Sep 172013 10 Responses

How Do I Forgive Myself?

We all make mistakes. Some are small; some are big; but we all make them.

And when we make them we stand in need of forgiveness. We need the forgiveness of those we offended or let down, but we also need to forgive ourselves.

While this is necessary, many people struggle to do so.

On a regular basis I am asked, “How do I forgive myself.”

The answer is simple—you don’t.

You don’t, because you can’t.

Forgiveness is not something we can give to ourselves; it is something which can only be received. It is a gift which is given. But we don’t want to receive forgiveness, we want to accomplish forgiveness.

This desire is born from the longing to control and accomplish.

When we’ve wronged someone, we want to do something to erase the mistake. We want to earn forgiveness in order to say we have made everything right.

Yet where true forgiveness is needed, we cannot do anything to completely erase the fault. Where true forgiveness is needed we must be able to admit that after everything is done, we still stand in need. Forgiveness has to be given and received; it cannot be accomplished or achieved.

The biggest barrier standing between someone and receiving forgiveness is pride.

An inability to forgive ourselves is an evidence of pride.

It doesn’t feel like pride. It feels like humility. It feels like a desire to make things right.

Yet it is pride.

It is pride which is based on a deception that we have the ability to be perfect. We believe we do not need to receive forgiveness because we have the ability to either never make a mistake or if we do make a mistake, we have the ability to make things right.

This is the height of human arrogance and ignorance.

To the extent that we realize our human frailty and imperfection we will have the ability to give and receive forgiveness.

This is the hidden secret of our inability to receive forgiveness—those who struggle to receive forgiveness often struggle to give forgiveness.

It’s not always the case, but often we are slow to give to others what we struggle to receive for ourselves. We want others to earn it or deserve it. We want them to make everything right even though they do not have the ability to do so.

We live in a world where we are slow to receive forgiveness and slow to give forgiveness.

Doesn’t this explain so much?

Doesn’t this explain:

  • a high divorce rate
  • a low percentage of people with meaningful relationships
  • a divided workplace
  • a contentious church culture
  • half the posts on Facebook

Unable to give or receive forgiveness, we harbor anger, resentment, bitterness, and every other negative emotion.

The beginning of the end of these emotions is the ability to receive forgiveness—to receive, not accomplish, but receive that which we do not deserve.

Many people go through life never being able to forgive themselves because they believe forgiveness is something which is achieved. Life changes when they understand forgiveness is something received.

When they receive forgiveness, they are more likely to give it. When a person, family, community, or culture gives and receives forgiveness freely, everything changes.

10 Responses to How Do I Forgive Myself?
  1. Judy Cagle Reply

    This GREAT Kevin!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Christina Schoeppey Reply

    Thank you for this message!

  3. Sue Rogers Reply

    Powerful message!!!!

  4. […] How Do I Forgive Myself […]... kevinathompson.com/im-sorry
  5. Rosanne Reply

