When You Can't Forgive Yourself
"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."1
A reader writes: "In a recent Daily Encounter you mentioned that God forgives us and you also said, 'don't forget to forgive yourself. But what if you can't? What if you don't know how to?'
"In short a family member was terminally ill and I was her 24/7 caregiver which was stressful, and there were times I lost my temper or times when I knew I should do something with her but was hiding in another room because I didn't like to see her that way. There is so much I did or didn't do for which I am very regretful and I don't know how to forgive myself. I have been seeing a counselor and it has helped me understand but I can't seem to forgive myself. I know there has to be a way—but how?"
Dear Janice (name changed), when we confess our sins to God, he does forgive us regardless of our feelings. When we can't forgive ourselves, one reason is because we are either perfectionists or have perfectionistic tendencies. The problem then isn't that we can't forgive ourselves, but that we are perfectionists who have unreal expectations of ourselves.
Another reason can be because of low self-esteem, and we falsely believe that we are not worthy of forgiveness.
So, ask God to give you the insight and courage to face the root cause of your inability to forgive yourself. If you seek this truth with all your heart, when you are ready to face and accept it, you will see it.
In the meantime, try to see that you are expecting more of yourself than God is. Remember, when you confess your sins and failures to him, he forgives you fully and freely. Every day say out loud many times: "Thank you, God, that you have forgiven me and, because you have forgiven me, with your help I forgive me." Repeatedly stating this with deep emotion or feeling, can help to program this truth into your unconscious mind and into your belief system. Once you truly believe this truth, you will be able to feel forgiven.
Yes, you may find this difficult to do, but do it anyhow because it is based on God's Word and not your feelings. Just don't allow your damaged emotions to control your life.
Suggested prayer: "Dear God, thank you that when I confess my sins to you, you have promised to forgive me. Help me to not only know this but also feel it in my heart. And whenever I have a problem forgiving myself, please help me to see the reason for this, and lead me to the help I need to overcome. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully, in Jesus' name, amen."
1. 1 John 1:8-9 (NIV).