How to Forgive Yourself by Practicing Restorative Justice

How to Forgive Yourself by Practicing Restorative Justice


“Learning about and trying to practice a form of restorative justice can help you work toward self-forgiveness.”

I’ve always known there can be no peace without forgiveness. What I didn’t realize was this applies to self-forgiveness as much as it does to forgiving others.

The longer I live, the more I realize we all make mistakes. None of us are perfect, and we all do things we would like to take back. I’m rather generous in applying this to others. They tell me they’re sorry; they tell me they meant no harm; they ask for forgiveness—my heart melts, and I forgive.

I don’t ask for reparations or insist their infractions will never happen again. I accept that they’re human. I may even quote poet Mary Oliver: “You do not have to walk on your knees / For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.”

But when it comes to facing my own wrongdoings, I can be merciless. I chastise myself, berate myself—I might even tell myself I should walk on my knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

I want to make peace with myself. Yet, for me, forgiving myself remains a challenge. Somehow, just telling myself I’m forgiven feels like sweeping wrongs under a rug or putting on a mask and pretending to be someone else. When I know I’ve done wrong, the face I see in the mirror seems to mock me for being a fraud. I want to love and respect the person I see in the mirror, which I know requires self-forgiveness.

Practice Restorative Justice for Self-Forgiveness

Learning about and trying to practice a form of restorative justice can help you work toward self-forgiveness. Restorative justice is about restoration: returning something to its earlier good condition or position.

While restorative justice attempts to right a wrongdoing to someone else or to society, it can also restore something within yourself. It can restore a sense of dignity and wholeness.

The focus of restorative justice is on accountability and making amends—not on self-degradation or punishment. It goes beyond self-cleansing and does more than make you feel good, it helps repair relationships.

You can’t always go back and right a wrong from the past. But you can make amends in some other way:

  • If you were stingy in the past, you can be generous in what you do today.
  • If you bullied someone in the past, you can be kind to someone today.
  • If you were indifferent or neglectful to someone in the past, you can be solicitous or caring to someone today.

These restorative acts won’t undo past wrongful acts, but they add goodness to the collective community. And, in the process of restoring or healing something in the community, they restore or heal something within yourself.

A Practice for Healing Regret and Inviting Restoration

I grew up in the Catholic tradition, which included the Sacrament of Confession (also known as the Sacrament of Reconciliation). While we were encouraged to confess our sins throughout the year, it was considered especially important during Holy Week, the week before Easter Sunday, which celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

While my religious beliefs and practices have changed over the years, I still appreciate the symbolism of “freeing ourselves from sins” so that we might rise to a different level of being.

Today, I often look to sunrise and sunset as reminders of what to let go of and what to look forward to.

Sunset tells you to let go of regrets and feelings of guilt. Sunrise speaks to restoration—the dawning of a new day with new possibilities. You can use this new day to add goodness to the universe. You can look in a mirror unmasked and see a person who is whole and at peace—not because you've never done anything wrong, but because you've forgiven yourself and added something of value to the community.

With self-forgiveness and restoration, you can start the new day without carrying the baggage of guilt from yesterday.

Read 20 affirmations for when you've messed up.

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