This statement, 'I can't forgive myself,' may put some of us into a box that we can't climb out of. It's a self fulfilling prophecy that keeps one locked into the self, invulnerable to others and safe from risking to love oneself. How about we change the language: it's hard to forgive myself...because it is.
I have experienced much hurt in my own life, I work with clients who have been hurt, and sometimes the saying 'hurt people, hurt people' starts to unfold in our own life. Our own pain bleeds out towards others in defensive, harsh ways or in an avoiding, dismissive stance. Vulnerability is intolerable so we have to fight it off, fend for our life and survive. However, many become stuck here. Stuck in a place of self condemnation due to their own failures, addictions and hurts they have spread. However, there is more to the story.
In self-condemnation or unforgiveness towards ourselves, have we looked at the full picture? Often, we learn how to hurt others by having been hurt ourselves. Instead of saying "What's wrong with me?" What about "What has happened to me?" We need to "make sense out of our pasts" (Siegel, 2010). What is the other half, the earlier half, to our narrative of hurting people and making mistakes?
It can be good to consider: if the same situation surfaced in this season, Would we do those things again? Probably not. Did we know what we were doing? "Father forgive them for they know not what they do" (Jesus, 33AD). Paul was the greatest of sinners, but listen to 1 Timothy 1: 13-14: "I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man, but I have been mercifully treated because I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief. Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus."
This doesn't mean we don't have to take responsibility, but many times we may have gotten to the point of having beaten ourselves up enough. We may even be taking too much responsibility or ownership for things in our life that were out of our control.
It may be time to say that I didn't know what I was doing. Father, I receive your forgiveness and I forgive myself. Consider some of these processing questions:
- Have I felt the softer feelings beneath the anger? Such as sadness, fear, disappointment...
- How about I repeat to myself the words of Christ? Father forgive me for I didn't know...
- What does the present moment look like and how is that different than the past? How do I feel about that?
Forgiveness breeds life. I encourage you to continue to face yourself, as this is a courageous act. It's ok to befriend yourself. "Be good to yourself and let God be good to you."