Can we apply the forgiveness process onto oneself? Is there such a thing as self-forgiveness?

It seems to me that if we can apply moral virtues such as love toward ourselves, then we should be able to apply forgiveness toward ourselves. After all, to forgive on its highest level is to unconditionally love (in the sense of the Greek term, agape) those who have been unjust to us. To forgive the self is to unconditionally offer love to the self when one has broken one’s own standards. A significant difference between forgiving others and forgiving the self is this: When we forgive ourselves, we usually hurt other people by our actions; as we forgive ourselves, we should go to those whom we have hurt and seek forgiveness from them. I discuss the theme of self-forgiveness in the following essay on the Psychology Today website (click the link below):

The Cure for Self Loathing? Self-Forgiveness

Forgiveness Therapy Provides Quality of Life Benefits to Terminally-Ill Cancer Patients

 

I sometimes wonder if people need first to forgive themselves instead of others. Here is what I mean: Person A is dissatisfied with herself for past failings and so gets angry at others. Person A is displacing her anger now onto these others. If she could forgive herself, then maybe she could see that these others were not as unjust to her as she once thought.

This is definitely possible, but surely is not always the case. Sometimes, as we know, people are unjust to us and our disappointment within ourselves is not the cause of our anger toward these people .Yet, if you sense that Person A, someone you wish to help, is continually finding fault with many people and your sincere judgement is that these others are not behaving nearly as badly as Person A is saying, then yes, your  plan of action seems reasonable. Gently ask Person A if she is dissatisfied with herself, perhaps she has broken her own standard. Self-forgiveness then may be the best place to start.

Learn more at Self-Forgiveness.

I have done a lot of forgiving in my time. There is one person whom I just can’t seem to forgive. I am very hard on her. The problem is that this person is me. How can I forgive myself? Any hints on this would be greatly appreciated.

You are not alone when you say it is hardest to forgive yourself. Most of us are harder on ourselves than on others. So, welcome to a large and not-so-exclusive club. The pathway to forgiving oneself is actually not that different from forgiving other people. That pathway, of forgiving others, is discussed in detail in the book, Forgiveness Is a Choice (available for purchase from this website). I recommend that book because the forgiveness pathway described there has the most scientific support of any forgiveness model out there.

OK, now to self-forgiveness. When you forgive yourself, the complication is that you are both an offended person and an offender. At the very least, you have offended yourself, you have broken your own standard in what you did or said. And, I might add, we rarely offend ourselves in isolation. So, a first step may be to go to those whom you have offended and say you are sorry and ask for forgiveness. Please realize that those whom you approach may or may not be ready to give the gift of forgiveness. Thus, please be patient and understanding. A second step then is to offer to yourself in forgiveness what you offer to others when you forgive them—compassion, gentleness, understanding, and love. Yes, even love. Give yourself permission, as an imperfect person, to love yourself despite what you did to offend yourself. You are larger than your actions and words. You are more important than only your unjust words and actions, as is every person in the world. Allow this perspective toward yourself to gently wash over you until you believe it. This is the essence of self-forgiveness.

Learn more at Self-Forgiveness.

What is one central issue about forgiving oneself that you could pass along to me?

Forgiving yourself is a process, as is forgiving other people.  If I had to choose one issue for you as you begin, it would be this:  Start by forgiving others first so that you get to know the process of forgiveness.  As you offer gentleness and kindness to others in forgiving them, then when you forgive yourself, apply that same kind of gentleness and kindness to yourself.

Learn more at Self-Forgiveness.

I kind of feel that if I am forgiven, then what I did will be long forgotten.  At this point, I am afraid of that because, if I am forgiven and all is forgotten, I might commit the offense again. Any suggestions?

It sounds to me that even if others forget what you did, you are not going to forget.  So, others’ views will not change yours.  May I suggest a balance here.  I know you do not want to forget what you did so that you do not engage in that behavior again.  At the same time, you might consider forgiving yourself if you are clinging to the memory of what you did and thus continue to condemn yourself for this.  If you forgive yourself, you still are not likely to forget, but instead to remember in new ways.  In other words, when you look back on the situation, you will not condemn yourself and feel excessively guilty as you recall what you did.  Your worry that you will completely forget will not materialize because, when you forgive yourself, you tend to remember in new ways rather than literally blotting out the transgression from memory.

Learn more at Self-Forgiveness and Learning to Forgive Others.

What is one major difference between forgiving other people and forgiving yourself?

When you forgive others, if you did nothing wrong, then you do not ask for forgiveness.  When you forgive yourself, you usually offend others by what you did.  Thus, self-forgiveness involves not only welcoming yourself back into the human community but also seeking forgiveness from others for hurting them by this particular action.

For additional information, see Self-Forgiveness.