Why Can’t You Forgive Yourself? Why Is It Hard To Do So?

Why Can't You Forgive Yourself? Why Is It Hard To Do So? - why you cant forgive yourself 1
How to forgive yourself?

Unless you think you were born a god, you will keep making mistakes throughout your life. That is so much a human thing. Now, no matter how well you know that for a fact, forgiving yourself is still hard.

Historically, it may come as a surprise that the concept of forgiveness as we know today appeared late, in the seventeenth century. It did not exist in ancient Greece and Rome. More startlingly, it is not fully present in the Hebrew Bible, nor again in the New Testament, or in the early Jewish and Christian commentaries on the Holy Scriptures (Konstan, 2010).

Scientifically, the surprising fact is that forgiveness can help us get better of our physical issues, in addition to healing our emotional wounds. Studies show forgiveness can lower the risk of a heart attack, improve blood cholesterol levels and sleep quality, and reduce pain, blood pressure, anxiety, stress, and depression. Researchers found forgiveness is even linked to better longevity.

But why is self-forgiveness hard to come by? Why does it seem so tough to forgive yourself?

Why Can’t You Forgive Yourself? Why Is Self-Forgiveness Hard?

First of all, forgiving yourself is not just saying the words, “I forgive myself.” Doing only that does not offer majorly to the entire process of self-forgiveness.

Self-forgiveness is not merely self-declaration.

Forgiving the self means replacing the anger, resentment, and bitterness with compassion, amiability, and affection. Self-forgiveness makes you become a kind and understanding friend to yourself.

The philosopher Martha Nussbaum says forgiveness is a skill we can hone (Nussbaum, 2016).

[Forgiveness is] a change of heart on the part of the victim, who gives up anger and resentment in response to the offender’s confession and contrition.

— Martha Nussbaum, Anger And Forgiveness

In positive psychology, forgiveness is a character strength.

Forgiving yourself your misdoings can be an excruciatingly hard task. Often, you find it easy to forgive everyone else in the world, but just not yourself. Perhaps, you have forgiven yourself for most of your peccadilloes, but even then still there is that one mistake you can’t pardon yourself for.

But why?

Here are seven possible reasons you cannot forgive yourself easily:

1. Finding Hard To Allow Self-Forgiveness

Forgiveness is often almost impossible if it’s not been asked for.

Can you forgive someone who doesn’t ask to be forgiven? So, if you do not ask yourself to be exclusively pardoned for a past wrong, how could you imagine yourself forgiving your own self?

Also, the question goes beyond “can you.” Now, must you forgive when it’s not asked for? Probably no, not.

Thirdly, there’s the question of permission. Even if you’ve asked yourself, but you didn’t receive the wholehearted permission from yourself for a reprieve. So, what do you do? You do not forgive yourself, right?

It might be that the person who you were when you made that mistake, is no more the same person that you are in the present. It’s almost as if that former self has left the world, or you’ve lost touch with that self.

You can’t ask the victim of your wrongdoing to forgive you, your own self, so you can’t forgive yourself.

It could also be you don’t have the guts, or can’t gather enough courage to ask yourself of the forgiveness.

Therefore, you can’t forgive yourself.

Forgiveness is a funny thing. It cools the heart and cools the sting.

— William Arthur Ward

2. Forgetting The Act of Self-Forgiveness

You forget it that you forgave yourself long back for some particular mistake. The strange thing is you remember the mistake, and the guilt and shame that came with it, all too clearly, but you forget you gave yourself a pardon for that.

Most of us can forgive and forget. We just don’t want the other person to forget that we forgave.

— Ivern Ball

3. Unwilling To Condone Themselves

To condone means to accept and approve an act that’s morally offensive or wrong. When you condone a behavior, you overlook it or look the other way when it’s on.

You think by forgiving yourself, you will condone yourself for an offence that is unpardonable.

You think if you forgive yourself for something in your past that was morally wrong, your subconscious mind will accept the apology, and pre-approve similar behavior in the future.

There’s a related legal term called condonation. It means one’s approval of another’s activities, constituting a defense to a fault divorce. In marriage, condonation is a voluntary pardon by the innocent spouse of an offense committed by their partner based on a promise that it will not recur.

