Forgiving Yourself for the Pain You Caused

Going through a breakup or heartbreak is an incredibly difficult and painful experience. You are left feeling betrayed, rejected, afraid, lonely, and lost. A future you had imagined is now dead. You are left without the person that, for better or worse, your life centered around for months, years, or even longer.

You are able to find some solace in books, songs, blog posts, and quotes posted and shared online. Something along the lines of “you will find a person who deserves you” or “what is meant to be will be”.

Your former significant other hurt you. Maybe it was you who made the decision to leave, but it was because of the emotional, spiritual, and maybe even physical suffering you experienced at the hands of the other. You must now begin the process of forgiveness and recovery of having your trust, love, and life damaged by someone else.

What I would like to talk about is the other side of this coin. What is the path forward for the one who caused you harm? More specifically, what are those of us to do who realized when it was too late that we were causing pain for the person who was nearest and dearest to our heart?

I want to make one thing very clear. This is not meant for those individuals who carelessly hurt others, whether consciously or unconsciously, and do not comprehend their own actions. This is not for serial abusers. The only realistic path for them is to come to a point where they realize they need help and then go seek that aid in the form of some sort of therapy. I am specifically talking about those of us who have been shaken to our cores and realized in ghastly astonishment that our words and actions were causing harm.

My Story

It took me a few days after the breakup to realize the full extent of the damage I had caused. It hit me all at once, like a breaking wave. In some sort of epiphany, I was able at once to see all the arguments we had over the years through her perspective. Through her very eyes. Whereas I had thought I was defending myself and backing up my position with “sound logic”, I was actually verbally manipulating the situation to redirect her emotions towards herself. “If you think about it, it is really your fault this happened”.

Over time, I positioned myself as logical and reasonable while she was just over-emotional. Worse than that, I began to see flaws in her personality and morals based on the smallest infringements. “Oh she didn’t clean up after herself in the kitchen? She obviously isn’t a responsible and clean human being.” This became worse over time until it reached the point where I thought I was too good for her. One of the worst sins I have ever committed, beyond thinking that, was eventually having that ideology rub off on her. I made her feel less than and she believed it.

Towards the end, she began to see through this illusion. Somehow this person who I had made to feel so small was still in love with me and wanted to make it work. I was too forgone in my own head to listen. I ignored pleas for change, believing that I didn’t need to. The problem was still with her. I was resigned to the idea that we simply were not going to work out. But she beat me to the punch. It was difficult to process, but not totally unexpected. Then, a few days later, I had the earlier mentioned experience.

The weeks and months that followed were incredibly trying. I immersed myself in spiritual and self-help books and podcasts. I tried reiki and even went for psychic readings. I was in a place of complete and total desperation.

Miraculously, real change began to occur. With that change, though, came a deeper understanding of my own personal blockages that led to my behavior. I was, and still am to an extent, massively insecure. Those insecurities were then projected onto my partner. Where I lacked, she lacked. I thought I had my life together, but it was all false. Everything I had used to guide me was in an effort to feel important and be perceived as being important. The real twist of fate was that my ex was the very first person I have ever encountered who actually saw my true worth and loved me for it, flaws and all.

I realized that my tough love was not actually supportive but condescending. I did not prioritize her or the relationship. The list goes on and on.

After realizing this, I tried to make amends. I was told I was forgiven but that there would be no more chances. The damage had been done and it was too great to overcome.

I’m very torn over this because while I deeply believe that two people can overcome anything if they are both committed to making the relationship work and respecting and understanding each other, I completely understand and appreciate the hardships I put her through.

The reason I opened up and explained all of this is not for your pity, but for your understanding. I made a complete transition of constantly doubting the relationship and my partner, to knowing that the future she wanted for us was a real possibility. Never say never, but I can’t help but feel that it is now nothing more than a beautiful dream. So what do I do now?

What Now?

I mentioned in the beginning of this article that there is a ton of content geared towards those who have had their hearts broken by someone else. While I might fit into that category, I am really the one responsible for breaking two hearts; hers and mine. But where is the content for me?

I’ll find a motivational piece and start feeling good until I realize the message isn’t really for me. The below is a great example from Bianca Sparacino (she has some really great content @rainbowsalt on Instagram), creative director for Thought Catalog:

Because I feel heartbroken and even abandoned, I begin reading this excited for the message. Midway through, however, I realize that I did have someone who loved me and thought me good enough. When Bianca talks about “asking the wrong person”, she is talking about me, not to me.

This is just one of countless examples. I’ve lost track of the number of songs I am unable to enjoy at the moment because of themes similar to the one above. The same goes for certain tv shows and movies. Everything serves as a reminder of how I was unworthy and undeserving of the love I received.

