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 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
Your 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 judge within you that claims to ensure you do the right things, but instead of just highlighting the wrongs you have done, it shows you how wrong YOU are.
This becomes unhealthy because it gives you a conclusion that you cannot produce any good and that conclusion will keep you guilty 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 just wrong and won’t be better?
This is the second major cause why people won’t forgive themselves. They think they always have to meet up a standard, or else they aren’t good at all.
Perfectionists 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, but one who is not a perfectionist would not have their inner critic condemn them if they give a 60 percent output.
While everybody else does something not so good and thinks, “this is not so good”, as a perfectionist your standard is so unproportionately high that you say, “this is too bad.”
And if you see yourself as the reason why it is so bad, you beat yourself up for it. If it continues, you begin to give up on your ability to do any good.
Both from points one and two, it can be seen that whenever you see yourself (not the act) as the wrong, you won’t forgive yourself.
3. Difficulty in forgiving others
If you can’t forgive others, forgiving yourself will also be difficult because you haven’t formed the habit of forgiveness.
If you expect that everyone must be made to pay for the wrongs they do, you will also expect that yourself.
For some people, not forgiving themselves is the reason they cannot forgive others instead of the other way around but whichever way….
If you practice forgiving (either yourself or others), you will develop the habit of forgiveness and it will be easier to pass it on 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 of looking at what is ahead you are still looking at what is behind.
No one goes forward while looking backward.
2. Hindered progress
There are two reasons why not forgiving yourself will hinder your progress.
- you are not looking ahead, so you can’t go ahead
- 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 make a 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 a lack of forgiveness is always certain to come because the cause (unforgiveness) 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 good to deserve forgiveness for you to forgive yourself. But the cycle is in motion so good never comes.
God’s love on 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.
Now, after seeing the dangers of not forgiving yourself, how can you 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 make 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 in 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. But 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 situations 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 be your response if you saw them drowning in not forgiving themself?
In 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 mistakes.
4. Accept God’s love
Receiving 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 toward 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 holiest 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, precautions must be taken so you don’t get comfortable doing 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 learn from your mistakes can also be taught to others.
If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you will go on in the mistake-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.
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.
Olusegun Iyejare is a career coach and certified counselor. He helps individuals discover and maximize their potential to live satisfying lives regardless of obvious limitations holding them back.