The Art of Self-Forgiveness

We are taught that forgiveness is something we give to others and receive from others. Folks who are in some way offended, hurt or violated by us are allegedly in control of whether or not we are deserving of forgiveness. This leaves us virtually out of control regarding the role of forgiveness in our lives. For example, someone consumed by revenge may be a significant impediment to our experience of being forgiven.

The prefix for in the word forgive comes from the German meaning away. We can think of the word forgive as meaning away give or to give away our transgressions. As we do so, our essential personal worth is restored. It is curious to note that if we depend upon others for forgiveness, then we are dependent upon them in order to feel good about ourselves. It may be that such a dependency is fostered throughout childhood, placing the control of or our personal value in the hands of others. The result is that self-forgiveness becomes confusing and at best arduous. Let's look at some steps that can yield a budding ability for self-forgiveness.

Steps To Self-Forgiveness

* Accepting and talking about feelings of remorse, regret, guilt and shame due to violating our own values. This step suggests it is important to know our values and when there has been a breach to one of them. When people complain and object to our behavior, does not translate into we did something wrong. Wrong action is determined by our values and not by the disapproval of others. We can use the disapproval of others to check out whether we actually acted in opposition to one of our values.

* Moving out of a fixation on self-incrimination. It is important to process what happened in order to enlarge our vision of how we came to make the choice we did. Some questions that can be helpful include: How did I come to believe that the action carried out was not a violation of my values? Did the action reflect the result of two competing values, with one being sacrificed? Were there intervening variables I was not aware of? Is there some understanding of my motivation that I can have in retrospect?

* Restitution and/or making amends. Is there some compensation to be offered to the injured party in the way of a service, money or the replacement of damaged property? Sometimes making an amends can be helpful in support of forgiving ourselves. An amends is an apology (expression of regret) accompanied by a commitment to refrain from the adverse behavior. An amends is not offered if it would create greater harm to either the injured party or the person making the amends.

* Accepting that being fully alive means making mistakes. This calls for a level of humility, allowing us to be more accepting of our limits and letting go of perfectionistic aspirations.

* Acknowledging that forgiveness is the restoration of our essential goodness and therefore it is our fundamental responsibility. We become willing to let go of the expectation that others are responsible to forgive us, or that our self-forgiveness is dependent upon being forgiven by another.

* Ask for help. It can be very important to turn to a friend, mentor, counselor or clergy person whom we trust can help guide us toward authentic self-forgiveness. It is vital that the helper not attempt to minimize what we did in order to have us feeling more cheerful. Nor should the helper be prone to shaming us. Helpers need to offer the kind of support that leads us to hold a larger understanding of what we did while assisting us in interrupting any perfectionism.

Being unskilled at self-forgiveness can leave us dependent upon others for our self-worth, being risk-adverse, haunted by guilt and shame, trapped in self-loathing and condemned to superficial relationships where the hope is that making mistakes will be minimized. Ultimately, becoming more effective at self-forgiveness is simply a way to remain responsible for our self-worth. It is also a large welcome to our humanity as we release perfectionistic ambitions and attend to the task of inner reconciliation.

Making peace with ourselves is not a self-absorbed activity. We typically live with more courage when we hold the faith that we will devotionally move toward self-forgiveness. A risk that might have unfavorable consequences is no longer paralyzing, as we can anticipate moving toward self-forgiveness. It is a freedom that can yield more depth and meaning in our relationships. When we are not defending a self-concept pummeled by guilt and self-incrimination, we become more generous with offering compassion to others. Forgiveness possesses a heart-opening quality that tempers resentment and vindictiveness, allowing us to be more receptive to seeking reconciliation with others. As we strive less for perfection, we discover a growing acceptance for the limits and shortcomings of others. There is an abiding honoring of the human condition reflected by our own lives and the lives of others.


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