I was talking recently with someone who works with caretakers of those who are ill. The insight from the conversation is this: Many caretakers have a sense that they did not do enough. They need to forgive themselves. Self-forgiveness implies that you have broken a moral standard; you have offended yourself and perhaps others.
I am not so sure that self-forgiveness is the appropriate response in many of these situations, where the caretaker feels guilty about not doing enough. I say this because we always can do more…..and more…..and more. When is it sufficient to say, “I have tried hard. I have done my best as an imperfect person. It is time to accept my limitations”?
If we move too quickly to self-forgiveness, then we are not giving ourselves sufficient time to ask this: Maybe I have false guilt here. Maybe I was expecting the person whom I am serving to get much better and that did not happen. Maybe I am tying my efforts to the other’s biological challenges, with the incorrect view that I have not done enough if the other does not get better. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, people do not become physically healthy. Sometimes the other does pass away.
It seems to me that many people, who do courageous care-taking of others, need to see this and not self-forgive, but instead challenge their own view that their care-taking was not enough.
Yes, at times, people missed an opportunity to serve well. At these times self-forgiveness is appropriate. Yet, I think this is more prevalent: At even more times, people have done the best they can. The healthy response then is to humbly accept one’s limitations, refrain from self-forgiving, and to say, “I have done enough. It is sufficient.”