I can’t believe you did that. You idiot. You can’t be trusted. You’re terrible. And I’ll never forgive you.
These words can be devastating to someone who is asking for forgiveness. But when these are the words you say quietly to yourself, they can be absolutely crippling. Some of the harshest words you may ever hear are the words you say in your heart: “I’ll never forgive myself.”
Earlier, I wrote about what forgiveness is not, what it is, and why it’s important. I described how the wrong that one finds difficult to forgive is like a “painful video [that] plays inside your head” that you “cannot erase…from your mental hard drive.” It’s even worse when the person starring in this video replay, over and over again, is you.
Here are just some of the ways you hurt yourself when you can’t forgive yourself:
- You keep reliving what you’ve done.
- You let it affect your decisions.
- You feel paralyzed by your past.
- You verbally abuse yourself, quietly in the recesses of your own heart.
- You make yourself feel unworthy.
- You are afraid to take healthy risks.
- You spiral into despair.
- You don’t try to make things better because you don’t think you deserve to make things better.
- You struggle to forgive others.
- You struggle to trust yourself.
If this describes you, for whatever reason, I urge you to reconsider how you are handling and viewing yourself. Your marriage and family may ultimately be at stake. Working through this issue won’t be easy. Forgiving yourself can be hard work, but it’s worth it.
Here are 9 tips to consider when you can’t forgive yourself:
- Decide You Want to Let it Go
In my earlier forgiveness blog, I mentioned, “In the process of forgiving, the first barrier you have to remove is within your own mind. You must make the decision: I will not dwell on this incident.” That decision doesn’t guarantee you’ll stop the mental video, but it draws a line in the sand that you have that goal. It’s a starting point.
- Look at What You’ve Done…Objectively
A big obstacle to forgiving yourself is the inability to see things objectively. Maybe what you did was a big deal…or maybe it just feels like it was. Pretend it was someone else who you love who did what you did. Ask yourself how you would view them. If you need to, look for help from someone you trust to examine what occurred.
- Own It, but Don’t be Owned by It
Taking responsibility for what you did is important. But one bad choice doesn’t have to own you or define you. You can’t control how others define you, but you can control how you define yourself.
You can’t control how others define you, but you can control how you define yourself.
- Grieve Your Loss
If a tragedy was averted in your situation, focus on the good of that, and be thankful. If, however, a tragic loss occurred, know that it’s okay to grieve the pain. Beating yourself up constantly is not a requirement of grief.
- Seek Forgiveness from Others, If Needed
Forgiveness from others can free you up to forgive yourself. If you haven’t yet, seek forgiveness from the person you hurt.
- Focus on What Can Be Learned
Everyone fails. Everyone stumbles. Everyone hurts others eventually. It’s part of the human experience and condition. But not everyone will learn from what they do. Be someone who is willing to learn from your past to benefit your future.
- Record Your Reflections
Sometimes capturing a record of your thoughts and feelings can help you face them honestly. Do some light journaling for a few days. Focus on what you are struggling to let go of and what you would do if you could be free of the burden of guilt you feel.
- Feel the Love
I hope you know someone in your life who loves you unconditionally. If so, draw them into your struggle—for encouragement. Their best help may be simply to listen well and to remind you that you are loved.
- Agree with God
If you know God and have confessed your wrongdoing to Him, you can know you are forgiven. So if Almighty God, the One who knows you better than yourself, forgives you, then you should agree with Him and forgive yourself.
Need to teach a child how to forgive? Here’s how.
Have you ever struggled to forgive yourself? Were you able to forgive yourself? How? Please share in a comment below.