Any kind of forgiveness is hard. It is very difficult to work up the courage to go to someone else and say, “I was wrong. Will you please forgive me?”
Forgiving yourself is another matter, with different emotions and issues attached. We tend to lump both types of forgiveness into the same category: forgive others, forgive yourself. But the two are different and it is just as important to forgive ourselves as it is to forgive others.
One man asked me recently, “But how do you forgive yourself? How do you do that?”
I knew that a pat answer would not do.
I had no immediate answer for him, but I decided to think more about it.
When I’ve had to forgive myself for “small” mistakes, even that comes hard. Forgiving oneself means really owning up to the mistake or wrong doing. Too often we rationalize our mess-ups: “But I hoped I could help her avoid trouble by reading her journal” or “But I wanted to find out what someone in authority had to say about the matter” when going behind someone’s back to solve a problem.
We have all kinds of defenses to protect ourselves. But forgiveness means totally owning the wrong, and then choosing to move on. “Boy, I really messed up. I’m as human as they come. A lot of good people have messed up: in the Bible, Abraham, Moses, David, Saul/Paul all committed grave sin. I have good company.”
Arlene Harder, a counselor reminds us: “To forgive yourself does not mean that you should forget what you did or said” (www.learningplaceonline.com). “To forgive yourself doesn’t mean you aren’t responsible for what you did or said. To forgive yourself simply means you realize that you might have done something differently if you had known how.”
Harder goes on:
“Forgiving yourself means you recognize that you didn’t know how to do something differently and realize you have learned by your mistake. As someone once said, experience is what we get right after we need it. To forgive yourself means you are finally willing to accept yourself just as you were at the time you made the mistake you’ve been holding over your head. To not forgive yourself means you continue to hold onto guilt and pain.”
When we don’t forgive ourselves we almost continue to revel in the wrong, we can’t leave it go. We mull the details over and over and if what we did was a pleasurable experience, we actually kind of enjoy reliving it. In the extreme case of getting revenge on someone and hurting or killing them in the process, revenge can be a pleasurable feeling. When we don’t forgive ourselves, we continue to enjoy the wrong but delicious feelings. We feel miserable, sorry for ourselves, wounded, and that God must be abandoning us because, “see, I can’t forgive myself. I might as well go and do something else wrong.”
Forgive Yourself: It’s a Process
Forgiving yourself is a process. Sometimes you can go as far as your emotions will go at the time. You may not feel a huge big relief like you’d like to feel. You may feel nothing; or you feel just a continuing dull feeling or ache. You may only acknowledge your self-forgiveness intellectually. But over time, as you act on those emotions and beliefs, repeating “I have forgiven myself,” you will get to the place where you are no longer beating yourself up.
One thing to try is to look at yourself in the mirror, take a deep breath and in complete sincerity say, “I forgive you. You didn’t mean to do what you did. God forgives you, and so do I.” Or, say a prayer confessing to God that you are ready to forgive yourself and move on, and ask God’s help to do that.
Any time you are tempted to feel remorse for your past, you can claim your victory over that and understand that it is the spirit of evil (or whatever you call that presence in the world) that is trying to ruin you again.
A mentally healthy and stable person must get to the place where he or she says: “That’s it. I’m not going to wallow in my sin or wrong or pain anymore. I hate myself for what I did, but I’ve got to move on. God loves me and the Bible even says ‘God remembers our sins no more.’ I’ve got to move on.”
This article was posted on a web site that was formerly found at Dailywisdom.com, but unfortunately, we can no longer find that web site or the author. We pray that what this author had to say will minister to your heart. May God bless him or her for the words they wrote that will help many others like yourself!