How Do You Know if You Need to Ask for Forgiveness?

In childhood, we often learn that if we make a mistake, we need to say we’re sorry. Apologies aren’t always so straightforward, however. Asking for forgiveness is important, but only when it’s necessary.

Living with mental health challenges, including but by no means limited to, depression and anxiety, tends to muddy the waters of life, and apologies are no exception. Mental illness often brings feelings of shame or inappropriate guilt, making us feel unduly responsible for things that are actually beyond our control. In fact, inappropriate feelings of guilt are a hallmark of depression, and different types of anxiety contribute to self-doubt and self-blame.

While each circumstance is unique, these general guidelines can be helpful in knowing if you need to ask for forgiveness:

  • Did you do or say something hurtful (intentionally or accidentally)?
  • Have you been highly self-critical lately? Sometimes, the person from whom we need forgiveness is ourselves.
  • Was the situation outside of your control? Just because you were involved doesn’t mean that you are at fault for something that wasn’t right.

If you decide that you do need to ask for forgiveness, from yourself or others, keep it simple and sincere. Explaining that you feel bad for what happened, offering to make amends, and asking for forgiveness strengthens relationships—including the one you have with yourself—and allows everyone to move forward rather than stewing over the past.

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Nicola can struggle with forgiving herself for past mistakes she made in relation to her brother, who has chronic mental health issues. Here are some tips she uses for moving past these mistakes and doing better.

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APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2021, November 30). How Do You Know if You Need to Ask for Forgiveness?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 14 from

Last Updated: November 30, 2021

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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