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Self-forgiveness: Is there such a thing?

Author : Tom Graneau


Based on more than 4 million documents on Google about self-forgiveness, there seems to be a lot of conversation about the idea. Eight of my ten references viewed self-forgiveness as not only possible, but also essential for happiness. According to one document, the exercise can:

  • Assist with growth and success
  • Help clear up issues between you and the spirit world
  • Open the gate to the kingdom within
  • Help you stay clear in the moment
  • Assist with healing and sacred inner realignment.

How to achieve it is simple: Start where you are, stop all form of self-condemnation, make a statements of self-forgiveness, and move on to a clearer, lighter, and more positive emotional state.

According to one contributor, “Self-forgiveness is a commitment to love yourself no matter what. It’s the generous act of giving yourself a break. Remembering that you are 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” (Nelson, 2000). This view and the one before it implies that the act is not only painless, but also easy and self-satisfying, giving anyone who is suffering with shame, guilt, and self-esteem issues a quick way out of the misery.

The idea sounds good but lacks merit. First, is it really that easy to forgive one’s self? Consider the following scenario, for example: When people are sick, they understand their need to see a doctor. Few times can we heal ourselves without the intervention of a third party (doctor, nurse, etc.). If one act of self-forgiveness could wipe away huge sums of shame, guilt, and conviction in an instant, fewer people would have emotional issues. We would all jump on this painless, highly confidential, and convenient exercise for help. Instead, this is not what we see. People conceal their emotion pain until it forces them to seek the help of a professional.

Can self, forgive self?

Human beings are resilient creatures. We can tackle just about any problem and resolve it, except self-forgiveness. Another writer states the following: “They fill the malls, hang out at the counselor’s office, and overflow our pews. People who just cannot seem to ‘get well.’ These are hurting people. Their pain is often obvious in all that they do. The same problems surface time and time again. They fill our churches and congregations and, just as they begin to make progress in their spiritual walk, they fall back again…. Many of these hapless souls are eventually referred to the friendly, neighborhood psychological counselor…. One specific area where much of the damage has been done by the psychological industry is their injection to forgive one’s self.” (Doty, 2000). How true. The pain is not only pervasive, but also lingering. Of course, the blame is placed on the suffers, people who cannot seem to acquire the skill of self-forgiveness for permanent healing.

Consider another pungent scenario: When a perpetrator commits a crime, the conscience is immediately violated. The damage could be against another person, society, government, or nature. At that time, a moral code (law, ethics) is broken. To gain freedom from the guilt imposed by the wrong event, the transgressor must seek reconciliation from a third-party, which is ultimately God.

There are times when human law must intervene to rectify a complicated situation. Take a murder violation, for example, the transgressor would eventually stand before a judge and jury for the crime. But regardless of the outcome, the transgressor would ultimate have to seek God’s face for a pardon since he was the one who originally establish the law: “Thou shall not kill.” Assuming those steps are taken, the individual would have to accept the pardon from God, who would forgive the wrong. The other matters pertaining to the law would be left for the court to decide. If the perpetrator is found guilty of the crime, he or she would have to pay the consequences of his or her action by doing “time.”

Committing a violation against a neighbor would require a similar process. How can a person self-forgive the damage done to a neighbor’s child, car, pet, or other personal properties without having to face him or her with an apology and ask to be forgiven? Without a pardon from the neighbor, all the self-forgiveness that the transgressor may apply will do little or no good for his or her conscience.

The reality is that forgiveness cannot come from within. How could a transgressor forgive his or her own transgression? If that was possible, people would be walking around with free consciences. They would do just about anything they desire and forgive themselves before going to bed that evening.

Seemingly, all the talk about self-forgiveness is nothing more than an exercise in futility. What is more reasonable instead is self-acknowledgment, which we can, and should exercise daily. With this view, we should freely and conveniently accept our human frailties: Our physical imperfections, disadvantages, mistakes, and deliberate violation against others as a human condition. Let the court system adjudicate punishment for crimes; let family, friends, and neighbors forgive trespasses; and let God render pardon for sins. When these steps are taken seriously and practiced often, people will experience emotional and spiritual freedom.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

Do you know of someone who attempted self-forgiveness? What were the short and long-term results? Have you try self-forgiveness? Do you care to share your experience?



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