“I’m just so stupid!!” One of my daughters face-palms herself after a mistake she’s made. And I’ll admit, it’s a big one.

“No you aren’t. You just made a poor choice.” I go to her, gather her and do my best to infuse truth into her heart and somehow layer it over the lies that have begun to reside there.

I have never told her she is stupid or bad or unlovable. To the contrary. I try to combat those outside influences each day of their lives.

You know you’re amazing.

You are so smart.

You’ve done your best, that’s all you can do!

But even my girls are prime examples of just how hard we are on ourselves.

My 10 year old can run 3 good barrel runs but if she disqualifies on her fourth, she’s in tears. My 6 year old can stop the attempted goals for a whole soccer game but if she lets one sneak through as goalie, she can’t seem to forgive herself.

Why is it so hard? And why are we so hard on ourselves?

As adults we’ve seen so much more in our own lives worth forgiving then letting soccer goals squeak by or going off course in a barrel race. We’ve made big bad poor choices that really do affect our own hearts and the lives of others.

We’ve betrayed people and spouses and we’ve lied to people that didn’t deserve to be lied to. We’ve stolen and held anger close and we’ve been bitter. We’ve also simply made big, life-altering but unavoidable mistakes that have hurt and tripped others and ourselves.

As adults, we’ve done a lot of things over our lifetimes that truly deserve a face-palm.

Probably the most common question I hear when you tell me your stories is this one:

How did you learn to forgive yourself?

I’m not a step-by-step formula girl, but I’ve tried to drill it down to five steps, more or less, that have helped me come from a place of understanding the mistakes I’ve made to being able to forgive myself. {And I’ve made a few big ones in my time.}

1. Take responsibility for what is yours but not for what is not yours. Here’s what I mean. To begin to forgive ourselves we must realize that we actually did do something stupid or silly or wrong or unthoughtful. We have to take responsibility for our actions and behaviors that led us to the place. But we also shouldn’t take responsibility for the mistakes and wrongs of others. If my 1st grader gets in a tussle on the playground and screams angrily at another kid, she should take responsibility for what she has done wrong, but not for the actions of the other child. Those of us who are hard on ourselves often take too much blame and we take blame that is not ours.

2. Start speaking the truth. The truth is, you’ve already been forgiven. The truth is, your mistakes do not define you. The truth is, you are not alone. The truth is, the grace and forgiveness of God are bigger than all of us and our mistakes combined. The truth is, God has deemed us worthy of His forgiveness. When we begin to speak these things we also begin to believe them. And the truth is, your journey to forgiving yourself is one that God with travel with you each step of the way.

3.  Embrace grace. Bask in it. Observe it in action. Watch for it. Become an expert in it so you can recognize it when you see it. Begin receiving it from others if you don’t. Those of us who are hard on ourselves are also hard recipients of grace. We don’t accept it from ourselves (it’s why we are on this journey) and often we don’t accept it from others.

4. Forgive others. One of the best ways I know how to begin doing something is to practice it. If we practice forgiving one another, the forgiving of our own mistakes comes all the quicker.

5. Let others speak the truth into your life when you forget it. Sometimes we need good, objective truth-speakers in our lives to help remind us that we have already been forgiven. Maybe it is a good friend, a mentor, a counselor or a fellow {in}courage community member. None of us can journey on our own, ever, so even in this it is good to have solid, strong people around us to tell us that we are worthy of forgiveness. And to tell us once in awhile that:

we are amazing,

we are smart,

and we’ve done the best we can.

Do you have trouble forgiving yourself? What things have helped you?

by Sarah Markley

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  1. 1

    I spent years trying to forgive myself for choices I had made…so much energy wasted on guilt and shame. And finally God whispered to my heart: “Do you think your sin was so amazing that my blood isn’t enough for you? Get over yourself!” And it was then I began to really understand God’s truth…His perspective. And that truth began a process of forgiving my own heart. I was hiding, afraid to be used again. But the truth of 1 John 3:19-20 changed everything…”Even when your heart condemns you God is greater than your heart…” Thank you for this beautiful post full of grace and truth!

