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Learning to Forgive Yourself

We all mess up sometimes. So why is learning to forgive yourself a lot harder than forgiving others?
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How Do You Know You Have Forgiven Yourself? continued...

Of course, along with this often goes the need to ask the wronged person to forgive you as well. "Forgiveness," Marshall notes, "is never complete unless people and relationships are transformed in the process." That transformation, of course, could involve never repeating the action.

Writing on this subject in Selfhelp Magazine, Richard B. Patterson, PhD, a clinical psychologist in El Paso, Texas, says, "Making amends is more than a simple 'I'm sorry.' It involves a willingness to listen to another person's hurt. It involves a willingness to take immediate corrective action." He says, however, that if disclosure would harm the other person ("I am sorry I slept with your husband. Oh, you didn't know?") you need to find another way to make amends indirectly, even by praying for the person.

Hartman likens the sequence, if done properly, to a technique her husband used to correct a problem with his computer. He didn't want to lose data, so someone told him to set the clock back to before the problem occurred. This way, he lost the mistake, but not the data in the memory.

That's what forgiving yourself is -- you don't forget the mistake, but it doesn't cause any trouble and you don't lose the memory of it.

A New Day

Forgiving yourself isn't a slogging, long-term, "good day/bad day" type of thing, Marshall says. "At some point," she says, "you reach a turning point. Something shifts. You feel less burdened, you have more energy. You live longer, you have better health."

"We all screw up sometime," Hartman says. "Forgiving ourselves is as close as we come to a system reset button."

Star Lawrence is a medical journalist based in the Phoenix area.

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