• Forgiveness is a skill we can learn, and so is self forgiveness •
Research shows that being unforgiving will damage your health • Learning how
to forgive yourself is definitely worthwhile! Read on ...
We sometimes think that forgiveness is all about our enemies or those who did us
wrong, but that is only half of the picture - perhaps less than half! Forgiving
yourself may just be even more important than forgiving others, because if you
cannot forgive yourself then forgiving others (and life itself) becomes very,
Furthermore ALL forgiveness is more about ourselves than about
anything or anyone else. YOU are the primary benefactor of your own forgiveness.
In short: If you are interested in forgiveness, learning about how to
forgive yourself is an excellent place to start!
Of course, as an
alternative, getting into the daily habit of forgiving others is ALSO a fine way
of learning self forgiveness. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,
and as you do it often enough, you will find that it is easier to forgive
Most of us know the phenomenon
of an inner voice that professes to want to help us but which is
terribly judgmental and generally obsessed with being overly
critical of us. It is, in other words, beating us up.
Oftentimes that inner voice also judgmentally narrates our every
move (both before it happens, as it happens and after it has
happened), thus effectively turning our life experience into some
kind of cheap secondhand pulp fiction story instead of the
wonderful, intense here-and-now experience that it actually is.
Though most people are only aware of a single inner voice, in
fact we all have several distinctly different inner voices. This is
true even though we are perfectly mentally healthy - there is
absolutely nothing shizophrenic about having one or more such inner
That said we are actually better off without that
critical inner voice, or at least we are better off if we have the
tools and techniques to handle them properly. Drs. Hal and
Stone have pretty
much specialized in those inner voices, and they have developed the
self help technique called
to deal constructively with them. Reading
their books is highly recommended.
Anytime you want clarity
looking through a simple set of lenses called fear versus love is a
nice tool to use ... Just look at something (anything) and ask
yourself: 'Is this based in love or fear?'
If it is based in
love all is well, and if it's based in fear, you need to either
avoid it or turn it on its head so it becomes love based instead.
When we look at what our critical inner voice is saying it
becomes abundantly clear that it is based in fear - it keeps
yammering about all the negative, terrible things that can happen
and how you need to be different in order to be OK (or even:
perfect) and do better in order to not be a loser (or some such
Also, much of what the inner voice has to say is
based on fear's close cousins: shame, stress, hate, disgust and
Apart from making you stupid (a hallmark of fear),
studies and research at e.g. Stanford University have shown that
shame, guilt, stress, anger, hate, and other fear based emotions can
cause or worsen diseases, such as autoimmune disorders, ulcers,
heart disease and cancer. On top of that come several unpleasant
mental conditions such as anxiety and depression.
All that is
no good at all; what you need is to forgive yourself.
Why We Don't Forgive Ourselves
Why don't we forgive ourselves?
Because we don't want to. Why don't we want to forgive ourselves?
For a whole host of reasons - many of them completely asinine!
First off, we may be in denial. We don't want (or aren't able)
to acknowledge that what we did (or: didn't do) was wrong or that it
hurt ourselves or someone else. We're scared to face the
consequences of our actions, so we deny the facts to protect
Secondly, we may be busy projecting. The two basic
ways that you might be projecting something are: a) from you onto
someone else (making it difficult for you to forgive others for
something you yourself did) and b) from someone else onto you
yourself (making it difficult for you to forgive yourself for
something others did). Either way you get to avoid placing
responsibility where it belongs.
Thirdly, we may be motivated
by what we think are other people's expectations. The thing is,
though, that not only do we not have any control over what other
people think, feel do and say, we don't actually KNOW what their
feelings, thoughts and expectations of us are. And furthermore,
other people are just as prone to projecting as we are - so when
they actually DO state their feelings, thoughts and expectations of
you, they almost always do so because of THEIR OWN fear, guilt and
shame (usually what they think of as their own imperfections and
Fourthly, we may suffer from perfectionism and
false pride - too high expectations of ourselves. Many times we do
not allow ourselves to make mistakes and to fail. So when we do -
and we all do, over and over again - it seems intolerable. Nobody is
flawless and perfect, you know, and holding yourself to a standard
of perfection is SURE to put you down. Forgiveness and self
forgiveness, on the other hand, is humbling and brings with it the
frightening possibility of unconditional acceptance (which leads up
to the next point, below).
