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www.positivepsychologyprogram.com | Positive Psychology Practitioner‘s Toolkit

Moving Toward Self-Forgiveness

Coping Meditation 30 min.

When we have caused another person pain, one of the healthiest albeit challenging things to do is to forgive ourselves. Self-forgiveness is the“willingness to abandon self–resentment in the face of one’s own acknowledged objective wrong while fostering compassion, generosity, and love toward oneself ” (Enright, 1996, p. 115). According to Fisher and Exline (2010), the ideal process of self-forgiveness involves the transgressor accepting an appropriate amount of responsibility, experiencing sufficient levels of guilt to prompt reparative behaviors and personal growth, and then releasing excess guilt that no longer serves a useful function. However, this trajectory is seldom realized in real life. Many of us avoid guilty feelings altogether by taking emotional shortcuts making ourselves feel better (e.g., emotional suppression, excuse-making, or blaming someone else) without accepting responsibility or repairing relational damage (Fisher & Exline, 2010). Alternatively, we may go to the opposite extreme, getting caught up in negative feelings such as shame, excessive guilt, and regret our transgression.

To actively forgive oneself, one must place the transgression in a broader perspective and realize that one is merely human. In this way, self-forgiveness aligns with self-compassion, which involves being kind toward the self in the face of difficulty while recognizing that one’s experience is common to humanity (Neff & Germer, 2018). According to Neff and Germer (2018), there are five steps to self-forgiveness: 1) opening to the pain of remorse; 2) being self-compassionate in the face of adversity; 3) recognizing that the situation was a consequence of many interdependent causes and conditions; 4) offering the self-forgiveness; and 5) resolving to not repeat the same mistake.

Author

This tool was adapted from the Forgiving Ourselves exercise in Neff & Germer’s (2018) book entitled ‘TheMindful Self-Compassion Workbook’, by Lucinda Poole (Psy.D.) (https://www. linkedin.com/in/lucinda-poole-24a122121/) and Hugo Alberts (Ph.D.) (https://www.researchgate. net/profile/Hugo_Alberts).

Goal

To help people utilize self-compassion in order to come to terms with, and forgive themselves for, a transgression.

Advice

  • People are less likely to self-forgive immediately following a transgression; thus it is important to give clients ample time before encouraging self-forgiveness.
  • Moving toward genuine self-forgiveness may require what some clients will view as a step backward: For those who have taken a shortcut to feeling better (e.g., by blaming someone else), it will be important to accept responsibility and endure the accompanying pain and discomfort. Genuine self-forgiveness will remain elusive if people merely sidestep negative emotions.
  • The idea with self-forgiveness is to help people find ways to accept responsibility for their transgressions without lapsing into extreme negative emotions that take energy away from the important tasks of personal growth and building a satisfying and meaningful
  • Clients may find it helpful to write about their thoughts and feelings concerning self- forgiveness. This could be done as a post-meditation activity, or instead of the meditation (part 1) in cases where clients would prefer not to
  • Following this exercise, clients may express a desire to apologize to the person(s) they have hurt.
  • Discuss the pro’s and con’s of apologizing, in order to ensure an apology is indeed a healthy, adaptive exercise. The Apologizing Effectively tool in the Toolkit can be used to help clients make an effective apology.

Suggested Readings

Fisher, M. L., & Exline, J. J. (2010). Moving toward self-forgiveness: Removing barriers related to shame,guilt, and regret. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4(8), 548-558.

Neff, K., & Germer, C. (2018). The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook: A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, BuildInner Strength, and Thrive. New York, NY: The Guilford Press

Tool Description

Instructions

We all make mistakes, yet many of us have great difficulty coming to terms with our mistakes. A healthy response to a transgression is self-forgiveness. The following practice is designed to help you move toward self-forgiveness.

 

To begin, find yourself a comfortable seated position. Gently close your eyes, and take two or three deep, slow breaths.

Now, bring to mind a person whom you have caused pain. Think of a specific event or situation that occurred in the relationship that you regret, and would like to forgive yourself for. If this is the first time you are completing this practice, select a situation that is not causing you a great amount of distress, perhaps a 4 out of 10 on your personal stress scale.

[Opening to pain]

Take a few moments here to consider how your actions impacted the other person.

As you do this, uncomfortable feelings such as guilt or remorse may show up. As best you can, allow these feelings to be there in your body, exactly as they are. This takes courage.

Notice where in your body these emotions are, and what physical sensations are accompanying them. Perhaps you are experiencing tightness in your chest, or put in your stomach. Maybe you can notice tingling or butterflies somewhere. Whatever you are experiencing, do your best to stay with it. Be gentle with yourself.

Do your best to be open to these difficult feelings, and see if you can make space for them somehow. Perhaps deepen your breath slightly, and as you inhale, imagine your breath flowing down into the part of the body where those sensations are strongest.

Rather than pushing this experience away, see if you can simply let it be. Perhaps silently say to yourself “whatever this is, it’s OK. Let me open to it. Let me feel it.” Stay with whatever you are experiencing, without reacting to it.

[Self-compassion]

It is likely that you feel as though you have acted wrongly in this instance. If this is so, remind yourself that mistakes are a part of being human. All humans do things they regret afterward and feeling remorseful and guilty is a natural human experience. The fact that you have done something wrong does not mean that there is something wrong with you. The fact that you did something bad does not mean you are a bad person.

See if you can offer yourself some words of kindness for your suffering in all of this. Perhaps say to yourself something along the lines of “May I be kind to myself. May I accept myself, despite my mistakes.”

 

You might like to place a hand on your heart (or somewhere else) and allow feelings of compassion to flow through your palm into your body.

Stay here for as long as you need to, repeating these words of kindness silently to yourself.

[Wisdom]

Take a moment now to consider what led to your mistake. What factors were impacting you at the time? For example, were you under a great deal of stress, or going through some sort of personal crisis, or were old buttons pushed?

[Intention to forgive]

Now, have a go at offering forgiveness to yourself by saying something along the lines of “may I begin to forgive myself for what I have done that caused this person pain.”

Using a soft, gentle inner tone, repeat this phrase silently to yourself.

[Responsibility to protect]

Why do we fall? So we learn to get up. The good news about making mistakes is that we can learn from them. What can you learn from the mistake you made? What will you do differently in the future?

Now, if it feels right to do so, you might like to make a promise to yourself to not hurt another person in this manner again, as best you can.

And now, to finish the practice, we’ll take three deep, cleansing breaths. Allow your lungs to fill up with pure, clean air on the inhale, and let go of any residual, stagnant energy on the exhale. Once you have finished, return your breath to its natural rhythm, and gently open your eyes.

 

  • What was it like to allow yourself to feel the pain associated with hurting another person?
  • Could you offer yourself compassion even though you may have felt undeserving?
  • Did it help to identify possible factors that led to your behavior? What factors did you come up with?
  • How did it feel to say the forgiveness phrases to yourself?
  • How do you feel now with regards to your transgression?