    • 2

      I’d never read those verses before. They’re such help to me this morning…thank you! (I need to go find my highlighter now…)

      For me, the Scripture that’s been working a similar story (recently!) is Rom 6 – that *the sinful me was crucified* right up there with Him (v. 6), that the old me *died* and well…that’s the craziest act of forgiveness *I’ve* ever seen.

    • 3

      i love this jacque!! thank you for your wisdom!

  2. 4

    Oh, Sarah. You’re a gem. “When we begin to speak these things we also begin to believe them” – I think that’s where I’ve been running into a wall. It’s easy to read truths like these and then let them remain, stagnant, on the pages because that might be enough to inspire belief…but I’m going to try actually *saying* them now, and see what happens :)

  3. 6

    perfect timing…I have been down on myself a lot more lately…

    not sure if its the colder weather (having my inside more and dwelling on my negatives or ……just the simple extra stresses of life right now) very nice reminders and pick me ups.

  4. 8
    Athena says:

    Thank you so much for speaking truth to so many of us today. I am perpetually hard on myself. Guilt, shame, and regret have always found a way to destroy my hope and faith, even in my strongest hours, and then of course I have a hard time letting things go. What a terrible duo! :)

  5. 10

    Just exactly what my heart needed to hear this morning! This week has been very stressful with school deadlines and family needs. God used your words this morning to encourage my heart greatly and it gives me courage to push on. Thank you Sarah for your continued obedience to the heart of God.

  6. 12

    This is actually perfect timing for me — I was just writing about how hard it is for me to forgive myself on my own blog yesterday! Thanks for sharing this wisdom.

  7. 14

    This is actually perfect timing for me, as I was just writing about how hard it is for me to forgive myself on my own blog yesterday! Thanks for sharing this wisdom.

  8. 15

    Sarah … all I can tell you is that you are writing truth here today. For 90% or maybe more of all the women I talk with as a pastoral counselor are sitting with me because of forgiveness issues. And yes, often the hardest one to forgive is ourselves … maybe even more than those who have wounded us so deeply along the way.

    Thank you for these profound words …

  9. 17

    I did something yesterday that I felt I needed to be forgiven for, only the person I looked to for forgiveness didn’t seem to want to offer it. I went away from the conversation still disheartened and sad over the course of events. I tried to explain to my husband and although he tried, he kept telling me what I should do instead of just listening. Still reeling, I spent some time with my oldest and dearest friend in the world. She listened without judgment, asked me what I needed and said what I longed to hear, you did the best you could to try and rectify the situation. If the other person involved wasn’t listening to your heart, you can’t control that. In my head I know that I can only control myself and my reactions, and when I look for forgiveness it needs to come from me. Kind of like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, you always have the power to go home, you just need to become aware that you do. Thank you for this kind and inspiring post today, I am working on forgiving myself so I can move on to tomorrow with a fresh perspective.

  10. 19
    Beth Wiliams says:

    I have always been hard on myself. One mistake & it “ok stupid, you’re dumb, not good enough/smart enough”. I find it hard to forgive myself for stupid, dumb mistakes I make.

    I try to always forgive others who have “wronged” me or so I think. I want forgiveness from God and He won’t give it until I forgive my fellow man.

    Great post!

  11. 21

    Thank you. Your words “Your mistakes do not define you” really touched me. Something that I will be praying about for awhile.

  12. 23

    God is so gracious to send this PARTICULAR post to ME today. I literally spent the entire night awake – listing in my journal all the things I am convicted about. At least they are on paper and now I can address them, one-by-one, with scriptural truth.

