A friend forgives another friend for gossiping about her. A husband forgives a wife for lying to him about her intimate relationship with another man. A mother forgives the man who murdered her daughter. The human capacity to forgive even the deepest wrongs is awe-inspiring.
For many people, forgiving others provides liberation from anger and grievance that leads to a richer and happier life. But there is an even deeper peace to be found through what might be the hardest act of all—forgiving ourselves.
The first part of any conflict we must resolve is not between “me and my neighbor,” but between “me and me.” So believes author and therapist Thom Rutledge, who has written extensively on forgiveness and self-forgiveness.
In his book The Self-Forgiveness Handbook: A Practical and Empowering Guide, Rutledge writes that the resentment and grudges we hold against ourselves are every bit as destructive as those we harbor toward others. Every time you tune in to the inner dialogue that says you are not smart enough, thin enough, successful enough, famous enough, popular enough or any version of NOT ENOUGH or berate yourself for what you did or didn’t do, you are choosing to live in blame and resentment. In the words of Buddhist monk and author Thich Nhat Hanh, to truly practice forgiveness we must first forgive ourselves for not being perfect.
In her book The Unburdened Heart: Five Keys to Forgiveness and Freedom, author Mariah Burton Nelson writes, “When we treat ourselves with love and compassion, we become nicer to everyone else. We become less defensive. We don’t worry so much what others’ judgments might be, because we’re not judging ourselves.”
Forgiving yourself is not a self-indulgent way to let yourself off the hook for behaving badly. Rather, it is the result of looking deeply within yourself, recognizing when our plans go awry, taking responsibility for our actions and loving ourselves in spite of it all. Fred Luskin, psychologist and cofounder of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, writes, “Forgiving is not about condoning bad behavior; it’s about taking responsibility and becoming a hero and not a victim in the story you tell.”
To be able to say, “I behaved (thoughtlessly, unkindly, naively, etc.), I forgive myself for not being perfect and I commit to doing better in the future” could be the biggest—and most healing—act of all. When you can forgive the imperfections in yourself, it’s a lot easier to forgive them in others.
“Self-forgiveness is a commitment to love yourself no matter what,” Nelson says. “It’s the generous act of giving yourself a break. Remembering that you’re human. Offering yourself the loving kindness that you might offer, on your best days, to those you love the most, no matter what they’ve done.”
Author’s content adapted under license, © 2010 Claire Communications
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