Can You Forgive Yourself?

I saw a quote the other day that stopped me in my tracks:

“When you keep criticising your kids, they don’t stop loving you, they stop loving themselves”.

Its stark simplicity hit me hard.

It’s absolutely true. If children are criticised relentlessly, they don’t start hating their parents, they start hating themselves.

We all criticise our kids at some point, but if you grow up with excessive criticism you come to believe you should never make mistakes and are unworthy of forgiveness.

As an adult, you have unrelentingly high standards for yourself. You don’t stop to consider whether the error was simply because you’re human. Instead, any minor infraction means you come down on yourself like a ton of bricks.

Or rather your Inner Bully does. When you make a mistake, however innocent, your Inner Bully’s damning monologue goes something like this:

“I can’t believe you did that. You’re such an idiot. What will they think of you? You never get it right. You’re so stupid and worthless”.

The shame you experience as a result will have you heading for the fridge as you to turn to food to detach from it. You need something to relieve your emotional pain, and food provides that comfort.

But binge eating isn’t always about comfort. Sometimes it’s a form of punishment. Food can be used to ensure your physical and psychological discomfort as your Inner Bully sadistically urges, “Keep eating – you don’t deserve to feel good”.

Not everyone who struggles with emotion-driven overeating experienced hypercriticism as a child. Often trying and failing at dieting for many years is enough to guarantee you can’t forgive yourself. After all, diets are usually marketed as “easy” and “simple”. Therefore, if you fail at them you must be some kind of monumental numpty, right?

So what’s to be done? How can you learn to forgive yourself? I have some suggestions:

Consider the Source of the Criticism
Think about the negative messages you received in childhood. Where did they come from? Were those people reliable sources of information? As a child, you had to blindly accept their judgement, but as an adult you can consider their motives. Did they have admirable character traits such as integrity, honesty, compassion, kindness, generosity of spirit? If they themselves were lacking in positive attributes, why accept their feedback? You can undo the damage they’ve done by seeing yourself realistically. And no, that’s not arrogance. Humility means owning your strengths as well as your weaknesses.

Lower that Bar, Baby
While there’s nothing wrong with having high standards, perfectionism is damaging. If you can just lower your standards a little, you might see that most of the time you do OK and can give yourself a break. If you do get it wrong, was the transgression intentional or unintentional? If you didn’t set out to attack, sabotage or deliberately hurt anyone in any other way, then forgive yourself for just being human.

Blame Dieting, Not Yourself
I don’t care if the diet says it’s “easy”. I don’t care what celebrity has done what. It doesn’t work for you, me and the vast majority of people who do it. I know I’ve said this before but some messages are worth reiterating time and again until you understand the truth. Diets have at least a 95% failure rate – you’re not the failure, they are. So forgive yourself for your dieting history once and for all. It’s not your fault, it never was.

Don’t Surrender, Fight Back
The Inner Bully wants to diminish and shame you. But you don’t have to let it. Just because you’re used to surrendering to it and feeling awful about yourself, doesn’t mean you can’t find it within yourself to fight back. When it begins its attack, feel free to interrupt and dismiss it: “It wasn’t a big deal. Nobody minded. How dare you blame me. You’re not welcome here. Get lost”. Keep going until it shuts up. Yes, you can do this.

Reconciliation not Rumination
It’s important you dismiss your Inner Bully when it’s giving you a hard time so you can properly reconcile the experience within you and move on. Otherwise, you’ll ruminate and there’s nothing like rumination to make you binge. Essentially, rather than giving in to the Bully, you’re looking inside yourself for a second opinion, one that is more authentic and self-compassionate. The more you can do this, the better you’ll feel about yourself.

The fact of the matter is we all make mistakes.

I know intellectually you understand this. Now read that sentence again and, as well as comprehending it cognitively, pause and give yourself the chance to really feel it.

We all make mistakes.

We all mess things up, fall flat, fall short, miss the mark, say the wrong thing. We all make mistakes because we’re all learning all the time and that’s OK.

If you insist on perpetuating your own suffering with self-punishment you’ll always turn to food, either as a source of comfort or means of torture, and I don’t want that for you.

I want you to give yourself a flipping break.