  13. 25

    I’m learning to forgive myself…It has taken prayer and just fully embracing that grace each and every time…

  14. 26
    Susanne says:

    I write this as the tears are streaming down my face. Nothing has helped..not the therapists, not friends, not family. Who is left? I can’t find the strength to do it. With every passing day, I dislike myself more. I can only see failure. I am withdrawing from the world. I just want to be alone. I can’t seem to convince myself that the mistakes I have made do not define me. I must pray and have faith that God will ease my pain. I can’t thank you enough for your post today.

    • 27

      Susanne please know that it’s so difficult to forgive ourselves but that God loves you and has already forgiven you for all that you’ve done. Please take that promise,tuck it in your heart and even put it in your pocket to bring out when you need affirmation. You are new in God. Hugs

    • 28

      Can I pray for you Susanne?

      Sweet Father I ask your protective love over Susanne right now. Please heal the parts of her that are broken, whisper your beautiful truth into her ears right now, let her see the grace that you’ve already poured over her. Give her strength and peace today. Amen

      Susanne, thank you for your honesty and your heart that you have shared. I will continue to pray for you as you move forward. Blessings to you today, Susanne!

    • 29
      Robin in New Jersey says:

      Susanne,
      Here is something else to think about, Satan would like nothing more than for you to be paralyzied with that fear of failure and withdraw to be alone. God will ease your pain and you are so correct about your mistakes not defining you. Give it over to the one who can do it for you and the one who is left when no one else has helped~~Jesus. He loves you! He knows pain. Let him hold you and give you peace.

    • 30

      Lord Jesus, I pray you would wrap your loving arms around Susanne, that you would help her captivate her thoughts and make them obey who Your Word says she is…chosen, wanted, and beloved by You. Thank you for your mercy that You freely give–that you don’t give us the punishment we deserve, but You give grace instead–You saturate us with Your lavish love we don’t deserve. Help Susanne know Your mercy and feel Your love. As she surrenders to You and gives thanks to You please calm her anxious heart and bring to her Your peace that surpasses ALL understanding. Thank you for Your pardon–for taking our place. Thank you that when God sees us, He sees Your righteousness, always. And that no matter what we do or fail to do, He sees You, and Your righteousness never changes. Thank you that NOTHING can separate Susanne, or any one of us from Your love. Help her feel your sweet presence in this difficult time.
      Amen

      Susanne, I’m currently writing out my story of When Mercy Found Me on my blog, if it could be an encouragement to you…
      Here’s today’s post… http://wp.me/p1tAoq-2Ug
      With love in Christ,
      Jacque

  15. 31

    I want to thank you ho have posted comments. How strong you are to share your stories, your hearts and fears with us. I know tht God hears them also. Peace and strength to you.

  16. 33

    Thanks for your perspective, Sarah, and what you’ve shared. What if what you’re describing is really repentance more than forgiveness? After searching the Scriptures high and low for any verse that remotely addresses us to “forgive ourselves,” none have been found. What if the term “forgiving ourselves” really is repentance in action (i.e., turning 180° from what is being done wrong to what is right and not looking back)? Your five points would fall right into place there. Maybe by going back to what’s been done wrong is really taking my eyes off of what all God has done for me and continues to do for us? (Phil. 4:8 comes to mind.) Every time I get focused on me and what/why I need forgiveness and actual action steps toward this, it spins me into a too- self-focused state-of-mind, and less about giving and God. I need Jesus and all He has and is—in my past and present. The more I focus on Him and His qualities, the less I tend to focus on my hangups, mistakes, downfalls, etc. But I’m still processing–like we all are :) Would love your thoughts if/when you have time. Blessings.

    • 34

      I totally hear what you are saying. thank you for sharing your thoughts!

      I think the reason that I called it “forgiving” ourselves is that that is what our culture calls it. Its the term we use when we are talking about moving past our failures and completely come out the other side. Repentance, in the traditional term, I think comes first. i’m guessing we are saying the same thing.

      again, thank you so much for commenting! i love to hear everyone’s perspective.

