It is human nature to be too easy on ourselves, to justify ourselves, and at times, to be too hard on ourselves and condemn ourselves.
Paul addresses pride: we’re all unjustifiable (Romans 3:23), and we’re all given to think too highly of ourselves (Romans 12:3). Jeremiah asserts that while we can deceive ourselves about ourselves, only God can truly interpret our hearts (Jeremiah 17:9-10).While pride is prevalent, it’s also possible to punish and hold oneself up to contempt even when God has forgiven our sin (2 Corinthians 2:6-8). This is the plight of the one who, having sinned, cannot forgive him/herself.
But John makes this astounding promise: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
In this article I want to address the need to forgive oneself of sin and God’s heart for the anguished soul that is harsh on itself.
The basis for forgiving ourselves is the kindness and compassion of God for us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 4:32)! All who are in Jesus are freed from condemnation (Romans 8:1) and freed to love (Galatians 5:13). We are meant to display the mercies of God as sinners forgiven of their sins (1 Timothy 1:15-16)!
Extending grace and kindness to oneself and others is the transformation God effects in those who have received His grace and kindness. Such gentleness is only possible for us all because Jesus has set us free from the power of sin, the tyranny of self-rule, the oppression of evil (Galatians 5:1).
Jesus said himself: “If the Son sets you free you are free indeed” (John 8:36)! The starting point of forgiving ourselves is to experience God’s forgiveness.The starting point of forgiving ourselves is to experience God’s forgiveness. Click To Tweet
Keys to Forgiving Myself
1. Clarifying Responsibility
Sometimes we blame ourselves for our own suffering when it is others who are actually responsible. This is common among survivors of childhood abuse and other childhood trauma.One can experience self-contempt for being vulnerable to trust, longing for love, or even experiencing some pleasure or affirmation while being abused. But children are never responsible for what adults do.
Many adults have borne inordinate or false responsibility much of their lives because the trauma of childhood abuse has not been understood and healed. They may struggle with defining what they are responsible for and what they are not.
They may discover, through counseling, the need to process anger at a perpetrator because they project and displace anger onto those who are not perpetrating but trigger the memories of past abuse. Many adults need compassion for their younger selves and integration of the needs and longings which were once violated.
If we wrongly blame ourselves, we prolong our healing, for in so doing, we postpone having to grieve and forgive the choices of others. It’s terrifying to face our pain, and so it seems easier to take the blame for it. Compassion for self and self-forgiveness can result from clarifying responsibility for our pain.
2. Renouncing Pride and Worldly Grief Over Sin
Pride says, “God can’t forgive me; I’m beyond grace.” Sometimes an unwillingness to forgive oneself is a matter of pride: “I can earn God’s favor and that of others.”Self-justification is the universal spiritual disease leading to spiritual death (Romans 6:23). Self-condemnation also leads to spiritual death: For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Renouncing both pride and worldly, self-condemning grief over sin open us to receiving God’s forgiveness and grace, the basis for forgiving oneself.
3. Seeking Repair/Amends/Reconciliation
God’s forgiveness gives us the desire to seek repair, to make amends, to pursue reconciliation with others whom we have hurt or whom have hurt us. When we acknowledge our responsibility and impact on others as adults, ask for and experience the forgiveness of others, repair broken relationships, our own experience of God’s love and forgiveness is deepened through the grace of the one I have hurt. When I experience the forgiveness of God and others I can extend it more readily to myself (Ephesians 4:32).When I experience the forgiveness of God and others I can extend it more readily to myself. Click To Tweet
4. Loving Courageously
Jesus identified loving God and neighbor as the two greatest commandments. Love requires courage and boldness because love is always costly, opens us to possible suffering (because of sacrifice, unrequited love, misunderstanding) as well as to deeper connections.
Sometimes our refusal to forgive ourselves is a justification for self-protection from further pain. But love and intimacy are only possible when we are vulnerable to being hurt again.
In spite of past sin (both our own and the sins of others against us), we are always faced with the choice of how to live…now. Love is kind (not only to others, but to self); love keeps no record of wrongs (not only of others’ but of our own). (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). As the failure to forgive ourselves hinders our love of others, so our love for others can facilitate self-forgiveness.
How Christian Counseling Can Help
If you are hard on yourself and struggle with forgiveness of self and others, Christian counseling can help to clarify responsibility, be a process in which understanding is sought and gained about the past, be the setting in which trauma is relieved and healed, and where anger and grief and forgiveness can be expressed and processed.
A counselor with a biblical worldview would support and leverage your faith in Jesus Christ to seek truth, humility, repentance, repair and a lifestyle of courageous love. If you are interested in these possibilities I encourage you to contact one of my colleagues or myself. More freedom awaits.
“Sparkle,” courtesy of Jakob Owens, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Focus,” courtesy of Josh Calabrese, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Field,” courtesy of Fineas Anton, unpslash.com, CC0 License; “Strive,” courtesy of Nathan McBride, unsplash.com, CC0 License