Home » Blogs » Addiction and Mental Health Demystified » Addiction and Self-Forgiveness

Addiction and Self-Forgiveness

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” That’s the first quote that comes up if you search Google for quotes about forgiveness.

This is fascinating given that so many people shy away from forgiveness for fear of giving up their power! They’re so scared to give up on being right, they don’t see how much they stand to gain by being free.

As you’ll discover in this post, forgiveness — whether it is offered to another or to yourself — really is an attribute of the strong. It’s also a vital step on the road to recovery from addiction.

What Is Self-Forgiveness?

Betsy Koelzer, co-founder of a non 12-Step rehab, sums it up brilliantly:

“Self-Forgiveness is the process by which we release ourselves for judgments we’ve placed against ourselves. When we accept that we are the one holding the judgment, we become aware that we can be the only one to release it.”

In other words, self-forgiveness is the act of letting yourself off of the shame-based hook. It’s about letting go of the hurtful judgments that you hold against yourself for what you’ve done and who you are.

As the Principles of Spiritual Psychology put it: “Judgment is self-condemnation. Self-forgiveness is freedom.”

What Self-Forgiveness Is and Isn’t

Let’s unpack some prevalent myths and stereotypes about self-forgiveness, making clear what it is and is not.

Self-forgiveness does not mean that everything you’ve ever done is just fine, no problem, no consequences. It does mean that you take ownership of your actions and offer your past self compassion.

Self-forgiveness does not mean that you avoid responsibility or slack off in repairing wrongs that you’ve done. It does mean that you extend kindness to yourself, humbly acknowledging all that you didn’t know until now.

Self-forgiveness does not mean that you have a free pass to be rude, abrasive, or harmful to others. It does mean that you give yourself grace for the times when you have been rude, abrasive, and harmful toward yourself.

Addiction and Self-Forgiveness

Contrary to popular belief, addiction recovery and self-forgiveness go hand-in-hand.

Many people mistakenly think that if you teach individuals struggling with addiction to forgive themselves, then they’ll never want to get sober.

There’s a widespread misconception that somehow, forgiveness is too “soft”, that what people really need is a heavy dose of shame. That will motivate them to change their ways, right?

Wrong. As noted in The Toxic Mix of Shame and Addiction, “There is no room in recovery for shame; it limits healing. It is really just that simple.”

As sociologist, TED speaker, and #1 New York Times bestselling author Dr. Brene Brown notes, the research speaks for itself: “Shame [is] highly correlated with addiction, depression, eating disorders, violence, bullying and aggression.”

Dr. Brown goes on to clarify that the antidote for shame is empathy … and one of the best ways to offer yourself this kind of compassion is to practice self-forgiveness.

How to Practice Self-Forgiveness

Offering yourself forgiveness is simple and straightforward – if not always easy. All you need to do is connect with your true self as you would a close friend or loved one.

Here are the practical, real-world steps to follow:

Step 1: Center and Set an Intention

First, go to a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed, and take several slow, calm, deep breaths.

Center yourself in your loving heart, perhaps by thinking of a person, place, or animal that you love unconditionally. Set an intention to give and receive forgiveness.

Step 2: Identify the Judgments

Next, identify the self-judgments that are causing you mental and emotional pain. What do we mean by judgments? These are the harsh, unloving beliefs about ourselves, often indicated by the words, should, would, and could.

For example: I shouldn’t have driven drunk; I’m so stupid.

(Check out our posts on Addiction and Projections and Addiction and Judgments for more on how to identify judgments against yourself and others.)

Step 3: Forgive the Judgments

Once we have that judgment in mind, we access that place of unconditional love we tapped into earlier and we accept and forgive the part of us that is judging.

Use this framework: “I forgive myself for judging myself as _____________ {enter your judgment here: stupid, bad, etc}, and the truth is _________________.”

In the second blank, listen for the voice of unconditional love, and write down what it says.

You might hear, “The truth is that I was doing the best I could.” You might also hear, “I was in pain” or “I didn’t realize that I had another choice.”

Go through all of the judgments that come up; take each one through this framework.

Step 4: Look at Limiting Beliefs

Once you’ve done that, you can look at the limiting beliefs underlying the self-judgments.

What do we mean by limiting beliefs? They are the rules you have about how life works, the underlying, often subconscious principles that govern your existence.

To continue the example above, the limiting belief that goes along with I shouldn’t have driven drunk; I’m so stupid might be something like: I always screw things up, I’m always so selfish, I always hurt people, or I can’t ever trust myself.

Check in with yourself and explore the possibilities until you find one that rings true for you.

Step 5: Forgive the Limiting Beliefs

Use this framework to release limiting beliefs, with the same guidelines as listed for judgments above:

“I forgive myself for accepting the limiting belief that  _____________ {your limiting belief}, and the truth going forward for me is _________________.” {your new belief, based on unconditional love}

For example, you might say: “I forgive myself for accepting the limiting belief that I always screw things up, and the truth going forward for me is that I am loved, and I am wiser and more powerful than I realized.”

The Freedom Found in Self-Forgiveness

Spiritual teacher Byron Katie’s definition of forgiveness is realizing that what you thought happened, didn’t.

When you practice self-forgiveness, you begin to see how this is true within your own mind and heart.

All of those cruel self-judgments and limiting beliefs told one story, and forgiveness tells another one entirely … one in which mistakes are met with compassion and kindness, the force that moves the world.

Addiction and Self-Forgiveness

Joe Koelzer

Joe Koelzer is a co-founder and CEO of The Clearing. He has years of counseling experience and a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.

After observing how depression and substance abuse impacted his wife Betsy’s life, Joe realized how broken our current system is for addiction and related mental health treatment.

He witnessed firsthand how an evidence-based approach coupled with Spiritual Psychology saved Betsy and enabled her to gain control of her life.

In co-founding The Clearing, Joe realized his dream of creating and sharing this innovative approach with others in a structured clinical setting.

No comments yet... View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
, . (2018). Addiction and Self-Forgiveness. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Feb 2018
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.