To answer the earlier question of “what do I do now?”, I can only think of forgiveness. I need to be able to forgive myself for the words and actions of my past. Saying “it was a different me” and “I didn’t know any better” sound like weak excuses, but they are all I have. I did everything I could to make amends, sincerely apologize, and show gratitude for the million and one ways she showed her love and affection for me. All I can do now is give her the space she asked for as she searches for her own peace of mind. I desperately want that to be with me, to shower her with the love and acceptance she deserved from day one, but I also need to respect her wishes.

So that is my story. I am still on the look out for content that will help and inspire those of us who might be classified as “recovering abusers”. That title sounds awful, but there’s no point in romanticizing how our behavior affected those close to us.

For those of you reading this who might feel like they fit into this category (to any extent, large or small), this is what I have learned:

  • We must forgive ourselves for the pain and suffering we caused others.
  • If appropriate (sometimes it isn’t), ask forgiveness of those affected.
  • Continue to forgive yourself every day because those feelings of self-loathing and grief will not subside any time soon.
  • It is ok to want another chance, but realize that there is a very real possibility that the other person will not give one to you.
  • Continue to learn and grow. Fill yourself with the knowledge and teachings of others to heal the wounds that led you to this destructive behavior in the first place.
  • It is ok to continue to love and hope for another chance at a relationship. The fact that you have truly seen your past actions for what they were, and are learning to be a healthier and more full person, means that you will be a much better partner next time around.
  • With that being said, you must be ever vigilant of your words and actions. It is easy to fall into the trap of “I know better now” and either plateau or, worse, return to abusive behavior but under the guise of “wokeness”.
  • When times get tough and you feel low (which happens way more often than I’d like to admit), focus on the present moment. Breathe, notice your surroundings, focus on your work, on your lessons. Acknowledge the bad feelings but don’t entertain them or the associated thoughts.
  • Remember no one is perfect. This is not an excuse at all, but it is important to never doubt that you are still deserving and worthy of love, compassion, and understanding.
  • Let go and surrender the thoughts and feelings that are no longer serving you.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a trusted friend, loved one, or therapist.

Basically, keep progressing but don’t beat yourself up. You can’t change the past, as much as we would all love to do so. I’d give anything to go back to the beginning and be the partner my ex deserved, but it simply is not possible. We also can’t worry about the future. We don’t know if our ex will take us back, if we will meet someone else who lights up our world, or if our former partner will meet and fall in love with someone else. We don’t have control over the future. So all that is left is this very moment and what we do with it. Use it to learn how to love yourself the way you know you should have loved your partner.

This turned out much more long-winded than I anticipated it to be. I apologize for that, but I do hope it served a purpose. From my own experience, I feel I learn more and feel more connected to personal anecdotes than cold hard facts and steps.

If you find yourself with the terrible realization that you have hurt someone, anyone, through your words and actions, know that you are not alone. While the guilt and grief can be painful knowing that you broke someone’s trust and betrayed their love, understand that it also a gift. Now that you know, you cannot unknow. This means that, if treated properly, you can take this lesson and apply it to yourself and future relationships.

You might even be inspired to write an article to share your learnings and reach out to people so overcome with guilt they are unable to take that first step forward because you have been there.

Please feel free to comment and share your own experiences.

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Wellbeing Through Forgiveness
The 4 Pillars of a Healthy Relationship


  1. So this is what I’ve been looking for. My breakup happened nearly 12 weeks ago and it was due to my actions entirely. Towards the end I became distant to her even though she approached me about it. Our intimacy had lacked (like for a year), the affection was much less, the spark was gone and we had lost attraction to each other. All signs of growing apart but the onus falls on me. My insecurities and lack of loving myself were to blame. I deflected them to her. Then the ultimate happened, I came home drunk and was abusive. That was the end. I lost her. Lost her trust. She kicked me out, put all my shit in the garage and I moved out. We had so much love at one point. I adored her, she was smitten with me and we had planned on getting married (we were together for 8 years, lived together for 7 – we are now both 52, we went to high school together. Never dated, she dated my best friend). We had sayings like besttteammateever and you get what you give. I took her for granted. I am devastated. She is a wonderful woman and I ruined it. I spend most days looking for solutions by reading articles to make me understand it all. Why did I do it. Why did I ruin what I had. I just want to go back home and it’s never gonna happen. I am lost and having such a hard time dealing with it. She was the love of my life, the one that got away due to my stupidity. I just wish I could go back and change it all but I am trying to forgive myself and move on. She won’t even talk to me.

    • It’s completely natural for you to feel the pain that you’re describing. Also to feel that hope that maybe somehow it’ll work itself out. At some point, you need to accept this new chapter in your life. There are lessons for you to learn about who you are on your own and in relationship. The way we show up in relationships is usually how we show up for ourselves, or dont. Take the time to grieve and respect the painful and uncomfortable emotions. You’ll grow from this and become better in your relationship with yourself and your relationships with others.

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