As you travel through life, you may have noticed these things: Some people never seem to apologize, even heartfelt apologies sometimes fail, and some people have trouble forgiving. Consider these four women who carry around distress like a roomy handbag:
- Hannah had overlooked signs of mold in her house and now she is facing medical and financial ruin. She feels panic as her bills mount and she feels deep guilt for having ignored the odor of mold for years.
- Tiffany had left her husband for a married man who then married her but treated her poorly. She feels a constant pit in her stomach and berates herself for not having guarded her first marriage.
- Madison had poured her efforts into dieting, only to regain all the weight she had lost plus much more. She obsesses about her weight and self-hatred wells up inside her on a daily basis.
- Tracy had created a scene in a restaurant over a mistake on her bill. She feels a flush of shame every time she remembers the waiter whom she treated harshly.
Four sets of regrets. The issues may be large or small but they all leave a bitter taste that is hard to ignore. The women all hold powerful grudges and they cannot bury their pain. As a psychologist, I’ve learned from many women how very hard it is to offer forgiveness. For some people, it’s nearly impossible. Who is the hardest person for them to forgive? Themselves.
Anger at yourself when you feel you’ve “blown it” in some way is normal. When I let myself or others down, I literally want to kick myself. Some people call themselves names and punish themselves. Here is a healthy way to handle unforgiveness toward yourself:
- Admit that what you did was unwise, wrong, or hurtful to others or to yourself.
- If needed, apologize to the people you have offended, and hope they will forgive you.
- Consciously apologize to yourself and choose to forgive yourself.
Being at peace comes when you release your regrets and come to terms with yourself in the here and now. There is tremendous power in apologizing to oneself. Maybe you have failed to protect your family, failed to live up to your moral standards, or failed to meet your own high goals. With forgiveness, you can walk with your head held high and a new spring in your step. Also, you’ll have greater energy for getting outside of yourself and caring for the needs of others.
While apologizing to others may bring healing to human relationships, self-apology and forgiveness restore your peace of mind. Apologizing to yourself and choosing to forgive yourself opens up the possibility of a future that is far brighter than you have ever dreamed.
What would you say? Do you have more trouble forgiving yourself than others?
I originally wrote this post for a blog called (in)courage that included Gary Chapman and myself among their seven recommended authors for the Fall. To read all the comments and my replies about this post, please join our conversation at (in)courage.