Freedom – How To Forgive Yourself For The Past

It seems that forgiving ourselves is often harder than forgiving others. Yet if not done, we are left with feelings of guilt, regret, and isolation. Unforgiveness is a terrible prison. As we approach Independence Day, why not set yourself free? Let’s talk about freedom and how to forgive yourself for the past.

Why is it so hard to forgive yourself?

Right now you might be thinking, “but you don’t know what I did as a child.” Or, “what I did was so terrible, it can’t be forgiven.” We often make judgments about our past, and consequently about our own value and worth that others would not make. We sometimes are our own worst enemies, placing demands on ourselves that are unrealistic.

Believing lies

Because of your past, do you believe any of the following?

  • I am not worthy of love
  • I am a failure
  • God could never forgive this sin
  • I will never be able to get things right
  • Other people are better than me
  • I am a total loser

All of these judgments about yourself are fueled by feelings. These thoughts are lies straight from the enemy who wants to keep you in bondage.

Here is the truth

  • None of us are good enough but we all are worthy of love simply because God said so, and because we were created in His image.
  • Failing at something does not make anyone a failure. What happened is an event and tomorrow is a new day. Inventors fail many times before they come up with the thing they are best known for.
  • God forgives all sin when the sinner acknowledges their wrongdoing and asks for forgiveness.
  • If you aim for nothing, you will always hit it. Just asking God to forgive you is getting something right.
  • No one is better than you. We all make blunders. God does not place more value on one person over another. He loves us all in spite of our failures.
  • I like this saying from Dr. Eric Zielinski. “I never lose. I either win or learn. ” When something goes wrong it is an opportunity to learn. I call it the “school of life.”

Regardless of what we feel, those feelings are not facts. Failure is a lesson, not a life sentence.

“Failure is an event, not a person” Zig Zigler

It is our choice to believe lies or the truth about ourselves. Now that you know the truth, there is yet another choice. Read on.

Why is it important to forgive yourself?

Unforgiveness for anything or anyone creates a miserable prison. Our enemy does not want us to experience God’s freedom found in Jesus Christ. If Satan can convince us that lies are the truth, he has already won. He usually throws in a tiny bit of truth to make it seem correct. Scripture says that he is the father of lies.

You will never be able to heal if you don’t forgive yourself. That raw, emotional realization of what happened in your past will continue to haunt you. Forgiveness helps us heal and move on. It allows us to enjoy the people around us when we are not self-absorbed with our own feelings of guilt. It helps us find purpose in life. It frees us to love God and love others.

Do you long for joy in your life right now? Do you want hope for the future? Do you wish you had peace with the past? The bottom line is that forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling.

What does God say about forgiving yourself

Regardless of who has done wrong, this is what God says.

“Never take matters into your own hands. Punishment belongs to me, says the LORD. I will set the record straight”( Romans 12:18, my personal paraphrase.)

If we really need punishing beyond what Jesus received on the cross, God will take care of it. He is full of mercy and grace, something we are not good at. He knows us better than we know ourselves and has compassion for those with contrite spirits. So if you are already remorseful for what happened, He knows that and He also knows how much you have let your thoughts and feelings beat you up. It is time to let go.

Forgiveness and consequences are not the same thing

There are actions in life that carry consequences. Gravity causes people to fall. Fire burns skin and leaves scars. Government laws carry penalties when broken. We can be forgiven and God will restore our spiritual relationship with Himself, but He doesn’t usually interfere with the physical penalties. So speaking words of confession won’t usually erase consequences.

How to forgive yourself

Learning to forgive yourself is like creating a new habit. When you learned to write, you had to practice until it came naturally. If you have been believing lies about yourself for months or years, it will take time to break that habit. So here are 10 Self-forgiveness exercises.

  1. Never speak lies about yourself regardless of how you feel. When you say something, it creates a loop. First, it is a thought which you speak, which you then hear, which goes back into your mind and thoughts. Speaking lies just reinforces them through a never-ending cycle.
  2. Acknowledge your feelings. Unforgiveness is often driven by feelings, not facts.
  3. Name the actions for which you feel guilty. Write them down.
  4. Make a decision to forgive yourself after you have asked God to forgive you. Why? He has forgiven you.
  5. Look in a mirror and say, “I forgive myself for ______ because God has forgiven me. Jesus died for what is bothering me so that I can live in emotional and spiritual freedom.” Repeat this exercise whenever you start believing lies again
  6. Accept consequences if there at any.
  7. Make peace with anyone that you hurt.
  8. Learn from your mistakes.
  9. Refuse to continue thinking about the past. Take your thoughts captive instead of the other way around. If need be, have an accountability partner who is trustworthy and will not share your stuff with anyone else. They need to be someone who loves Jesus, will pray with you, celebrate victories however small, and not judge when you slip back temporarily.
  10. Treat yourself with respect because you were created in the image of God.

How can we make peace with someone who is no longer alive?

Sometimes the people we hurt in the past are no longer living. You may be wondering how you can make peace with them. There are two simple exercises that have helped multitudes of people facing this dilemma. Just remember this is not for placing blame or justifying your actions. This is about acknowledging that you hurt the other person.

Role play

Take two chairs and place them facing each other. Sit in one of the chairs and imagine the deceased person is sitting in the other chair. Then proceed to express your remorse and desire to ask for forgiveness. Zero in on how you hurt them and how they must have felt. Tell them that if someone had done the same thing to you, this is how you would have felt.

After exploring for yourself the hurt that the other person felt, explain that you have already asked God to forgive you. Tell them that you know God has forgiven you and that you have learned a lot about God’s love through this.

Letter of forgiveness

If pretending to talk to someone who is not present seems too weird to you, writing a letter often is helpful. You say the same things but on paper.

Your journey to self-forgiveness

You may be in for a battle as you move forward. The enemy does not want you to think the truth. He hates truth and wants you to hate it too. Be proactive by guarding your heart through the things you listen to and watch. Say no to anything that would set you back in this journey to self-forgiveness.

Here are a couple of songs that are about resolving shame and guilt.

  • The Father’s House, by Cory Asbury. “Failure won’t define me, ’cause that’s what my father does.”
  • O come to the altar, by Elevation Worship. “Are you hurting and broken within, overwhelmed by the weight of your sin? Jesus is calling.”

Additionally, I would like to give you this bookmark and a Scripture card which are reminders that your thoughts are important in learning how to forgive yourself. Simply download them. No email required.

photo of a scripture card with Philippians 4:8

If you have tried the suggestions above and are still struggling to forgive yourself, you may need professional help. There is no shame in doing this. Learning how to forgive yourself is too important, so do whatever it takes. You will be glad you did.

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