    • 35

      My thoughts are in line with yours. I get that “forgive yourself” is what society calls it – but I also think its not something we do for ourselves. We aren’t called to forgive ourselves anywhere in the Bible. But, the thing so many of us miss is the part where we “receive God’s forgiveness”. We do all the right things to turn from our sin, but we so often miss receiving that forgiveness.

      • 36

        you are right jess.

        but we are called to forgive others. even though God is the only one who truly has the power to bestow grace for sins, we are asked to forgive one another. we are asked to extend his grace through ourselves to others. and i believe that one of the biggest issues plaguing women is the inability to extend that same grace to ourselves and our own failings.

        I hope this clears us what I meant by this post =)

  17. 37

    I think it is easy for us to speak this to our children, and much harder to speak to ourselves. I guess we expect ourselves to know better and be better, better than human. Thank you for this post!

  18. 39

    WOW -I have been in a season of trying to figure this out for a long time. Your words are timely beyond description and so, so good. Thanks -I’m sharing this link with my friends!!

  19. 41
    Lisa E says:

    It took me a long time to learn to forgive myself, but what helped me was, if God can forgive me than certainly I can too. If I can extend forgiveness to my family and friends so easily I best start treating myself with the same kindness. I lived as if I was supposed to be perfect and if I messed up there was no forgiveness, yet I never had those expectations of others. I’m in a much healthier place now, thank God!

  20. 42

    So thankful for You, Sarah! You have encouraged me many times through the last couple of years. I appreciate your honest vulnerability and the sharing of your God breathed gift of writing.

    Praying for you with thanksgiving.

  21. 43
    SuzaLuza says:

    Sarah – Thank you so much… I did the worst thing yesterday (by accident) and another person was hurt by it. I have cried myself to oblivion and can’t let go of it… I seriously felt like I was having a nervous breakdown. I have had 3 very important truth-speakers trying to help me through it and I don’t know what I would do without them. Your words spoke directly to my heart and although I’m still not through it, I know God has sent your words directly to me today to help me trudge forward. Thank you. You are truly an instrument of God…

  22. 44

    For years I struggled with forgiving myself. I would beat myself up for things that I would overlook in others in an instant. It was a struggle, for sure. But over the past few years, I’ve experienced breakthroughs. What does it come down to? A revelation of God’s grace. When I find myself slipping back into that mode, I realize I need to grab hold of the grace that is always sufficient and always perfectly fit to size for what I am facing. Amazing grace, indeed.

  23. 45

    Beautiful reminder, thank you! Throughout my life, when I have been unable or unwilling to forgive myself, I have become physically ill…not even knowing I had been building a barrier to love. Feeling this barrier became an invitation to practice presence and apply forgiveness as graciously and generously with myself as I do with others :)

  24. 46

    Thank you for speaking these five steps of truth into our lives, now we just need to apply them! Again! That’s why these messages are so important, because we find ourselves needing to forgive ourselves over and over!

    Merry Christmas!

  25. 47

    Good words, Sarah. And I like how God has amnesia:

    “the LORD declares, ’for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’” (Jeremiah 31:34)

    And that is because we often dig up past sins and add them to the present stock, thinking we have to run through them again. “I was a stupid sinner last night, just like last week…”

    Yep, God forgives and moves on. He invites us into that kind of forgetfulness.

  26. 48
    Lucille says:

    Thank-you for this good advice. Always have had trouble being too hard on myself even as a child. So appreciate this. God bless you!

  27. 49

    “Embrace Grace” – oh I need that on a necklace or a snazzy printable or my phone wallpaper! That is exactly what has gotten me through some of the most incredibly difficult times, when I couldn’t stop blaming myself. Holley Gerth actually told me to stop and think about how I would treat someone else in the same situation, and give myself the grace to treat myself that way, too :)

  28. 50
    muchalone says:

    A mistake from years ago continues to haunt me. I honestly didn’t know that my actions would offend..but they did…and I apologized…and I remain unforgivable. I struggle to remind myself that it need not continue to be a source of shame because God has forgiven me…but the permanency of the consequences continues to challenge my ability to forgive myself.

