Are you stuck in guilt, self-condemnation, or trying to forgive yourself for something wrong you have done and can’t find how?
Are you wondering why do I find it so hard to forgive myself?
You are not alone.
In this article I have explained some of the reasons why forgiving ourselves is difficult and also some steps that have helped me, personally, to forgive myself even for the gravest mistakes I have ever made.
Let’s ride in!
Why Do You Find It Difficult To Forgive Yourself?
Broadly, there are three reasons why we find it difficult to forgive ourselves:
1. The battle of the inner critic:
You inner critic is a voice within you that always condemns you, reminding you of your wrong and how you can never do anything right. It’s a kind of a judge within you that claims to be after the right thing but instead of just highlighting the wrongs you have done, it shows you how wrong you are.
This is so grave because it gives you a conclusion that you cannot produce any good and that conclusion will keep you in guilt and sometimes shame.
Once the voice of the inner critic is so loud and believed, forgiving yourself is impossible. How can you forgive someone who will always do wrong no matter what good they receive? How can you forgive someone who is is just wrong and won’t be better?
This is a second major cause why people don’t forgive themselves. They think they always have to meet up a standard else they aren’t good at all.
Perfectionist don’t see a grey area: It is either white or black. You are either the best or the worst. You are either good or bad, nothing in between.
The dilemma of the perfectionist is further strengthened by the inner critic explained above, but one who is not a perfectionist would not have their inner critic condemn them if they give a 60 percent output.
As a perfectionist, if you do something you consider wrong, you not only see yourself as not giving enough good, but as going even miles far below your expected standard.
A perfectionist expects that things are always right, so when they aren’t right, it isn’t easily gotten over. It’s always like committing the gravest offense.
But it also falls down to the work of the inner critic hammering that you just can’t do good.
So we can say the primary reason why anyone finds it difficult to forgive themself is that they focus on themself as the wrong and not the wrong actually done.
The entire work of the inner critic and how to be free from it is demystified in this article on making your inner critic work for you.
3. Difficulty in forgiving others
If you can’t forgive others, forgiving yourself will be also difficult because the habit of forgiveness has not been formed at all.
Someone who always holds people for the wrongs they have done might also hold themself for doing that wrong because why shouldn’t they hold themselves? They have done something wrong
It can also be considered that not forgiving yourself will make you not to forgive others instead of the other way around but which ever way….
If you practice forgiving (either yourself or others), you will have developed the attitude of forgiveness and it will be easier to pass it to the other party(either others or yourself).
But if not, forgiveness will remain difficult.
Dangers of Not Forgiving Yourself
1. Occurrence of future wrong
It almost seems counterintuitive but dwelling on past mistakes only makes you more likely to perform another mistake. Whatever you focus on, magnifies. If you focus on the wrongs they will increase.
The way to prevent wrongs from happening is by taking careful steps. Not forgiving yourself will not let you take careful steps because instead on looking at what is ahead you are still looking at what is behind. No one goes forward seamlessly while looking back.
2. Hindered progress
There are two reasons why not forgiving yourself will hinder your progress. (i) you are not looking ahead, so you can’t go ahead (ii) you are seeing yourself as the wrong and so, will go into every activity discouraged and expecting wrong.
In fact, not forgiving yourself might create a cycle of failure: first you made the mistake, then you refuse to forgive yourself and because of that, you make another mistake that makes you want to punish yourself even more, then you don’t focus on what’s ahead, then you make another mistake… and the cycle continues.
That cycle must be broken at one point for any success to come. But if you are waiting to get some success before you forgive yourself, none will come because the cycle is already in motion.
Failure, caused by lack of forgiveness is always certain to come because (unforgiveness) the cause remains. The only factor you can change is the forgiveness aspect. You will have to forgive yourself while you are still making mistakes. And the result of that forgiveness will be the possibility of success.
3. You can’t accept God’s love
If you can’t forgive yourself, you can’t accept God’s love. The fact that you don’t forgive yourself means you are already bent on deserving everything you receive. You feel you should do something to deserve forgiveness for you to forgive yourself. But like the cycle above explains, that good never comes.
