A BUSINESSMAN once complained of depression saying, “I feel very upset at the way I treated my child for the first 12 years of his childhood. I used to physically assault him and frequently abuse him. My expectations from him were very high and I prevented him from pursuing any hobby. I wanted him to excel in academics.
“I complained a lot about how my wife brought up our children but did not help her in her responsibilities as a mother. Now that he is grown up and gone away, I keep thinking why was I so cruel to him. He has not done very well in life and holds me guilty for it. This is the thought that I wake up with and is also the last thought before I sleep.
Even at work I am distracted and overcome by a strong sense of guilt. I just don’t know whether I will ever overcome this feeling.” Is it possible to forgive ourselves for the pain we have inflicted on others or the damage we have caused?
Most psychologists believe that it is not only possible but necessary that we forgive ourselves for the past wrongs if we’re to live fully in the present. Trying to evade past wrongs, repress our memories or making excuses is what most people tend to resort to-none of these has the power of forgiveness. Yet self-forgiveness is a difficult experience that does not usually occur overnight.
To forgive yourself does not mean that you should forget what you did or said that might have injured another or caused yourself distressed. To forgive yourself also does not mean you are not responsible for what you did or said.
To forgive yourself simply means you realise that you might have done something differently if you had known how. Forgiving yourself means you recognise that you didn’t know how to do something differently and realise you have learnt by your mistake.
In the real world, most people work against who would forgive themselves, because they would want to see you live forever with whatever it is that you have done. Therefore, it takes tremendous courage to forgive ourselves. After all it is we who finally have the right to forgive ourselves and not other people.
People who cannot and do not want to forgive themselves continue to hold on to guilt and pain. They may at times try to prove that they are good people who can do no wrong. Or may find themselves slipping into psychological disorders just because they feel that their mistakes are unpardonable.
A Forgiveness Exercise:
IF YOU’D like to practice a forgiveness exercise (it can take a bit of practice), close your eyes and imagine that you are standing the same way as you were when you did something wrong and say to yourself:
“When I did ———,I was hurt and angry. I would have preferred doing ——-but I did not. When I think about what I said or did,
I had let myself feel anger, resentment, pain, bitterness. I believe that I should have said or done something differently. But I no longer choose to hold on to the tension and hurt that accompanies my memory of what I said or did.”did.”
“Therefore, I cancel my demands, expectations and conditions I placed on myself that I should have done ———. I am totally responsible for my action and deeds.”s.”
“I now send my love and acceptance to myself as a human being.”
Then imagine that your love and acceptance is being soaked within you. Take your time to experience how your body and mind feel when you release the conditions you placed on your self. As you say these words, allow yourself to be both the giver and receiver of forgiveness letting that love and acceptance through every part of your body. Feel the release of tension that comes from forgiveness.
(The author is a psychologist and a professor of psychology and social work at BSSS. He can be contacted at