Finding peace within yourself is more complicated than we realize. We have all made mistakes, done things we are not proud of, or chosen the wrong path. Whether those decisions were big or small, figuring out how to forgive yourself is key to moving forward and self-improvement. Unfortunately, self-forgiveness is practiced and does not typically happen overnight.
There are plenty of challenges that prove to be obstacles to self-forgiveness. The biggest challenge, however, is our tendency to wallow in our own guilt. There are many reasons for this, but below is just a quick overview.
Why We Are Our Worst Critics
Self-forgiveness involves acknowledging what you have done, repairing the damage as best as you can, and committing to doing better in the future. Unfortunately, the people who most need, and are probably most deserving of self-forgiveness, cannot do so. This can be because they are burdened by forms of self-deception, a strong form of criticism.
Self-deception can come in many ways. One main way is exceptionalism, where you hold yourself to a higher standard in ways that you would not hold others. This ultimately puts the blame on yourself. Another is in the form of confirmation bias, where you consider everything you do to be harmful to others, bringing shame. These self-critiques can be extremely harmful, and a major reason why you cannot forgive yourself.
Reasons Why Self-Forgiveness is So Hard
Why are we so hard on ourselves? There is some psychology as to why we are harder on ourselves than we are on others. While holding onto guilt and shame can be your own way of trying to remind yourself to be better, there are other deeply rooted reasons why we cannot easily forgive ourselves.
You Think Self-Forgiving Means Not Taking Responsibility
You may think self-forgiveness means condoning your past actions. You believe that if you forgive, then you are no longer remorseful over what occurred, so you use suffering as your own form of personal punishment. Self-forgiveness does not mean you do not take responsibility for your actions, rather, you face them head-on.
You Hold Yourself Responsible For Things Out of Your Control
As mentioned previously, we hold ourselves to a higher standard than we do others. Naturally, this means we may unintentionally take responsibility for something we had no control over. We find ourselves saying, “Well maybe if I had not said this then this person would not have done this,” and it leads down a destructive narrative. You must recognize that if you have little control over the problem, then you cannot hold the blame.
It Feels Selfish to Self-Forgive
Forgiveness toward yourself may feel selfish at the time but is very needed. In self-forgiveness, empathy is offered to yourself, as well as everyone else involved. Empathy and compassion are always good things, and to be truly empathetic towards others, you must let go of the anger residing in you.
Source: Silvia (2023) 13 Reasons Why Self-Forgiveness is So Hard
Source: Peg O’Connor (2019) Why Is It So Hard To Forgive Yourself?
Source: Ellen Michaud (2022) How to Forgive Yourself