Learning to Forgive Ourselves

Nicholas Hardy | February 07, 2018

Forgiveness is a topic that we are all familiar with.  If for nothing else, most of us have recited a part of what it means while reading the Lord’s Prayer.  

 “Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.”  

This two-part equation recognizes that at some point, we all will ask for and be asked to provide forgiveness.  Even for those who don’t have an in-depth understanding of forgiveness, still, can understand what it means to say “I’m sorry.”  

However, when it comes to forgiving ourselves, who is holding us accountable?  

How do we let go of our own bad decisions and stop punishing ourselves?  

Learning to forgive can be hard, especially when we are the one in need.

Here are several barriers that each of us must overcome as we begin the journey of learning to forgive ourselves:

Barrier One: Self-Inflicted Pain

It seems contradictory, but a hurdle to overcome in our journey of learning how to forgive ourselves is moving beyond self-inflicted pain. Accountability is one thing, which is our role in owning a mistake, or taking responsibility for our actions.  This is positive and can be used to prevent us from making the same mistake twice.

However, self-inflicted pain is when we allow negative emotions to linger, and hold merciless to self-defeating thoughts. This can be our way of punishing ourselves, or try to re-experience the same hurt we have caused others. This form of personal payback is a barrier to accepting forgiveness for ourselves.

Barrier Two: I Deserve It

How we treat others, doesn’t always reflect how we see ourselves, but the way we treat ourselves, almost always, is a direct reflection of our own thoughts and feelings. When we have a negative self-image, to feel bad, guilty, or ashamed, is to feel normal.  Therefore, allowing ourselves to receive forgiveness and release the burden of pain, contradicts our own norm.  With that being said, overcoming the barrier of our own self-perception can aid in the process of forgiveness.   

Barrier Three: Personal Feelings

The oxymoron of feelings is that we sometimes have to act our way into a feeling, instead of feeling our way into action.  Despite the temptation of waiting until we feel a certain way, by knowing that we have been forgiven, it’s imperative that we begin acting in a way that aligns with what’s already true.

Doing it Alone

The old saying is true, “you can’t heal what you hide.”  Forgiveness often requires that we move beyond the secrecy of our own negative thoughts.  In the journey of forgiveness, it’s important to find individuals we can openly share with, and that can simultaneously walk with us as we move forward.  

Nicholas Hardy is a counselor and a current PHD student in the Graduate College of Social Work at the University of Houston.

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