    Hi Kevin,

    This is my first reply. I have been reading for some time now and find much wisdom within your posts. Thank you for that. I am a single mom of two girls entering young adulthood. My older is struggling with some poor choices and so this subject is quite relevant for myself. I also would like to be very transparent here, since I value honesty. As a person and in the role of mother, I have been in need of forgiveness and giving forgiveness many times over. What is a little troubling to me in this post however, is the assertion that there is no such thing as “forgiving ourselves.” I may be reading this wrong and not getting your intention. If so, more than happy to listen further. That being said, I am not sure that there aren’t times that warrant one’s own forgiveness. Perhaps you haven’t experienced this situation. I have, and I see my older daughter now going through a similar circumstance. She has lost trust in a relationship, has admitted her wrongdoing, and sincerely apologized and her actions to date has shown her trustworthiness, time and again. She has listened to this other persons emotions and stumbling when he recalls her action that led to the distrust, after he says he has forgiven her, She repeatedly, in those moments apologizes again, acknowledges his feelings of hurt, and continues to show her trustworthiness by putting boundaries in place for herself where she will not make the same mistake. She has learned for herself that in the past she has made judgments of others and now has seen her own humanness and that she too can fall prey to the same kind of mistakes. That in and of itself has been a hard lesson and a humbling one So she is learning and acknowledging many aspects of humanity and how no one is “above” anyone, and it is through this knowing that we can feel compassion for others when they make mistakes. However, when another says they forgive you, but yet repeatedly brings up this action, even though you continue to stay steadfast in your commitment to not make the same mistake, this can become abusive. What I see happening in my daughter, is that when he decides to rehash the incident, she goes to a place of self-loathing because she is putting her self-worth into whether this person is forgiving her. She is letting another person hold her hostage. I happen to think this is because she has not forgiven herself. She is not understanding that we are human and make mistakes, and if we own them, take the action to change and put in place guidelines for ourselves so we do not repeat them, let that mistake shed light on our own judgment of others and heal that so we understand we are neither “above” any one else, or “below” any one else, that is all that is in our control. This is, to me, the essence of self-love and love of others. It truly can “break us open” to see how we are all connected in our human condition and have compassion. At some point, though I do believe she would need to say to this person: I understand your pain, and I am truly sorry for it. However, this situation is no longer happening. I’ve learned from my mistake and have proven to myself that I indeed can change and acknowledge I have. I know you have said you have forgiven me, but if you can not let go of the past it will hold our present hostage. That is unfortunate. Perhaps it is my turn to forgive you for not being able to see the present moment. This seems to be still causing you great heartache, and for whatever reason, you can’t seem to let go of that pain. It has become cyclical. This cycle has become a cycle of pain. I am truly sorry and I wish there was some way I can make your pain go away, but only you have the key to that doorway. I can not keep putting my self-love in your hands. If you need to talk to someone professionally, please do. I know for myself (since both my girls are seeing a counselor since my divorce to work through their pain, as I am) it can help tremendously. (She actually has told him many times, not just over this situation, but other situations in his life, where he can not let go, to seek professional counseling). Perhaps, Kevin, if this conversation took place, there would be a pathway for both of them to step out of this downward spiral. It may mean that my daughter has to end this relationship. I see her deteriorating in front of my eyes, because every time she “forgives” herself, it seems this situation with him arises, and then she speaks horrible thngs to herself, as if she is a horrible person. This only points to me that she hasn’t forgiven herself and has let herself see that she has changed, and instead is not using healthy boundaries. If we only operate from a place that another can forgive us, we can become very unhealthy. I often think of Mary Magdeline in times like these. As those around her were stoning her, Jesus did say to those: the one among you who has not commited a mistake/sin, be the first to cast the stone. He then went on to forgive her and ask her to move forward differently in her life, and she did. Although scripture does not say, I am sure that there were still those who said, or thought of her as an adulterer/prostitute. If she were to allow their “opinions” of her, even though she changed her ways, hold her hostage, she could not move forward in her life, thus enabling her true self to become it’s highest self. So in those moments, when perhaps others may have called her names, something I suspect inside of her would have to say: yes, I was that, and I see the error in those ways, and you can call me that if you wish, but I am no longer that and continue to go forward in life differently. This takes acknowledgment of oneself and ones mistakes, and lets us bring light into ourselves. That we are ever evolving people, and our mistakes do not define us. This also moves us into compassion and forgiveness of oneself as well as forgiveness of those who can not find it in themselves to recognize their own mistakes. I believe such recognition is grace. Perhaps if my daughter were able to speak these words to her boyfriend, it would allow both to own their own, maybe go their separate ways differently, or even end up staying together, but in a healthier relationship that becomes an uplifting spiral on which honesty, humility, right action and love are the basis.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Rosanne,
      Thank you for reading and taking the time to reply. I’m sorry if I have written in an unclear manner or added any confusion. I think you and I are talking about similar things. My point is that forgiveness is something we receive from God, not do for ourselves. Maybe someone could talk to your daughter about the idea of receiving God’s forgiveness. List the offenses, write them down, ask for God’s forgiveness, read the promises of God from the Bible to forgive, and then burn the paper. From that point on, every time she talks negatively about herself or the situation, she can be reminded–you are forgiven, God has done that for you. To me, the problem sounds as though she doesn’t truly believe God loves her and forgives her. She is trying to do it for herself instead of receiving it from God. If I can help in any way, please let me know. You can contact my privately on the contact button.
      Kevin

  6. Rosanne Reply

    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for your response and thanks for inviting me to contact you privately. I did try to do so, but it didn’t seem to work. Not sure what kind of “help” you have in mind. Will try again, and see if that works. Have a wonderful day!

  7. James s. Gaye Reply

    Dear Kelvin ,
    Your posting is very much rewarding and think it digs out the inner view of people and the way we feel we are much better than others. Forgiveness fails because we feel we faultless and others are always faulty and so it be unjust to reward wrong doers with generosity. This why forgiveness has lost its roots. Many thanks sir, I am inspired.

  8. […] Imagine if your greatest shame was revealed. Your neighbors, friends, and co-workers learned somethi... kevinathompson.com/sometimes-you-are-your-past

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