave A Comment

Subscribe To My Newsletter

Join my mailing list to receive the latest blog posts.

Receive my e-book “The Mental Health Toolkit” for free when you subscribe.