Five Tips for Forgiving Yourself When Your Confidence Wanes

Learning to forgive yourself is an overlooked key to building confidence.

Posted Dec 27, 2018

You might be in a situation in which you used to have self-confidence, but now it’s gone. Maybe you suffered a big setback or failed spectacularly at something that was really important to you, and it’s changed your whole sense of self-worth and zapped your willingness to try.

Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash

Or maybe not — maybe a lack of self-confidence has plagued you your whole life, and you just don’t see yourself as likely to succeed.

No matter where you are in your self-confidence journey, you’re going to mess up, and you’re going to be rejected along the way. We all are! Confidence requires action, and inevitably, some of your actions are going to flop. What you need to do then is forgive yourself.

Understand the difference between guilt and shame

The first step toward learning to forgive yourself is understanding the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt can be a useful emotion when you’ve done something that hurt someone else. You can look at what you did and say, “This doesn’t match up with who I want to be.” You can apologize, make it right, and act differently in the future.

Shame stems from a different kind of self-talk. Whereas guilt comes with a growth mindset (“I did something bad, but I can do better”), shame is an emotional manifestation of a fixed mindset. Shame says, “This is who I am.”

Accept that you’re going to feel awful (temporarily).

Guilt still feels awful, but it usually comes with acceptance: You know you messed up, and you’re going to own it and try to change. Shame, on the other hand, usually leads to resistance. You might lie, run away, blame someone, have an outburst, or otherwise try to get away from facing the situation. Because shame ties up our actions with our self-worth, we fear that when someone sees our shame, they’ll know we’re broken, inadequate, or “bad.”

Know that everyone feels shame at times.

Everyone feels shame. Many of us have voices in our minds that shame us by echoing messages we heard as kids, and we don’t even realize that no one is keeping those messages playing except us. It’s time to let go of that self-talk and realize that if you’re flawed, struggling, or hurting, you’re just part of the human club. Nothing about your appearance, your parenting, your career success, or anything else could cost you your membership and make you unworthy of love.

Forgiving yourself is an ongoing practice.

Forgiving yourself for your flaws isn’t just a one-time thing. It’s something you have to practice time and time again, because mistakes will happen!

Even when you plan carefully, the outside world can throw curveballs your way. It’s only natural that sometimes you’ll goof. We often believe we have more control over our lives than we truly do; in reality, a change in the weather, a mood swing, or someone’s rude comment can throw us off our game.

Hold yourself accountable (when appropriate).

Accepting the fact that you’ll make mistakes doesn’t mean you stop holding yourself accountable. Instead, it clears up your mind to take meaningful action. If you hurt someone with your mistake, that means apologizing and making amends. If you didn’t, it means examining what efforts you made that didn’t quite work and seeking feedback on how to do better next time. When you’re not spending days obsessing over what you did wrong, you’re also more likely to find creative or innovative solutions to a problem. But most importantly, you’ll feel more peace.

Adapted from The Self-Confidence Workbook: A Guide to Overcoming Self-Doubt and Improving Self-Esteem. Copyright © 2018 by Barbara Markway and Celia Ampel.