Reverb11: Self-Forgiveness

What one thing do you need to forgive yourself for this year?

Well, damn. Who would have guessed that I would have answered this prompt in my response to a previous prompt? Yet I have.
Of course, if I had any notion that the subject of forgiveness would be revisited during Reverb, especially as it relates to forgiving myself, I would not have chosen myself as the person who most needed my forgiveness earlier in the month. I would have spoken of someone else.
I thought briefly of writing in this prompt about the someone else I should forgive. The old switcheroo. Yet that seemed tacky.
I have some general thoughts on forgiving one’s self though.
Even the people who appear most forgiving of others can find it almost impossible to forgive themselves of their own trespasses. As my previous forgiveness post indicated, I am one such person with this difficulty.
In the end, I think there are several reasons we do not forgive ourselves with the ease we appear to forgive others. None of them healthy.
To begin with, it’s not unlike the reasons doctors make lousy patients. We are so close to the problem, so close to the pain and the guilt, and we think we are so knowledgeable about the source of the discomfort (in this case, our own soul) that we figure we have a handle on it. We not only know our crimes, but our motivations. We are 100% clear on what we were thinking when we commit a sin. That is a luxury we do not have with others who sin against us. At some point we need to either cut them off, or accept that they are telling the truth about their reasons. Yet we have this assumption that our own motivations are so much more horrible than those of others could possibly be.
Yet they are not. They are just more familiar to us. They are so much a part of us we assume we know better than anybody else the things for which we cannot be forgiven. And like the sick doctor who is so sure that his profession makes him uniquely qualified to determine how to heal himself, we lack the distance and perspective to see things as a whole. Which means that we tend to assume we even understand all of our own motivations for doing things. Which of course, we do not. We act out sometimes in ways we cannot explain to ourselves. We are, after all, only human.
Which is another reason why it may be so difficult to forgive ourselves. It confirms we are not only human, but as human as the other people we forgive in the course of our lives. And we may find it uncomfortable to place ourselves in the same species as a few such individuals.
Which means that contrary to the notion we sell ourselves, we are not actually being selfless and humble when we do not forgive ourselves. We are in fact, being quite arrogant. Think of how it really appears when we forgive others and avoid forgiving ourselves:
“You are forgiven because so little is expected of you. But up here in my ivory tower where only the absolute most well developed and pure people with the highest standards live, we cannot get away with such things. I have failed to live up to the lofty standard of my superior race, and hence, I cannot forgive my mistakes the way I forgive yours.”
Not an appealing sentiment, is it? Yet if you delve into why you don’t feel you earn your own forgiveness, you may find more of this creeping in than you care to admit.
In the end, we are all human. Some people are less evil than others, and that will never change. However in the area of forgiveness it is often easier to forgive the other person than it is to forgive ourselves, because the latter requires us to get dirty and recognize that perhaps we are just a frail, stupid, weak and dark as those we can forgive with ease.
This doesn’t mean we live lives without hope. If anything it means that there is more hope than we choose to accept sometimes. That by realizing we have made mistakes, but that those mistakes are for the most part not much worse than the mistakes many people in our lives make, we come to understand that commonality between us and others. And if we work hard at it, we can perhaps find it easier to forgive both ourselves and others when we consider it from this standpoint.
In the end, it is about love, for ourselves and for others. Can we truly love a person we have not forgiven? If not, we had better get on with forgiving ourselves before we try to forgive others.


  1. It's true. I've struggled with the selfless/selfish conundrum in other aspects of my interpersonal connections. I struggle with it a lot, in fact. When it comes to forgiving other people but not myself, I've always thought of it as not wanting to expend energy being negative about something I can't control. I can only control my own actions and reactions, so I don't bother holding grudges, and I don't often stay angry at others for too long. But if it's something I want to change in myself, you better believe I'll beat myself up about it lol.

  2. Interesting perspective on how we appear to view ourselves when we refuse to forgive ourselves, like we are above being placed in the same category as other people that have wronged us and yet we have forgiven them. Your posts always make me think and show a different way to think about things, love it!

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