God’s love in the other hand is something we cannot deserve.
Why should God love or care about me with all these wrongs I have done? That’s the voice of one who can’t forgive himself. But since God does not count our wrongs, we will have to stop counting them too to receive all He has to give.
Seeing the dangers of not forgiving yourself, how can get out of that pit?
How To Forgive Yourself
1. Judge your intentions
This is the first step towards forgiving yourself: to find enough proof to silence your inner critic. Most of the wrongs we have done that makes it difficult to forgive ourselves aren’t done intentionally. Even when they are intentionally done, we are now sorry for them and wish they didn’t happen.
If you are not sorry for what you did, there’s no point seeking forgiveness yet. It is either what you did was not wrong so you are not sorry or you are still holding on to the ‘fight’. Forgiveness comes after the fight. Either way, forgiveness is not the first issue to be tackled.
Being sorry doesn’t always mean you wish you didn’t take the action. Sometimes, the action was necessary but the effect the action is producing is what you are sorry for. At this point, you can also proceed with the journey of forgiveness.
2. Understand nothing can change
The second step to forgiving yourself is to understand that nothing can change. Your regret, guilt, unforgiveness, or moodiness cannot reverse what has been done. Worse, it can’t make the other person forgive you or forget what has been done.
What you should focus on is how to avoid it from occurring again. That’s the only thing you can control. And from the dangers of not forgiving yourself, we saw that it will only bring more wrongs.
All I’ve ever seen guilt change is that it makes bad, worse.
3. Treat yourself like you would treat a friend
Imagine if what you did was done by a very close friend. How would you react? What would be your response when you see they greatly regret and are sorry for what they did. What would have been your response if you saw them drowning in not forgiving themself?
The same way you will forgive your friend when they apologize, forgive yourself in your apology.
You are just as human as anyone else and are prone to mistake.
4. Accept God’s love
The concept of God’s love is learning to receive what you don’t deserve. God loves us for who we are. What we do or don’t do cannot increase or reduce His love towards us.
The more you learn to accept God’s love, the more you develop the habit of not deserving everything you get, and the easier forging yourself becomes.
If the most holy God (who doesn’t make mistakes) can forgive you for your wrongs, why shouldn’t you (a frail person) forgive someone who has offended (this time, yourself).
5. Intentionally refuse to punish yourself
When we don’t forgive ourselves, we try to make ourselves pay for what we have done. Insist on not paying for what you have done. If you constantly have to pay for what you have done to forgive yourself, you aren’t really forgiving yourself you are only ‘breaking even’.
Forgiveness is something that is given not exchanged.
What this is training you to do is to get used to letting things go.
However, precaution must be taken so you don’t get used to committing wrong. The balance here is: I don’t want to do wrongs but anytime I fall short of my standard and do wrong, I will let it go and work on avoiding future wrongs.
6. Learn from your mistakes
You are still human. If you continue to make the same mistakes, forgiving yourself might become difficult again. So make every mistake an opportunity to learn (because that’s what it is).
Look out for what sponsored every mistake and note them so you can avoid them in the future. Your mistakes can become blessings if you maximize them. Lessons you learnt from your mistakes can also be used to teach others.
If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you will go on in the mistake-failure-unforgiveness cycle.
7. Practice forgiving others
The more you forgive others, the more you get used to forgiving. And forgiving yourself wouldn’t be as difficult anymore.
Remember, one of the ways to forgive yourself is by treating yourself as you would treat a friend. If you don’t forgive your friends, you won’t forgive yourself either too.
We find it difficult to forgive ourselves because our inner critics are making us see ourselves as the wrong, not what is actually done.
You can get better at forgiving yourself when you judge your intentions and understand nothing can change. Accepting God’s love, refusing to punish yourself, and forgiving others will teach you how to let things go.
What steps (listed or not listed) have helped you on your journey of forgiving yourself?