Monday, August 21, 2006

Forgiving Ourselves

Comments Brian and John Michael both made reminded me that this is a special category of forgiveness. How many of you find it easier to forgive others than to forgive yourself for mistakes you’ve made—or think you’ve made?

That last is important because I think sometimes we assume things are our fault and blame ourselves when we haven’t done anything wrong.

Now I am NOT advocating blinding ourselves to mistakes we DO make! That’s part of the problem with abusers—they find it way too easy to tell themselves they did nothing wrong. What I am advocating is looking at situations as clearly as we can and only take responsibility for the part that is in fact due to our words and actions.

I DO advocate making amends for harm we’ve caused whenever it is possible to do so without causing even more harm. Perhaps I should say that it’s important to find a way to make amends that does not cause additional harm. We need to do so NOT to get forgiveness from the other person but rather so that we can forgive ourselves. Because in the end, that’s what matters. No one can tell us it’s okay to violate the code by which we believe we should live. Even if we try to believe them, there will be a part of us that knows/insists we are doing wrong. Whether or not the other person forgives us, we cannot and will not be at peace with ourselves until we are able to find forgiveness within ourselves for what we have done. And that means making amends if possible and if not then doing what we can so that we do not repeat the harm in the future.

That’s when the harm we’ve done is real. What about guilt we feel that’s misplaced? What about when we can’t forgive ourselves for things that weren’t our fault? Or because we hold ourselves to an impossible standard?

That’s the tricky part—knowing what’s impossible and what isn’t. Often, we look back and with the knowledge we have now, we believe we should have done things differently in the past. And perhaps we would have—if we had known then what we know now and had the tools then that we have now. But we didn’t. We did the best we could at the time.

I look back at choices and decisions I made at various points in my life and wish I had done things differently. It is a struggle sometimes to realize I did the best I could. But that’s the reality.

We can’t go back—we can only go forward. And it is choosing to live our lives NOW with honor and with kindness toward others and with a protective wisdom toward ourselves that we can find forgiveness for ourselves for past perceived mistakes.

It’s crucial that we find ways to forgive ourselves. If we cannot forgive ourselves for choices we made or ways we got hurt in the past, we won’t be open to love now. If we cannot forgive ourselves for past mistakes we won’t dare try new things now. If we cannot accept ourselves as human, our energy will go into trying not to hate ourselves or to blaming ourselves and not into changing and becoming the people we want to be and living the lives we want to have.

If we were abused as children, we are accustomed to taking blame onto our own shoulders because we needed to believe that to survive. We are accustomed to failing because we once lived in situations where we could not win and that became our reality. But it does not have to stay that way. We can love and accept ourselves as human and forgive ourselves. If we need to make amends we can find ways to do so. And for those we may have in some way harmed, isn’t it better anyway to put our energy into making those amends rather than into trying to punish ourselves?

The more we love and accept ourselves, the more we will be able to love and accept others and the more likely we are to become the people we want to be. After all, it is much easier to become good and honorable people if we believe it is possible for us to do so!

I’ve said before that I believe all harm comes out of a person’s self-hate or hurt or fear. Therefore, the more you are able to love and accept yourself, the less likely you are to want or need to hurt others. And if it happens unintentionally, the more quickly you will be able to take whatever steps you can to make amends.

Wishing you all the ability to love and forgive yourselves. Sending safe and gentle ((((((hugs)))))),



john michael said...

very nice followup blog, i sincerely hope a lot of survivors read this, it is so important to them even more than most people under "normal" circunstances

peace and blessings

john and keepers

April_optimist said...

John and Keepers,

Thank you. I do believe this is important. It is one of the hardest challenges we face and one of the most life changing when we succeed. Sometimes that success comes in stages but every bit of self-forgiveness we can manage makes a difference.