Learning to Forgive Yourself in Recovery

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Patricia Sullivan MD, MPH

forgive yourself

Table of Contents

How to Break Negative Cycles

Whether forgiving others or being forgiven, releasing negative feelings is freeing. Everyone deserves to be free and forgive themselves; we are human, and life is short.


‘To Err is Human; to Forgive, Divine’ – Alexander Pope 1711

Generally, everyone has dealt with guilt and shame. However, those emotions can feel more intense or overwhelming in recovery, making forgiveness a popular topic.

  • “Do I need someone’s forgiveness?”
  • “Is there someone who needs my forgiveness?”

That depends.

  • Are you ready to forgive yourself first?

For someone to forgive themselves means accepting what happened as it happened. By apologizing to yourself for falling into negative behaviors, you can open yourself up to acceptance, grievance, and moving on.

What Does “Falling into Negative Behaviors” Mean?

Negative behaviors can be anything from negative self-talk to substance use. In addition, these negative behaviors can affect a range of symptoms, such as poor personal hygiene, eating habits, or sleep patterns.

Have you felt so worried that you experienced trouble sleeping at night? Likewise, chronic feelings of intense guilt or shame can physically affect a person’s body over time.

The importance of these two emotions centers on the discomfort they lend. Unprocessed feelings of guilt and shame can cause someone to:

  • lose sleep at night
  • experience a loss of appetite
  • induce panic attacks
  • experience intrusive thoughts

No matter the cause of feeling guilty or shameful, we all feel better when things become “water under the bridge.”

Furthermore, medical professionals agree that a person’s health improves after letting go of negative emotions.

What’s the Difference Between Guilt and Shame?

Distinguishing the two concepts from each other is critical to learning about them. Though often spoken in parallel, the differences help identify their counterparts.


an emotional response to violations of personal code of conduct.


an emotional response to personal humiliation or acceptance of negative behaviors.

Shame can continue indefinitely if not addressed. Chronic negativity is corrosive to the psyche and hinders personal growth. A person embedded in their protective mental state continually rejects their mental growth state, where progress lies dormant.

Cycles of negativity will continue to circle until a person recognizes how negativity spreads. Like dominos, one negative thought can tap into another.

Breaking the cycles requires identifying your truths, whatever that looks like for you. Next, identify your fears, the responses to those fears, and what that means for you.

For example:

  • “I started misusing substances when my dad left. I was afraid that I might never see him again. So, I must have been in severe emotional distress, which is understandable.”

Give yourself love by humanizing yourself. But first, find the root of the problem and start there.

Permitting Yourself to Love Yourself

The divergence among people stems from where that forgiveness must come from.

Religious groups often claim that forgiveness must come from a divine being. However, studies show that actively forgiving yourself releases endorphins and affects the body’s overall health and function.

No one can take away a person’s choice to forgive, and no one can say self-forgiveness isn’t enough.

The Importance of Forgiving Yourself

If a person can’t forgive themselves, the weight of all their mistakes is enough to break anyone over a lifetime. We all make mistakes.

The key is not to shame yourself for mistakes. Instead, learn from the past and use that knowledge in the present and future.

Successful and healthy people don’t have a habit of destroying themselves whenever they make a mistake. Instead, they learn to work through the situation while continuing to move forward.

Breaking Bad Habits

Breaking bad habits like negative self-talk will improve a person’s positivity and mental state.

  • Don’t beat yourself up or call yourself names.
  • Realize that everyone makes mistakes.
  • Find the root of your emotional pain.
  • Make a personal strategy to avoid unwanted behaviors.

The critical component is to move forward. Staying in the past will not make anything better.

Remaining stuck in past experiences will create feelings of insecurity and low self-worth. Furthermore, negative mental states are corrosive to personal growth and enlightenment.

Chronic negativity invites relapse and other self-destructive behaviors that, in turn, create more guilt and shame. The cycle must stop.

Steps to Forgive Yourself

1. Write it out

Writing is a fantastic therapeutic tool. The 12-steps specify that the patient must write down resentments because thoughts swimming in our heads can spin out of control.

Putting thoughts on paper gives your mind a rest and lets you let go of whatever is bothering you. Writing ideas down helps avoid forgetting them. Jot it down.

Write down why you are upset, your feelings, and anything else that comes to mind. Writing is expressive and provides much-needed relief.

Once you have written everything down, you will find that your mind is far more peaceful and clear than before.

2. Remember, you can’t change the past, but you can take control of your present and future.

The past is gone. It’s that simple. You can learn from the past, but you cannot change it. The good news is that the present and future are unwritten stories you control.

You can do anything you want if you work for it. Who will you be in 5 years? Challenge yourself to see the innumerable possibilities.

3. Have compassion and love for your past self.

Nobody is perfect. You have made mistakes, but you’re only human and cannot expect yourself to live a life free from errors and missteps.

The only thing to do now is to have compassion for yourself, as you would have for a dear friend who has made mistakes.

4. Recognize morals and values now and act on them.

Perhaps you’ve violated your morals and values in the past. But, again, no one is perfect. What matters is that you now recognize those moral values and adhere to them to the best of your ability.

So, from now on, forgive yourself for your past mistakes and transgressions.

5. Remember every day is a new start.

Every day is a new beginning, and it’s never too late to change or start over. Staying in the past is a conscious choice; choose better for yourself.

Realize today that you can be the best version of yourself.

6. Learn to love the person you have become.

You wouldn’t be the person you are without everything that has happened up until now. As difficult as the past has been, it has made you who you are today, which is excellent!

Moving Forward

In conclusion, we invite you to be kinder to yourself. As humans, we all make mistakes. But, regardless of what happened, you are not the first person this has happened to, and you are not alone.

In time, life will ebb and flow far enough along that this chapter of heartache will be a distant memory. But unfortunately, it is not time that heals wounds, but our heightened perspective teaches us why we are in pain.

Choose to spend this time wisely by learning from your experiences to become wiser and more enlightened. Additionally, choose to avoid feelings of guilt or shame in the future.

Like the doctor said, “forgiveness is a choice.”


[1] Forgiveness: Your Health Depends on It | Johns Hopkins Medicine
[2] Self-Esteem and Communication Skills – A Better Today (abtrs.com)
[3] Self-Care and Its Importance in Recovery – A Better Today Recovery Services (abtrs.com)
[4] Stress, Isolation and Addiction-The Connection (abtrs.com)
[5] Forgiving Yourself | Psychology Today

Related Educational Content and Guides

[1] Breaking the Cycle of Addiction – A Better Today Recovery Services (abtrs.com)

[2] How to Reach Out for Help with Addiction – A Better Today Recovery Services (abtrs.com)

[3] This Grieving Family of an Addict Has a Message – A Better Today Recovery Services (abtrs.com)

Susana Spiegel

Susana Spiegel

Susana has experience writing about addiction, treatment, mental health, and recovery. She holds a Bachelors in Arts of Theology from GCU, and has a deep empathy for those who are struggling with addiction, as she is in recovery herself.

Begin your journey to addiction recovery.

Speak to a treatment admissions specialist now. 

Talk to a therapist online and get support right now.

As an affiliate, we may receive compensation from BetterHelp if you purchase services through the links provided.

Search Posts

Get help and rebuild your life.

Recovery Starts Today

Drug and alcohol treatment is available for all financial situations. Insurance, medicaid, medicare, no insurance, more. Call now!