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Learning to forgive yourself


According to psychologist Rick Hanson, PhD, we all have an inner critic and an inner protector. Together they help us maintain a balanced perspective. But too often as family caregivers, we have an overload of guilt, shame, and remorse, always feeling our performance is subpar, that we haven't done enough. This is not healthy. The inner critic has an important role, but it's not to pulverize our self-esteem.


We all make mistakes. The goal is to use our inner voice to acknowledge errors, learn what we can, and move on—leaving personal scorn out of the equation. Consider this process for reviewing your mistakes:

  1. List your positive qualities. This is not self-flattery. This is calling in your protector to provide balance. What do you know in your gut others would say about you? Perhaps there are past actions that reflect your most stellar self. Take a minute to fully recall these attributes.

  2. Honestly assess the damage. List what occurred, factually. Then list your intentions. Then the results. Report the incident as a journalist might. If guilt tries to hijack you emotionally, make the shift from "I'm a terrible person"—attacking your character—to "That was not a wise decision."

  3. What can you learn from this? Dr. Hanson suggests you sort your actions into three categories: Moral faults, simple unskillfulness, and everything else. For actions in the first two categories, make two lists: a. "I am responsible for … ." Clearly, things you did or said. Give yourself a moment to let this sink in, not beat yourself up. But honestly own it. Neurologically, this helps "wire in" the learning. b. "I am not responsible for … ." Another person's action, emotional reaction, or misinterpretation of your intent. Pause. Allow any feelings of relief to settle in.

  4. Take action. Have you already begun to make amends? What more can you do to address the parts you are responsible for?

  5. Forgive yourself. When you have done what you can, look at the situation as if you were talking to a friend. At some point, once your friend has made the possible repairs and gleaned any life lessons, you would advise them to let go and move on. Give yourself that kindness as well.

Is guilt a too-constant companion?

That's a sign that you are trying to do too much. As the north Texas experts in family caregiving, we at Caring With Grace understand that caring for a relative is often more than one person can do alone. Let us help. Give us a call at (214) 789-6402.

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