The Importance of Forgiveness
So recently I had a really deep conversation with a friend. My friend has something in the past that they’ve done, that they feel is unforgivable. This idea, this thing is something that they think about fairly constantly, It is a weight that weighs them down. It doesn’t allow them to feel worthy of joy or praise from others. My friend doesn’t feel that they have the right to forgive themselves.
In our conversation I relayed to my friend that we have these types of things in our past. I revealed something from my past that I have never been able to forgive myself for. We all have these things, and like most pain, like most shame each person places their own subjective value on these things. What one person has done that they feel is unforgivable, others have easily gotten past. It’s what made the conversation so hard. What my friend did was bad, there is no denying that. However, I was proud of them for a couple of reasons. First, they address the person they had wronged, apologized and asked to make amends. The person they wrong forgave them and that’s how deep these things can go. Even after being forgiven by the person they wronged, they have not been able to forgive themselves.
My friends it is important that we find a way to do this for ourselves and for others. For as the piece below says, until you can forgive yourself it is harder to forgive and provide healing to others. Below is a selection from a piece that discusses why it is important to forgive yourself and I think this is a good place to start this discussion.
Four Reasons to Forgive Yourself
From an article, four reasons to forgive yourself, I’m copying out four really profound and important things for you to think about.
Living life with unforgiveness of ourselves is like living life believing that there is a looming hammer over our heads waiting to drop down at any moment.
When we release ourselves and no longer feel like we are going to be punished spontaneously and brutally, we release that throbbing worry and live a life of freedom.
2. You deserve it.
We are all human, which means that we all make mistakes. It’s inevitable. It’s been said that the only things that are certain in life are death and taxes, but I am going to add one more lifetime guarantee: screwing up.
We will all have to forgive ourselves at some point for making a mistake, doing something wrong, being human, and simply screwing up.
We can’t give what we don’t have. In the same way that we are guaranteed to make mistakes, those who we have relationships with will make mistakes as well.
We can forgive others once we forgive ourselves, and that results in healing and peace.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.” Ghandi
We don’t always need to be strong, but we always need to be growing. Growth and development should never stop. And, I think that’s what Ghandi meant in this quote. By constantly growing, we can achieve our goals and create a life that we love.
So what happens when we can’t forgive ourselves and how to we get to self-forgiveness? Again I’m turning to someone else’s words from an article, 9 Tips When You Can’t Forgive Yourself.
First of all, what happens to someone when they can’t forgive themselves?
Here are just some of the ways you hurt yourself when you can’t forgive yourself:
You keep reliving what you’ve done.
You let it affect your decisions.
You feel paralyzed by your past.
You verbally abuse yourself, quietly in the recesses of your own heart.
You make yourself feel unworthy.
You are afraid to take healthy risks.
You spiral into despair.
You don’t try to make things better because you don’t think you deserve to make things better.
You struggle to forgive others.
You struggle to trust yourself
This is an incredibly similar description of where my friend is right now. We talked about ways to move forward, why it was important, but from the same piece, some excellent advice about how to do that.
Here are 9 tips to consider when you can’t forgive yourself:
- Decide You Want to Let it Go
In my earlier forgiveness blog, I mentioned, “In the process of forgiving, the first barrier you have to remove is within your own mind. You must make the decision: I will not dwell on this incident.” That decision doesn’t guarantee you’ll stop the mental video, but it draws a line in the sand that you have that goal. It’s a starting point.
- Look at What You’ve Done…Objectively
A big obstacle to forgiving yourself is the inability to see things objectively. Maybe what you did was a big deal…or maybe it just feels like it was. Pretend it was someone else who you love who did what you did. Ask yourself how you would view them. If you need to, look for help from someone you trust to examine what occurred.
- Own It, but Don’t be Owned by It
Taking responsibility for what you did is important. But one bad choice doesn’t have to own you or define you. You can’t control how others define you, but you can control how you define yourself.
- Grieve Your Loss
If a tragedy was averted in your situation, focus on the good of that, and be thankful. If, however, a tragic loss occurred, know that it’s okay to grieve the pain. Beating yourself up constantly is not a requirement of grief.
- Seek Forgiveness from Others, If Needed
Forgiveness from others can free you up to forgive yourself. If you haven’t yet, seek forgiveness from the person you hurt.
- Focus on What Can Be Learned
Everyone fails. Everyone stumbles. Everyone hurts others eventually. It’s part of the human experience and condition. But not everyone will learn from what they do. Be someone who is willing to learn from your past to benefit your future.
- Record Your Reflections
Sometimes capturing a record of your thoughts and feelings can help you face them honestly. Do some light journaling for a few days. Focus on what you are struggling to let go of and what you would do if you could be free of the burden of guilt you feel.
- Feel the Love
I hope you know someone in your life who loves you unconditionally. If so, draw them into your struggle—for encouragement. Their best help may be simply to listen well and to remind you that you are loved.
The advice in the article is incredibly good, I removed the ninth piece of advice because I’m not sure it works for everyone as it relies solely on religion and not everyone, including my friend, is religious. If you are and are seeking that type of advice you can access the article and the ninth piece of advice via the link above.
Why I think this advice is so good is because it parallels the advice I give people about making mistakes. We all make mistakes. What is important is that you admit what you’ve done, that you take responsibility for it and not make excuses. You need to address the people the mistake impacts and ask them how to make amends. Then you do what is necessary to make up for the mistake and make it right. This process, while in it, doesn’t feel good, but it is necessary and in the long run leads to you being a better person.
That’s what all of this advice is about, how you can move forward and be a better person. Whether it’s correcting mistakes you’ve made, forgiving others for the wrongs they’ve committed against you, or more importantly, forgiving yourself for the things you’ve done to others, you have to forgive yourself so that you can move forward and be a better person. Only by being a better person do you have the bandwidth and space to help others.
I’ll be honest friends, I have skeletons in my closet that I live with that I truly believe that if I told you what they were, you would lose all respect for me. That loved ones would no longer love me and that I would be completely alone. I think we all feel we have these types of things in our past. I’ve felt that way for a long time. It is only within the last couple of years that I’ve begun that process of self-forgiveness. As I’ve worked through this, it has also allowed me to forgive those that have wronged me. All of this has allowed me to move forward to a better place in life. It is all part of the process of continually working harder to get better. And part of being better is working to help others, to try and tilt that internal balance to a position where you have done more good than bad in this life.
I once attempted suicide, I pulled out the shotgun, loaded it, put the barrel in my mouth and awkwardly reached down for the trigger. Happily I was too much of a coward to pull that trigger. Eventually, I came to realize the level of gift that was, that by staying alive, no matter how much it hurt, allowed me to continue to work on being a better person, on helping others. As you have no doubt realized reading this piece, in many ways this was written for the benefit of my friend. I want my friend very much to understand that they are loved, that they can atone for their sins, they can work everyday to get better. That most importantly they are worthy of joy and happiness in their life and if they continue to work and move forward they will have many happy days to come and are worthy of having them. I want this for all of you as well my friends. I extend a hug to all of you, and offer what tiny forgiveness I can offer you as a beginning, you are worthy of it, always remember that. Have a happy day my friends. ~ Rev Kane