Forgiveness is Hard
Forgiveness is one of the most difficult paths a person pursues on earth. It often seems so easy to remain angry at the people who have hurt us deeply. The truth is they probably deserve our anger, and more. But, the choice to forgive and release those who have hurt us is one of the greatest gifts we can give. But, what about forgiving oneself? What if the person you are angry at is yourself? Is forgiving oneself possible?
What is Forgiveness?
The process to forgive oneself begins with understanding what forgiveness is and isn’t. Forgiveness is not forgetting what has happened to you and minimizing its effect on your life. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation or restoring a broken relationship. You may forgive a person, but decide to never speak to them again.
Forgiveness is not…
- Condoning or Excusing Behavior
- Calming Down
- Merely Words
In the Bible the word forgiveness often means sending away or letting go. These phrases conjure the image of releasing a caged animal back into the wild. Or, imagine releasing a dove to freedom. It will fly from your hands, high into the sky, never to return.
Living with a Wild Squirrel
Holding on to the anger you feel about your past is like living with a wild squirrel in your house. It slowly destroys your house from the inside out. But, maybe the squirrel has been living in your house for so long you’re not sure what life would be like without it.
Forgiveness is not forgetting what happened to you. Instead, it’s simply letting the wild squirrel living in your house free. Forgiveness is making the choice to stop carrying the weight of your past. It’s giving up your right to get even with those who hurt you. Forgiveness is making the choice to move forward, not allowing your past to hold you hostage anymore. Forgiveness researcher Dr. Enright writes, “Forgiveness is an act of mercy toward an offender, someone who does not necessarily deserve our mercy. It is a gift to our offender” (Forgiveness is a Choice, p. 25).
Forgiveness is a Choice
Forgiveness is not a feeling. A person can’t wait until they feel like forgiving. A person can’t determine if they’ve forgiven or not based on how they feel. Forgiveness is a choice one makes to move forward. A person makes the choice to forgive and the feelings will eventually follow.
Forgiveness is a Process
The choice to forgive doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not a one-time decision. Forgiveness is a process. It takes time. Using the analogy of releasing a wild animal from a cage, sometimes the wild animal comes back and you have to send it away again and again. Sometimes something will happen and old feelings of anger will suddenly surface. You’ll then have to make the choice once more to forgive and release the person.
But, what happens when the person we need to forgive is yourself? Forgiving oneself is often more difficult than forgiving another person. Maybe you blame yourself for going to the party that night. You wonder why you never paid attention to all the signs you saw regarding that relationship. Why didn’t we say no? Why didn’t we say yes? Why didn’t we take the job? Maybe you wonder why you waited so long to make the phone call? Or, you wish you would have stuck up for yourselves all those years ago? Behind every hurt we’ve experienced in our lives is an opportunity to forgive ourselves.
Maybe the idea of forgiving oneself seems silly. You wonder why a person would need to forgive themselves. The truth is people often blame themselves along with blaming those who’ve hurt them. They blame themselves for being in situations where they were hurt. This can lead to feelings of anger, resentment and even self-hatred. You may spend so much time unpacking your anger at the person who hurt you that you neglect the anger you have for yourself.
Take a minute and think through a few of the people who have hurt you in life. Beyond your justified anger towards them, is there any reason you’re angry with yourself? If you were sitting in front of your younger self, what would you say regarding these situations?It’s possible you would have words of encouragement. But, there’s also a chance you’d be angry. This anger might be following you through life. It might be why you’ve made self-destructive decisions and entered bad relationships, as a way to silently punish yourself for your past.
The Process to Forgive
Holding on to self-anger is not helping you grow or become the person you’re meant to be in this life. Holding on to anger is like trying to swim in the ocean with an anchor tied to your foot. Forgiving others is hard, but forgiving oneself is especially difficult.
As mentioned earlier, forgiveness doesn’t happen overnight. Forgiveness is a process and a choice. In the book, Forgiveness is a Choice, the author shares a four phase process to forgiveness.
- Phase 1- Uncovering Your Anger: In this phase it’s important to investigate your anger. How is it affecting you? How are you avoiding dealing with it? Has your injury affected how you view the world?
- Phase 2- Deciding to Forgive: A person will decide that what they’ve been doing hasn’t worked. They will choose to engage in the process of forgiveness. In this phase a person will decide to forgive.
- Phase 3- Working on Forgiveness: In this phase a person will work toward understanding and compassion. They will work towards accepting the pain of their past.
- Phase 4- Discovery and Release from Emotional Prison: In this final phase the offended person will discover their personal need for forgiveness. They will also discover that they’re not alone, along with their purpose in life. They will begin to walk in the freedom of forgiveness.
Forgiving oneself is not easy. It’s hard to uncover feelings of anger you have along with already difficult situations from your past. But, the choice to forgive is freeing. It feels like a bird, taking flight and gliding along treetops, hopeful for the future. Forgiving helps restore and heal our soul. But, the choice to forgive is one only you can make for yourself.