An example of condonation: If a wife did not object to her husband’s adultery even though she was aware of it, but later tries to use it as grounds for a divorce or the basis for a settlement in her favor, the husband could counter these efforts by arguing she had condoned his behavior.

Anyway, by forgiving yourself, you feel you’re letting yourself off the hook. This, you fear, might open you up to carry out similar sins in the future.

Hence, you can’t bring yourself to pardon yourself.

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

— Mahatma Gandhi

4. Wanting To Keep On Suffering

Penance is a kind of punishment you inflict on yourself as repentance for wrongdoing. You punish yourself privately or publicly to show you’re sorry for your wrongful act.

You could deprive yourself of all solid food for a day in the week to show your penance. You could give up eating your favorite food for the rest of your life as a form of penance. You could take cold showers in the dead of winters to make yourself suffer.

A penance can also become a continuous series of good acts that you keep doing for others to pay for your past failing. You could go out every evening to pick up all plastic rubble from all your neighborhood because years back a cow died because of eating food-filled plastic bags.

Although the noun penance can mean any remorse for past mistakes, or any voluntary action meant to right the wrong, Penance, with a capital P, also specifically refers to a sacrament in the Catholic Church. When a person receives Penance, he or she confesses sins to a priest, and along with a blessing, receives an order to do something, such as say certain prayers. This assignment is also called penance.

In the end, you’re firm in your belief that you should never forgive yourself, and keep on suffering the same way, or even more, you made the other person suffer. You feel your only way of atonement is to keep suffering.

So, there’s no self-forgiveness. Instead, there will be self-inflicted suffering.

As long as you don’t forgive, who and whatever it is will occupy a rent-free space in your mind.

— Isabelle Holland

5. Preferring To Live In Denial

You do not own up or let it ever sink in you made any mistake. So, where’s the question of forgiving if no mistakes were made? You deny it to yourself, and you deny it all others who come to confront you on it.

In some probability, you’d pass a lie detector test while denying it — because your mind doesn’t believe it happened of your fault.

He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass.

— George Herbert

6. Being A Narcissist

Narcissists find it hard to forgive people even for minor faults. The reasons are one, they lack empathy for others, and two, they have a bloated sense of self-importance.

In fact, marriage and family therapist Linda Graham writes:

In my clinical training, I learned the short-cut diagnosis for a narcissistic personality was someone who could never say “thank you” or say “I’m sorry.” You may encounter people like that on a daily basis; you may work for them or live with them.

A narcissist truly believes they are too good to make any mistake of their own accord, and it’s always the other people, or the rest of the world, who are at fault. It’s they who always makes the narcissist do that.

They are the ones to blame for the wrong. So, why should they forgive themselves for another person’s sin?

Worse still, they consider themselves above all mistakes, as they are too perfect to do some wrong. Everything they do is justified and above all blame.

Now, you could a closet narcissist, and take extreme caution to hide it from the world. But in heart of hearts, you know who you are. So, while the wound of that past sin keeps on festering, you can’t bring yourself to forgive yourself even in your personal space.

In the end, sadly, you reject your own proposal to forgive yourself.

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.

—Louis B Smedes

7. Being An Idealist

You think it’s not righteous for you the judge to forgive you the sinner. That whole thing of self-forgiveness is akin to moral depravity in your idealist view.

Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.

— Paul Boose

Final Words

To err is human, we know too well. But do not let yourself be defined by those errors.

By carrying those mistakes as shame, you deprive yourself of a brighter and happier future.

Now that you realize the real reason you can’t you forgive yourself, why not set out on a journey of self-forgiveness? Learn How To Forgive Yourself In 7 Steps.


How can I forgive myself and move on?

Forgiveness is a healing process that allows us to let go of anger, guilt, shame, sadness, and bitterness, and move on. Once we correctly pinpoint the emotion, allow it to have a voice, and accept it is only human to make mistakes, we can begin the process of forgiveness. Thereafter, when we have forgiven ourselves fully, we can truly move on in life.

• Did it occur to you ever you might be afraid to love yourself? Then you must bookmark these wise quotes on self-love.

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Author Bio: Sandip Roy is psychology writer, happiness researcher, and medical doctor. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related topics.

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