What about when the person who hurt you and left you feeling powerless was the one who was closer to you than any other living being? What if the one you need to forgive is...you?
Forgiving yourself is a lot more complicated in some ways. Now you’re not only up against a lot of emotions, but you’re also battling your entire history, how you see yourself, and the self-talk you’re in the habit of listening to. What makes this even more complicated is how skewed we sometimes are in our thinking when we consider what we think of ourselves. Let's look at some of the more common reasons we struggle with self-forgiveness:
Most forgiveness in our lives starts with someone else tendering an apology. This acts as a signal of something we need to act on. We tend not to think in these terms when we've done something that feels like self-betrayal. We'll become mad and frustrated at ourselves and not realize we still have an opportunity for action, which will help resolve it.
More often than not, we've already forgiven what made us feel bad, and now something else has reminded us of the incident, making the whole self-betrayal feel fresh and new. Unfortunately, this triggering of the past will bring up all the negative emotions and generally suppress the fact we've already forgiven ourselves for it.
It's not always easy to acknowledge when you mess things up. By forgiving yourself, you're having to accept there was something to forgive. You really did let yourself down somehow.
Much like the previous point, this excuse is also all about denial. Only this time, you're not worried about where to assign blame. You're flat out refusing to admit the incident happened at all. While you'd think this excuse would be more common when dealing with other people (when someone does this to you, it's called 'gaslighting'), we can become experts at erasing uncomfortable memories from our minds when we want to badly enough. The outcome? If nothing happened, there’s nothing to forgive.
It’s sometimes really hard to put a name to your emotions, especially when you’re feeling a lot of them at once. How in the world are you supposed to forgive yourself when you’re not sure what you need, the form the forgiveness should take, or what emotions you’re trying to quiet with this forgiveness?
Again, this excuse falls into the category of denial but of a different sort. If we are the victim of something or even someone else, then we have no responsibility for our actions, emotions, or anything that happened afterward. In this case, forgiveness can feel frightening because it means you have some responsibility for what happened after all. This isn’t always an easy pill to swallow.
Have you ever just wanted to feel bad for a while? When things go wrong, sometimes we want to feel sorry for ourselves, sulk, or even just cry for a while. No wonder you're avoiding forgiveness if this is the case. Forgiveness forces you out of these emotions completely.
Forgiveness can be a humbling experience. We like to think we have things under control, we don't need any help, and we certainly don't need to be told how to think or feel. We're doing just fine where we are. Aren't we? Pride can be a bitter pill to swallow, especially when you're struggling with the idea you've let yourself down. Forgiveness does require a humble heart.
Sometimes we avoid forgiveness because it feels like it’s at odds with what we’ve been taught in the past. Many religious practices and no small number of teachers or authority figures in our lives have let us know we have to earn our way back into good graces again by doing atonement for our actions. We’ll go out of our way to escape forgiveness if we feel like we haven’t done enough to ‘deserve’ it.
What’s the point of forgiveness if you’re only going to mess up at some point and do the whole thing over again? This is an especially common excuse if you have been letting yourself down in a specific habitual way. For example, if you keep sneaking cigarettes when you’ve been trying to quit smoking.
What’s the point of forgiving yourself when you know you’re a bad person? We have a hard enough time forgiving people we don’t like whom we know well. If you’re really struggling with self-hatred, this can be especially difficult, as you won’t see the value in doing anything nice for yourself at all. To your way of thinking, you’re too awful of a person to deserve it.
The situation seems pretty bleak, doesn't it? With so many lies we've been telling ourselves about forgiveness, no wonder we become overwhelmed when it comes time to forgive. Thankfully, there's an answer to every one of these excuses and more. Let's move on to the next chapter, where we'll learn some practical tips on becoming more forgiving.
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Hi, my name is Melissa Ebken, and I'm so glad you found your way here.
I am at home in the difficult spaces of peoples’ lives, willing to listen and to support those who work to grow themselves. I am a trained coach and have consulted with churches in conflict. Not your stereotypical minister, I embrace the Gospel with joy and laughter as I seek to help those around me grow in faith and understanding, always striving to leave people better than they came. An agent of wholeness, I create a safe space for people, especially those who have been marginalized, where they can understand how ridiculously loved and valued they are by God/Higher Power/Spirit, and to experience the difference that makes in life.
I started the Pursuing Uncomfortable Podcast to share the stories of people who have faced life's most difficult challenges, to inspire you to lean into and overcome your own. It's helpful to know that you're not alone in your struggles and to see how others have navigated similar circumstances. You can listen to it here.
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