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Moving Toward Self-Forgiveness: Removing Barriers Related to Shame, Guilt, and Regret



When people believe that they have hurt or offended someone, one potentially adaptive response would be to forgive the self. In an ideal process of self-forgiveness, an offender would accept an appropriate amount of responsibility, experience enough guilt to prompt reparative behaviors and improvements in character, and then release excess guilty feelings that no longer serve a useful function. In real life, however, this process often goes awry. Sometimes people avoid guilty feelings altogether, taking emotional shortcuts to repair their moods and self-images without accepting responsibility or repairing relational damage. Others go to the opposite extreme, getting caught up in negative feelings such as shame, excessive guilt, and regret about their offenses. This article briefly reviews research on these potentially problematic responses and suggests ways that each one could be addressed in interventions to facilitate self-forgiveness.