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How good are you at forgiving yourself? Can you stop the negative chatter?

By December 19, 2008 - 11:00am
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Why are we better at forgiving others than we are at forgiving ourselves?

Why do we give others the benefit of the doubt, but not ourselves?

I'm asking myself this as I think about what I'd like to do in the new year.

When I think enthusiastically about getting fit, losing weight, and feeling better, when I feel happy about the new start, there's another voice in my head as well -- the one that says, you never should have gained the weight, you're a slacker, you have given up on programs before, why will this be any different?

I would never think that way about a friend who had goals for the new year, and yet I easily fall into that trap when I think about myself.

Can't we just forgive ourselves and move forward? Why must we exact punishment from ourselves? It certainly isn't motivating, and it serves no good purpose that I can see, and yet I still am harder on myself than I am on anyone else.

Sigh. Thoughts?

Add a Comment7 Comments

"A desire to move on with your life."

This is probably one of the most important parts of forgiveness.

Forgiving doesn't mean forgetting; also, when it comes to someone having done something that hurts us, it doesn't mean that suddenly there are no consequences. And I think forgiveness on a large scale -- if someone has cheated, or lied, or abused, or worse -- is a different question that has to do with actual wounds one person causes another.

I think, though, in terms of forgiving ourselves, the "sins" never seem that large. We seem to be always on ourselves for such things as not being organized enough, not getting enough done, losing enough weight, managing enough projects. We are not good enough parents, daughters, friends, sisters. We are, somehow, falling short in our own minds from the place we'd like to see ourselves, and we beat ourselves up about it. And I don't know why we (me included) don't move on more quickly with ourselves, dismissing these simple things like we would if it was our best friend instead of ourselves.

Why is it easier to be kinder to others? Why do I give others the benefit of the doubt but not myself?

December 22, 2008 - 10:28am

A Psychology Today article mentions four aspects of forgiveness, which I found helpful:

1) a desire for revenge
2) letting go of anger
3) a wish to move on with your life
4) a desire for reconciliation with your offender

I thought this was wonderful news, as we are berating ourselves for a seemingly negative behavior (not forgiving), perhaps we are forgiving when we look this from a different perspective: forgiving includes smaller, most likely "doable" changes in our attitudes/thoughts/feelings.

Perhaps we are forgiving, as long as we do not have a desire for revenge, are not still angry (side note: studies show, time and time again, pent-up anger can lead to cardiovascular disease, depression, high blood pressure, weakened immune system, etc), and have moved on with our life. I believe these are the most important aspects of forgiveness to try to achieve, and are the best for our health (assuming we are discussing minor offenses; not violence or abuse). The last aspect of forgiveness, having a desire for reconciliation, may not be necessary. You can consider yourself 3/4ths forgiveness-capable. Ha!

Just another way to look at "forgiveness", and perhaps take away some of the guilt: maybe you are already forgiving all you can and all that is really necessary! :-)

December 21, 2008 - 7:54pm

I think I'm as hard on other people as I am on myself. I live by the rule to not expect any more or less from someone else that I'm not willing to expect from myself. It's a pretty tough rule, as my kids would probably attest.

But, I really don't expect much: integrity, honesty, accountability, compassion, fairness, sensibility. I'm not very patient, but I'm very tolerant. I'm also not very forgiving and will hold a grudge just about forever; not good karma, I know. I'm working on this.

The wisdom we gain as we mature would cause some here to view things differently, if reality presented itself. Trust me, this I know to be true.

December 19, 2008 - 6:44pm
HERWriter Guide

Good question, Kristin!

I think I find more unforgivable that just murder. If anyone abused my kids - in any way - unforgivable. Or if my husband took off with the office good-time-gal. Or had party time with prostitutes. Or maybe I would forgive - but the relationship is over. Is that forgiveness though?

All my relationships aside from my children, are conditional. That sounds dreadful - in black and white. But I hope most people feel that way. My kids could do anything and I would always love them. I may hate what they did - but love would always be there.

However, if my husband abused me badly, cheated, hurt my kids or gambled our life savings on on-line poker, we would part ways. If my girlfriends lied about me, treated me badly or used me - we'd part ways. I'm a good wife and friend to have but I am not a push-over who "stands by her" [insert husband/sibling/friend here] regardless of how they behave. If they loved me back, and respected me, they wouldn't treat me badly. A love un-returned is pointless.

But those are all worst case (and rather dramatic!) scenarios, thankfully.

On another note, as sure as I'm sitting here, about two years ago, when my three kids were ages 2 months, 1 year and 2 years old (ALL NAPPING AT THE SAME TIME!) the UPS guy rang the doorbell when dropping off a package. I had a big sign by the bell - "please don't ring the doorbell 2-4pm" and it was about 2.30pm. The doorbell goes right up to the younger two's room and woke them immediately. I was so mad I ran out onto the drive way and yelled at the poor driver! And I still haven't forgiven him and it has been two years. The fact that I'm even remembering it and writing it here is sad! I need an intervention!

December 19, 2008 - 4:02pm
(reply to Susan Cody)

LOL! I can't tell you how many times I've had thoughtless people ring my doorbell (yes, I had a sign up too!) and wake up my sleeping babies/kids. I wonder if that UPS driver remembers you ....

December 19, 2008 - 8:24pm

Forgiveness and guilt ... yikes, those are big issues for women. I don't think I even know of a woman, (especially other moms), who doesn't deal with guilt on a daily basis. It must be just part of our makeup.

I personally have the hardest time with forgiveness. I find it easy to forgive others, except when it comes to those people who are the closest to me. I've spent my entire adult life not being able to forgive my dad for being a failure as a parent. For me, having children and then not being there as a parent is unforgivable.

Not to go too far on a tangent, but I recently had a conversation with a friend and she mentioned that the only thing that she wouldn't be able to forgive her husband for would be if he committed murder. That was the only thing she would consider as unforgivable. What is something you wouldn't be able to forgive someone for?

December 19, 2008 - 3:32pm
HERWriter Guide

Sigh, indeed. I don't know either! But I agree - it's so easy to be objectively compassionate towards others, but subjectively unforgiving.

We seem to be so hard on ourselves. I support my girlfriends who are also mothers and absolutely understand why they snapped at their child or lost their temper. They are human! We make mistakes. They love their kids, we all know that!

Yet if I snap at my kids and then watch them sleep at night, I berate myself for it. Why am I not as supportive of myself, for the exact same thing, as I am for my friends?!

Is it our upbringing? Is it a religious issue? I know the religion I was raised with was based on a confession-and-punishment scenario that made self-blame and penitence a standard part of life. Forgiveness came from God - not from ourselves. But self-forgiveness is crucial!

Is it our society? A western thing?

I don't know either. But it's good to know I'm not alone in being hard on myself!

Diane, I'll forgive you, for you. You can forgive me, for me.

December 19, 2008 - 2:35pm
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