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10 steps toward forgiving yourself and moving on

edited by J. Bennett Guess

Forgiving yourself can be the most difficult kind of forgiveness to practice. But not forgiving yourself can be corrosive and destructive. Want to learn how? Get started with these 10 suggested steps distilled from Robert and Jeanette Lauer's new book, Forgiving Yourself: Why You Must, How You Can

Believe that love is an imperative.

Every cell in your being cries out for the fulfillment that love offers. "This is the way God has made us," write Robert and Jeanette Lauer, authors of Forgive Yourself: Why You Must, How You Can. "We cannot be whole until we love and are loved."

Make whatever amends you can.

Start cleaning up your messy room: Confess what you've done. Apologize to those you've hurt. Act to ease any hurt. Make restitution or offer compensation. Change your behavior. And repeat as necessary.  Making amends gets especially messy when the person you've offended may be unaware of your wrongdoing. "When you try to make amends with someone who doesn't know that you are the offender, you have to confront both the demands of honesty and the possibility of unnecessary hurt."

Talk with someone you trust.

You may be reluctant to share your feelings with others, but if guilt persists, you need help. Talking to another person can be a significant source of help in forgiving yourself.

Don’t let 'should' and 'shouldn't' cripple you.

Negative self talk — such as "I am a bad person" — is toxic thinking and learned helplessness. "If it's destructive and therefore wrong to punish others with unforgiveness, it's destructive and wrong to do it to yourself."

Don't turn a part into the whole.

"When you turn a part of you into the whole of you, you enter a maze without an end. You're trapped."

Use your spiritual resources.

Talk with God. Make honest disclosure. Listen quietly. Meditate on the acts and teachings of God.  Make a list of the significant events in your life — both positive and negative — and then reflect back at how God was at work even if you were not aware at the time.

See the way forward.

Visualize the person you've offended forgiving you, even if that feels difficult or impossible right now. Visualize yourself behaving in new and different ways. The real power of visualization is that it has the potential to change you. It gives you a goal.

Become your own 'spin' doctor.

While being honest about the hurt you've caused, remember your worth. You are a child of God, and you can grow in godliness.

Have a good talk with yourself.

"The more you engage in positive self-talk, the more quickly you will forgive yourself."

Give yourself time.

Forgiving yourself is a process, not a quick fix.  It takes concrete action to keep the process going. It requires making a plan and using your process time wisely. "You can be confident that you will come to the point where you no longer live in the past. You will enjoy your forgiving life with gratitude."


The Rev. J. Bennett Guess is Director of Communication in the national office of the United Church of Christ.

Forgiving Yourself: Why You Must, How You Can is available from The Pilgrim Press.

Robert H. Lauer and Jeanette C. Lauer received their Ph.Ds from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. They have written numerous articles published in religious and popular magazines, including Psychology Today, Self, Family Weekly, Ladies' Home Journal, Readers' Digest, and Marriage Partnership. Together they are co-authors of 18 books.  BUY

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