My wish for you next year and beyond is that you commit to forgiving yourself for your mistakes and cultivate an attitude of openness, forgiveness and self-compassion.

So, in future, your answer to the question “can you forgive yourself?” is an immediate and very definite “of course I can”.

©️ Julie de Rohan 2019.

38 thoughts on “Can You Forgive Yourself?

  1. Another powerful post, Julie. ‘Humility means owning your strengths as well as your weaknesses’ – that sentence really resonated with me. Very well said, Lxx

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I don’t think humility is about putting ourselves down but having a realistic picture of ourselves. I’m glad it resonated, Lol. Hope you’re doing well, many thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I liked that part too. I totally agree, a very powerful post. Your compassion shines through in all of your posts, Julie. Being kind to ourselves and forgiving ourselves isn’t easy. Why are we so often so hard on ourselves? These are brilliant suggestions and reminders  ♥
      Caz xx

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You’re very kind, Caz, I appreciate your feedback. We’re often so hard on ourselves but what an enormous difference it makes when we start to relate to ourselves with compassion and empathy.

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  2. Wonderful post! I have always said that I’m my own worst critic and I’ve always found it easier to forgive another rather than myself. I’ve recently changed that and what I wish for others is to feel the immense freedom there is in forgiveness.
    We already live in a culture of hate, there’s no need to treat ourselves that way. I’ve often wondered that if we were all kinder to ourselves, how that would translate in our treatment of others. I’m gentle and kind to myself now. It truly feels wonderful!
    Hope you are well Julie!😀

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    1. I’m so glad to hear that, Erin, thank you so much for sharing your experience. You’re absolutely right that there’s an immense freedom when we forgive ourselves. I think you pose a really important question – what would happen if we were kinder to ourselves and how would it affect our relationships with others? I definitely think that when we’re more accepting of ourselves we naturally become more accepting of others – what a difference that would make to the world. You’re living proof that we can change how we relate to ourselves for the better and I’m very grateful for your comment, thank you.

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  3. Such an insightful post, Julie – thank you! It describes me, my childhood, and my journey since then to a T. I’m much better at being kind to myself and forgiving errors than I was when I was younger, but that inner bully still sneaks in sometimes. My favourite is “lower that bar, baby!” 🙂

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    1. I’m sorry to hear that was your experience, Karen, but I’m glad you’re more compassionate towards yourself now. I think it’s difficult if you’ve been criticised excessively in childhood not to be hard on yourself, but it’s a process of reflecting on your experiences and really knowing yourself that can lead to understanding your true worth. That Inner Bully is a pest, isn’t it? But it’s always worth dismissing its toxic messages. Good to hear from you, thank you for sharing your experience.

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    1. I suspect most of us has an Inner Bully that causes us problems, that’s why dismissing it is so important. I’m so glad you could relate to this Dwight, many thanks for your comment.

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  4. Thank you for sharing!!.. I believe that there are times when we let society cause a great deal of problems… try to be something we are not nor meant to be instead of following our heart!… 🙂

    “It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.” Agnes Repplier

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    1. People often struggle to believe they can relate to themselves with compassion but it is possible to learn and makes such an enormous difference. Good to hear from you, Jay.


  5. The quote at the beginning about a child hating himself breaks my heart. How tragic. I’m not a perfect mom by any means but, I think I’ve only criticized my 15 year old son a handful of times in his life. I try to remember to praise him to build his self esteem. Kids want their parents approval so badly. My childhood was very dysfunctional however, my mom very frequently told me I was beautiful, smart and talented. When you hear that thousands of times growing up, you believe it. To this day I’m grateful she did that

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    1. Heartbreaking is the word, isn’t it? As you say, kids are desperate for their parents’ approval and it’s our job as parents to accept, support and love our children. I think what your mother told you was lovely, as is your gratitude towards her. Many thanks for your comment.


  6. Thank you! The only downside to her constant praise was that when I grew up, nobody in the “real world” was doing that. So I had issues for years especially with men, where I’d feel bad about myself because I wasn’t getting tons of compliments! I couldn’t understand why a boyfriend couldn’t just tell me I was pretty once a day or so. Giving compliments is free! But sadly most people don’t do it. I do however all the time. Not being disingenuous but when I see someone looks nice, I tell them. Why the hell not? It’s a win/win!

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