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How to Forgive Yourself (A Simple 3-Step Process)

Relationship Advice blog

Need some relationship advice? In addition to the tips and tools in the Relationship Repair Game, this blog has articles, inspirations and explorations to support personal growth, healing, and conflict transformation in relationships. 

How to Forgive Yourself (A Simple 3-Step Process)

Stuart Watson

Are you wondering how to forgive yourself but not sure where to start? There is plenty of relationship advice available on the subject, much of it sounds simple yet is more difficult to do.

Even if we are a minor instigator of a disconnect or strife in a relationship, there is often some part of the relationship problems and interactions for which we have internal conflicts and regrets.  The decision and intention to forgive ourselves is potent by itself, but how do we actually do it?  In lieu of self-blame/judgment and feeling guilt or shame for some “mistake”, we can cultivate self-forgiveness with the following process:

1. Grieving – What needs of yours were not met by the choices you made or the impacts of those choices? Instead of feeling at fault or bad about yourself, tune into and invest some time to feel your sadness, regret and grief about those needs not being met.  If helpful, consult a list of needs/values.  Deepen your experience by humming, moving around or drawing/coloring how it feels.

2. Empathizing with the “Chooser” – Develop compassion for the part of you that chose to say or do what you did. What needs were motivating you at the time? Freedom? Emotiional Safety?  Clarity?  Relief of Anxiety?  For each of your motivating needs/values, provide some acceptance to that well-intending part of yourself, which was trying to take care of yourself, and not aware of the consequences or couldn’t see another option at the time.

3. Learning for the Future – Bring to mind both the needs that were not met by our actions (#1) and the needs the “Chooser” was trying to meet (#2), allowing them to coincide in your awareness and naturally collaborate with each other. How might you have responded differently, which may have fulfilled both these sets of needs? What will help you remember this when you are facing a similar situation in the future? This step of integrating your learning is an essential component in how to forgive yourself.

Consider if there is something about this you'd like to communicate with the other person. I've found that whether or not we do, processing and clearing our own regrets and developing self forgiveness for our part of the relationship problems creates space for the other person to begin taking accountability and ownership of their own contributions to the relationship difficulty.

*This process was adapted from the teachings of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg and Nonviolent Communication.