Forgiveness – Part 3: Self-Forgiveness

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If my partner forgave me for a hurt I caused, why do I still feel so raw and disappointed in myself? Why does that feeling sit in my mind and my heart, reminding me of the poor choice I made and the pain I created? Aren’t the steps for seeking and granting forgiveness supposed to help heal the situation? Why does this still weigh me down? Why do I still feel bad?

Here’s why: I need to forgive myself. Actually, step 6 in seeking forgiveness is to forgive oneself. This might seem like an obvious first step, but in fact it deliberately comes much later because it carries great importance in the overall process of forgiveness.

In Part 1 of this series, I discussed the idea of conscious forgiveness for big hurts like infidelity or abuse, and I also covered the everyday lapses in thoughtfulness that we need to forgive our partner for as well.   Both the concepts of conscious and unconscious forgiveness are from the perspective of the victim forgiving the transgressor.   While this is a valued viewpoint that most take when talking about forgiveness, there is another view to consider: self-forgiveness.

I can achieve self-forgiveness when I, as the offender, can acknowledge the offense and take responsibility for it while being willing to abandon any remaining self-resentment. From this, I can embrace compassion, generosity, and above all, love. This final stage in the process of seeking forgiveness can help prevent the hurt from finding its way back into the relationship years down the road.

In recent interviews with marriage industry professionals, I asked if they ever saw forgiveness come out in their work with couples. Clergy members noted they often see great hurt in older couples, with retirement acting as the catalyst for reopening wounds that were superficially healed, but had never really been allowed to heal from the inside out. They speculated this is due to the lack of self-forgiveness on the offender’s part and then years of underlying self-resentment. The counselors whom I interviewed acknowledged the experiences of the clergy members, but they also made note of the importance of educating couple about self-forgiveness early on in their relationships so they can avoid the experience of the couples the clergy described.

Being able to forgive your partner for past hurts or everyday lapses in thoughtfulness will help you strengthen your relationship. You just can’t forget that when you are the partner seeking forgiveness, forgiving yourself is a crucial part of the process.

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