For many of us, forgiveness is a difficult task. We cling to our grievances, like ivy to a building, as if the wounds of the past were somehow the scaffolding with which we should build our lives. But refusing to forgive is a self-inflicted wound. We nurse our grievances, rather than healing them, by telling ourselves and others how we’ve been wronged, and we deepen the cuts, often waiting for justice in the form of an apology. To forgive is a divine gift: the ability to recognize that you are more powerful than the words and pain that have been inflicted on you, and the sublime capacity to release another from the prison of your judgment.
Why then do we struggle with self-forgiveness? Of all the people we should be able to forgive, it should be ourselves. But we struggle most with self-forgiveness. Refusing to do so, we magnify our misdeeds and hold them under a bright light, dissecting them, again and again, as if undertaking a forensic examination of our wrongdoing might somehow absolve us of our pain. We all have made mistakes, hurt others, and harmed ourselves. The single-most important step we can take to loving ourselves completely, and to healing our wounds – physical and emotional – is to forgive ourselves. For when we refuse to give ourselves that gift, we keep ourselves in a state of perpetual condemnation. Worse still, by practicing withholding forgiveness from ourselves, we train ourselves to refuse to forgive others.
My own path to self-forgiveness has led me to examine some very deep wounds, to be honest about motives and needs, and to acknowledge that I have caused pain, broken hearts, and betrayed trust. Forgiveness does not absolve us of this task – indeed, forgiveness demands this of us, which is why so many of us do not forgive ourselves. It is far easier to lock ourselves up and throw away the key than to do the hard work of looking at our shadows and seeing why we behaved the way we did. You are the prison warden and the prisoner, all at once; you have the key to your own release. But there is great liberation when you release yourself from your self-condemnation, and you accept that you will continue to make mistakes. Once you learn to forgive yourself, you will be willing to bestow that enormous gift, freely and often, on the rest of the world.