On forgiving yourself

“Brady, … I also find it hard to forgive myself for missed opportunities, fear, mistakes, etc. That’s hard to live with at times.

As a response to my previous post, I want to thank you for sharing this sentiment, and I’d like to spend some time with it. Forgiving others and being forgiven by others has a different shape and texture than forgiving yourself. It feels different too, because you must acknowledge what you have done and also how it has impacted others, as well as yourself.

I like to think that most of us want to be seen as loving, kind, and simply good persons. In that want, it can be painful, if paralyzing, to face evidence to the contrary. Shame may come up as we acknowledge that we aren’t as loving as we thought we were, as kind as we would like to be, or as good as we believed. Fear, too, can dig in the idea that we are somehow unforgiveable and not worthy of being loved because of what we have done, and therefore what we are.

As with others, we oftentimes hurt ourselves unintentionally, rather than going out of our way to intentionally damage our sense of self, our reputation, or our identity. We can do this by giving an answer to someone else about what they want to hear and not what we truly want to say. We can take the emotional easy route, because we do not want to be more tired. We can pass up a chance to try something new while hating the more dependable choices we tend to make. We can stay in a relationship for someone else, and not for our own wants. We can swallow our feelings, and secretly hate the shapeless quality of our emotions, because reason somehow dictates that we shouldn’t feel this way. We may have hurt others, yes, and yet, a persistent part of us knows that in fact we have also hurt ourselves.

Others might forgive us for what we have done, yet we are the only ones that can forgive ourselves for the choices we made, and the actions we took.

Other’s forgiveness might acknowledge your pain in not forgiving yourself, and yet it oftentimes feeds the hurt. Comforting words, that may seek to help others find a way to forgive themselves for mistakes, or missed opportunities, usually don’t comfort. These cold words sound like, “it wasn’t meant to be,” or “perhaps it’s for the best,” or even a twisty, “when one door closes another door opens.” These seemingly comforting words belay very little, and overlook the difficulty and pain of missed opportunities. Mistakes have the same hue. Others might offer a packaged response to console you, as if to say, “I know you didn’t mean that.” You might even say it to yourself, as way of trying to take back words that were spit out from your own lips; words you meant, even if briefly. With these expressions, forgiveness doesn’t really land, and we can be left unhealed and remain internally divided.

Living with what you have done, living with your actions, and wholly, if kindly, accepting the consequences is the challenge then with forgiving one’s self. To me, forgiving oneself can be a lifelong process of striving for redemption, and yet it can arrive unexpectedly in the space of your own heartbeat. To be kind to yourself, and to acknowledge what you have done, is at the same time the starting point, the long journey, and the soft end point in forgiving yourself.

We all do the best we can, as much as we are able to. That includes you. You did the best you could.

(Originally written December 11, 2012)

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn forgiving yourself

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