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Chapter 6 Self-Forgiveness

Growing Down - Tools for

Healing the Inner Child

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D. &

Constance M. Messina, Ph.D.

What is self-forgiveness?
Self-forgiving is:
  • Accepting yourself as a human who has faults and makes mistakes.
  • Letting go of self-anger for your past failures, errors, and mistakes.
  • No longer needing penance, sorrow, and regret over a grievous, self-inflicted, personal offense.
  • The act of self-love after you have admitted your failure, mistake, or misdeed.
  • The spiritual self-healing of your heart by calming self-rejection, quieting the sense of failure, and lightening the burden of guilt.
  • The act of letting go of the need to work so hard to make up for your past offenses.


What negative consequences can occur in the absence of self-forgiveness?

In the absence of self-forgiveness, you run the risk of:

  • Unresolved hurt, pain, and suffering from self-destructive behaviors.
  • Unresolved guilt and remorse for self-inflicted offenses.
  • Chronically seeking revenge and paybacks toward yourself.
  • Being caught up in unresolved self-anger, self-hatred and self-blaming.
  • Defensive and distant behavior with others.
  • Pessimism, negativity, and nongrowth-oriented behavior.
  • Having a festering wound that never allows the revitalization of self-healing.
  • Fear over making new mistakes or of having the old mistakes revealed.
  • Being overwhelmed by fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of nonapproval, low self-esteem, and low self-worth.


What are some signs of the absence of self-forgiveness?

Lack of self-forgiveness can result in:

  • A loss of love for yourself.
  • Indifference toward yourself and your needs.
  • An emotional vacuum in which little or no emotions are shown or shared.
  • Chronic attacks or angry outbursts against self.
  • Disrespectful treatment of self.
  • Self-destructive behaviors.
  • Self-pitying.
  • Chronic recalling and reminding of past failures, mistakes, errors, and offenses.
  • Suspicions about others' motives, behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs when they are accepting of you.
  • Chronic depression.
  • Chronic hostility, sarcasm, and cynicism.
  • Self-name calling, belittling, and self-demeaning behaviors.
  • Unwillingness to change and/or unwillingness to seek the help necessary to change.
  • Resistance to doing what is necessary to heal within and recover from low self-esteem.


What irrational beliefs keep you from reaching self-forgiveness?
  • I hurt myself so much; how can I ever expect to be forgiven for that?
  • No one deserved the treatment I dished out, and I do not believe that forgiveness is deserved in this situation.
  • I am sick over what I did; how can I ever forgive myself?
  • I must be inherently evil, and I am despicable. No forgiveness will ever change that.
  • I am vicious and cruel, and I always need to be on guard because of that; so why try to forgive what I have done?
  • It is a sign of weakness or softness to forgive myself. I must always keep my guard up so as never to repeat my wrong-doings.
  • There are some things I can never forgive myself for.
  • Only God can forgive me, though at times I don't believe He can for what I have done.
  • What has happened in my life is God's seeking revenge for all the evil I have done in the past.
  • I have done too much for which I can never be forgiven.
  • I am just seeking my forgiveness so that I can come back and hurt myself again.
  • I do not deserve any self-kindness, self-compassion, or self-forgiveness for what I have done to myself or others; I'll see to it that I am never able to forget it!
  • All people who do wrong deserve the worst that life has to dish out.
  • I resent myself for hurting myself or others. It is better for me to be hidden behind my wall so I don't hurt anybody again.
  • If I could treat myself or others that way, then I am undeserving of being forgiven, loved, or cared for.


What new behavior can be developed in order to forgive yourself?In order to forgive yourself you need to practice:
  • Letting go of past hurt and pain.
  • Trusting in your goodness.
  • Trusting in the goodness and mercy of your Higher Power to take over the burden for you.
  • Letting go and letting your Higher Power lead you during a hurtful time.
  • Believing in the infinite justice and wisdom of your Higher Power.
  • Letting go of fears for the future.
  • Allowing yourself to be vulnerable to growth.
  • Taking a risk.
  • Letting go of self-hostility, resentment and self-destructive behaviors.
  • Working out your self-anger.
  • Overlooking slight relapses or steps backward and getting back on the wagon of recovery immediately.
  • Developing a personal spirituality.
  • Developing an openness to the belief that you can change.
  • Developing trust in yourself.
  • Open, honest, and assertive communication with yourself concerning hurts, pains, and offenses experienced.
  • Identifying and replacing the irrational beliefs that block your ability to forgive yourself.

What steps can be taken to develop self-forgiveness?