Fifthly, we may suffer from fear
of the unknown. Some people are so used to feeling guilty and
ashamed, that they don't want to leave that state of being. At least
(they feel) when they are guilty, the feelings are familiar and they
know how they are expected to feel, think and behave. Consequently
sometimes we'd rather stay trapped in our guilt and shame than walk
out in the unknown of freedom, love and happiness.
and this one is a biggie, we may want to punish ourselves. In
several cultures around the world, including the Western culture, we
are unhealthily obsessed with 'right' vs. 'wrong' as well as
punishment. Feelings like guilt and shame abound, and the pain and
suffering of NOT forgiving yourself is supposed to be your
punishment for whatever 'wrong' you think and feel you have
Even though the one that we hurt might want to set
us free with forgiveness, we cannot accept it because we feel like
we don't deserve it and we aren't worthy of it. We think we deserve
punishment, and if somebody else won't give that punishment to us,
we'll give it to ourselves!
This, obviously, is stupid. A
person who is suffering isn't a better person than a happy person -
if anything quite the contrary.
If you've ever been around
someone in chronic physical pain you will know how hard a time they
have being 'nice' - the constant pain shortens their fuse and makes
it difficult for them not to be judgmental and snap at others.
Hence, the more guilt, shame, anger, resentment, hate, stress
and other painful, fear based emotions you allow yourself to
entertain, the less of a 'good' and 'nice' person you are likely to
be. And it doesn't matter who those negative feelings are directed
at, be it you or other people, they still make you more unpleasant
to be around than you would have been had you gone through the
process of (self) forgiveness.
Instead of an open, loving,
vulnerable heart, we let our hearts become defensive, closed-off,
contracted and fear-filled.
Of course, self-loathing and a
lack of forgiveness may in fact protect you somewhat from being hurt
in exactly the same way again - since self-loathing and a lack of
forgiveness is tantamount to putting yourself in a deep, dark,
lonely dungeon with thick walls that no one else can penetrate.
However, you may well get hurt again in a manner that is not the
same but surprisingly similar; it's like 'if you don't get the
lesson, variations on it will be repeated until you do.' Life is
funny that way.
Also, forgiveness is NOT condoning the
wrongdoing, or forgetting what happened, nor is it a lack of
accountability / responsibility or 'being weak' in any way ... it is
a way to get out of the role as a victim and to
In actuality, there are several other reasons as well, why we
don't want to forgive ourselves. You can read the part called 'Our
Cultural Heritage Confuses Us' on the page
'What Is Forgiveness' to
find more interesting reasons for lack of forgiveness and, by
inference, self forgiveness.
What Is Self Forgiveness About?
Basically, there are two levels of self forgiveness: Self acceptance
and self forgiveness.
You need to: a) accept yourself for
what you are, and you need to: b) forgive yourself for some specific
things you may have done.
If you don't like who and what you
are, you may be able to change that. But in order to change
something you first need to see it for what it really is.
you don't accept something, you're flying blind, and the changes you
make, if indeed you even succeed in making any, may well be the
opposite of what you wanted.
So, unless you accept yourself
fully as who and what you are right now, you will not be able to
make any conscious, positive changes to who and what you are. The
first step to any change is always acceptance of what currently is.
After that, it's a question of personal development.
second step is actual self forgiveness. That is much more specific
than acceptance. It's never about who and what you are, it's always
about what you have done (or neglected to do). So, how do you
10 Steps to Self Forgiveness
Forgiveness is a decision and therefore it doesn't have to take long
at all, but oftentimes forgiveness is more of an ongoing process
that takes time because you need to go through phases as you
convince yourself that
forgiving yourself is a good idea (as well as being the high road to
setting yourself free and finding inner peace).
complete the self forgiving process, you may be able to do some
steps much quicker than others, this is normal. Furthermore you
should consider going through all of the below steps to forgiveness
more than once - again and again until you are able to fully forgive
yourself. Just like with any other type of forgiveness, writing
things down - and perhaps also talking to a non-judgmental friend
(or a mental health professional) is a good idea.
Here is a
brief overview of all the 10 steps:
1. Make a commitment to
feel better 2. Count the cost - both of what happened AND of your
unforgiveness 3. Attribute responsibility - to others, to life
itself, and to yourself 4. Feel your feelings in their fullness -
and express them. State what is not okay 5. Check your personal
boundaries - and set + enforce better ones 6. De-monsterize the
other (the offender) 6.1. De-monsterize life 6.2. De-monsterize
yourself and let go of the guilt and shame 7. Realize that you're
telling a story of grievance - and stop doing it 8. Relinquish
revenge, retribution and even justice 9. Perform a ritual of
forgiveness (and, if applicable: apologize) 10. Practice
mindfulness and live each day as if it were both your first and your
The steps to self forgiveness outlined above are exactly
the same as the 10 steps to forgiving others which are described in
detail on the page How to Forgive Please check
out that page for detailed info and instructions.
We can learn how to forgive both others
and ourselves. It is largely a question of practice, so the more we
do it, the better we get at it. You can practice self acceptance (of
who and what you are) as well as self forgiveness (of what you've
done) until self forgiveness becomes your daily habit, a beautiful
art. It will benefit you immensely, so give it a try, okay?
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