We all know individuals who make glib excuses for even big transgressions, but most of us harbor big shame over some thing. This may be connected to an offense we suffered as a child (no kid is responsible for the behavior of others–I don’t care what you did) or we feel shamed by things we’ve done as adults that we wish terribly we could undo. Some acts are huge, like killing someone in a drunk-driving incident, while some we just imagine to be life-harming without actually knowing that others have been harmed. These feelings of guilt can be very burdensome and we tend to hide them deeply.
The popular website postsecret.com exists in part because most of us hold secrets we feel we must hide. Just the anonymous sharing of these can help us feel less tremendously weighed down. We cannot change the past, but this environment lets individuals unburden some.
I am frequently confronted with clients who cannot forgive themselves, even when they believe strongly in a deity who offers this absolution. It’s as though we hold ourselves to a more hardline, harsh standard that we believe our God holds us. We certainly are more condemning of ourselves than we are of those around us. Most would be more lenient and understanding of even their enemies than they are of themselves.
We struggle to forgive others at times, but we are almost always as unforgiving toward ourselves.
Admittedly, we’ve all made mistakes–big and small–but we need to question whether beating ourselves up continually benefits anyone. I’m not suggesting we don’t recognize our missteps and correct these when possible. I’m also not suggesting that we should be able to look back on our poor choices without regret. I’m just saying that if charity begins at home, maybe forgiveness should, too.
I question forgiveness that’s given too quickly (usually to others) or without self-examination. We need to understand what was happening with us when we took the actions we regret. We need to recognize the context of our bad actions and we need to correct our mistaken responses.
All that being done, however, we need to learn to forgive ourselves for being flawed. This is not an excuse. It’s a recognition. We are none of us perfect. We screw up. We make mistakes that later leave us cringing. Even the smartest, most intelligent and best of us do these things. We still need to refrain from wasting our energy on self-hatred.
Nothing is gained from this. It doesn’t make our remorse more valid or keep us from repeating the misstep.
Our best bet is to learn from the choices we’d change. Whether we’d leave an abusive relationship more quickly or not be so quick to judge another person, we need to embrace the lesson and let ourselves heal.