Step 1: In order to increase your ability to forgive yourself, you need to recognize what this behavior involves. Answer the following questions in your journal:

  • What do you mean by self-forgiveness?
  • Have you ever forgiven yourself before? How did it feel?
  • Have you ever brought up something from the past to remind you how you hurt yourself or others? How did that make you feel?
  • What role do you feel self-forgiveness has in your growing down? How could you improve?
  • How has the absence of forgiving yourself affected your current emotional stability?
  • What are the signs of the absence of self-forgiveness in your relationship with your: (1) family of origin, (2) current family, (3) significant others, (4) spouse, (5) children, (6) parents, (7) relatives, (8) friends, (9) co-workers? With whom do you experience a wall or barrier behind which you hide your past real or perceived failures, mistakes, errors, or misdeeds? What feedback do you get about this wall you have been hiding behind?
  • What beliefs block your ability to forgive yourself? What would be necessary to change these beliefs?
  • What new behaviors do you need to develop in order to increase your ability to forgive yourself?
  • What role does the existence of spirituality play in your ability to forgive yourself? The lack of it?
  • For what do you need to forgive yourself?


Step 2:  Now that you have a better picture of what is involved in self forgiveness, you are ready to work on a specific past failure, mistake, error, or misdeed. List a failure, mistake, error, misdeed, or event for which you are unable to forgive yourself and answer these questions in your journal:

  • How much energy, creativity, problem-solving capability, and focus on growth is sapped from you whenever you recall this past hurt?
  • What feelings come to mind as you recall this past hurt?
  • How would you describe your role in this past event? In what ways were you the victim, perpetrator, enabler, martyr, bystander, instigator, target, scapegoat, distractor, peacemaker, people pleaser, or rescuer?
  • Why do you feel strongly over what happened and how you treated yourself or others?
  • What did this event do to your self-esteem and self-worth?
  • Who was responsible for your reaction to the incident?
  • Who was responsible for your feelings about the incident?
  • Who was responsible for your inability to forgive yourself?
  • How can you forgive yourself?
  • How can you put this incident behind you?
  • How can you avoid being so hurt when something like this happens again?


Step 3: Once you have thought out how to forgive yourself for this past mistake, failure, error, or event, use this self-forgiveness mirror work script. For the next thirty days let go of your self-anger, self-blaming, self-hatred, self-disgust, and self-pity over this specific past event by spending time in front of a mirror using this script.

Self-Forgiveness Mirror Script

  • I forgive you for (the past event).
  • You are a human being subject to making mistakes and errors.
  • You do not need to be perfect in order for me to love you.
  • This (past event) is just an example of the challenges which you have been given on earth by your Higher Power.
  • You will meet the challenge and grow by handing the pain and hurt from this problem (past event) over to your Higher Power to take it off your shoulders.
  • You don't need to be so burdened by the pain and hurt you feel because of this (past event).
  • You are a good person. I love you.
  • You deserve my understanding, compassion, and forgiveness.
  • You deserve to come out from behind the wall you have built around yourself as a result of this (past event).
  • Hand the wall over to your Higher Power so you can become more visible to me and others.
  • I love seeing you, talking to you, and listening to you.
  • You have within you all you need to grow in self-esteem, self-confidence, self-respect, and self-deservedness.
  • There is nothing you have ever done that can't be forgiven by me.
  • You did the best you could knowing what you did at the time.
  • You have compulsive and impulsive habitual ways of acting which you are working to change.
  • You may have slip-ups again but as long as you get back on the wagon of recovery and keep on trying that's good enough for me.
  • You no longer need to condemn yourself for this (past event).
  • You are forgiven. I love you and I am so happy to have you in my life.
  • You and I are best friends and together we will gain strength by giving all our past hurt, pain, guilt, self-anger, and self-hatred over to our Higher Power.
  • I feel lighter as we talk because I feel the burden of the hurt, pain, and guilt over this (past event) lifting from my shoulders.
  • I see you holding your head up and standing taller as I forgive you for this (past event).
  • I know that your Higher Power has forgiven you and I feel the peace and serenity of letting go of the need to hold on to it (past event) anymore.
  • I forgive you because you deserve to be forgiven. No one needs to hold onto such a burden for so long.
  • You deserve a better life than you have been giving yourself.
  • Let go of this (past event) and know that you are forgiven.
  • You are a loveable, capable, special person and I promise to continue to work on letting go of hurt and pain from the past which has been preventing your inner healing and self growth.


Step 4: Once you have forgiven yourself fully over the past incident, repeat Step 3 addressing one at a time all the past or present incidents of hurting self or others for which you need to forgive yourself.


Step 5: When you have exhausted your list of incidents for which you need self-forgiveness, you will be on the road to self-recovery. If you have problems in the future, return to Step 1 and begin again.