  29. 51
    Norma Thibodeau says:

    Thanks for breaking it down, this really helped put forgiveness in perspective and easy to understand. Forgiving myself or others has been hard but I have grown to trust in Him, accept His grace and forgiveness for me (which I still struggle with) but it has helped me to forgive others more understanding that forgiveness is not for them because they deserve it but for me because I deserve it. Living with unforgiveness in my heart only fills me with yuky gunk.

  30. 52
    Valerie Hohenberger says:

    Oh Sarah! I agree with everything that Norma said. In fact, I could not have said it better! For years, I had been so hard on myself, but then I realized that it was I had not forgiven someone else! When I finally gave that person forgiveness, I felt a HUGE weight off my shoulders and now I am more grace-filled than ever!

  31. 53

    Sarah, thank you for your post. I, as others have shared, struggled with forgiving myself. A pastor once told me in counseling that I must learn to let go and trust God. His Word promises and encourages us again and again about His forgiveness. If I have doubt in my heart, whether in myself or the Word, the Bible calls it sin. I finally grasped a hold on the scripture which states we-all of us- are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14), and let go of my feelings of worthlessness. Those destructive thoughts kept forgiveness far from me. Today, I know I am forgiven when I seek it from God. That’s it, and by His amazing grace I am able to forgive myself.

  32. 54
    Sharolyn says:

    Sarah, This journey into learning to forgive myself has been slow and painful. Being a ” GOOD Girl” by nature combined with the subtle lies by the Evil One had led me to be harsh on myself. I arrived at a place that I would beat my self up for days after failing in some way. 4 years ago the lie was exposed in my life,,,,, It is idolatry to think I am not deeply in need of God’s grace I believed grace was freely available for all others but some how I was living as if I had no reason to mess up …..I was viewing my self as better than others. I was elevating myself to a place of one who should not need grace. But that place only belongs to God. So once I realized the lie, I have chosen kind words I repeat to myself gently when I miss the mark. “Sharolyn, you are human, this is how humans are by nature. We mess up; it is natural. God loves us, fallen people. It is okay for you too be human too. The Creator of All does not despises you fpr your humanity; You are loved. Accept God’s gift for yourself.”"

  33. 55

    Thank you so much for these words of encouragement! I very much needed to be reminded of the importance of forgiving ourselves.

  34. 56
    Michelle Peare says:

    when I first saw the title of the Dec 5th reading I put it off and off till today, for it is something I truly struggle with, at times on a daily basis… because I have been living with the consequences of a bad decision for 25 years now… I know in my mind that I have been forgiven by those around me, and by God, but still I struggle with truly forgiving myself. Thank you for this loving reminder! I have jotted down the 5 steps in my journal so I can read them to myself every time I feel down and defeated.

  35. 57

    Has nine years I still cannot forgive myself why so impulsive, so benzene did regret a lifetime thing, a past mistake. So far I cannot forgive myself, I do not want to talk, I do not want friends, I refuse all and rejected the man really loved me.once a while I will crying in the midnight that why i decided to gave up all relationship.. I hate myself.. until yesterday I found this website realised that is very hard to let go and forgive myself.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Sarah Markley’s timely discussion of Forgiving Yourself, posted by her over on the (in)courage blog and discovered by me just hours after I posted how much [...]

  2. [...] me, but how do I get past feeling like crud and beating myself up when I have sinned?  These five steps to forgiving yourself are exactly what I have needed -the things God has been trying to tell me for [...]

  3. […] 5 Steps to Forgiving Yourself – A good read for someone like me, who struggles with letting go of the imperfections and not allowing little mistakes to overshadow successes. […]

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