I have heard from many clients that it is a huge task to forgive oneself and to forgive others when mistakes have been made. Many couples’s relationships can break down and often the top reason is due to a lack of trust in the relationship. We all make mistakes, as Alexander Pope said “To err is human: to forgive divine.”
Wiliam Shakespeare (2013) says, “I pardon him as God shall pardon me.”
So if forgiving yourself and forgiving others is so important and has been known as key to inner wellbeing for decades, then why is it so difficult to achieve?
We as human beings have values, beliefs and principles. When others make mistakes, in our eyes that generally means that they did an action that does not lie in sink with our values, beliefs and principles. They did something that we personally would never contemplate doing. It does not fit our world view.
Alternatively, when we make mistakes, we trip up and go over our own principles, and act in an out of character manner. It is difficult to forgive oneself when you act in a way far from your general way of being in the world.
Taking into consideration that as human beings we all make mistakes: to let it go and release ourselves of the pent-up resentment and anger the mistakes cause, allows us to clean out our inner world. To rid ourselves of the sadness, regret and guilt over our mistakes allows us to wipe clean the mental filing cabinet we hold in our minds.
To be in a place where you are able to forgive others and not hold grudges means that you are in a place where you understand human nature. You can see that even though you were hurt you also make mistakes. Sometimes when you can see beyond the mistake, you can see the persons intention. If they are sincerely asking for forgiveness, what does it give you to withhold it? Perhaps a little bit of power? Could withholding forgiveness offer you a slight sense of control? By forgiving, you are enabling that person to feel better and you are lightening your load that you carry around with you on a daily basis, whether it is in your awareness or out of it.
Do you have regrets? A lot of people have regrets from the past, things you should have, or could have, said or done that you did not. How would you feel if someone hurt you, they asked for forgiveness and you held it back and then they died? Would you feel bad that you did not forgive them? It always depends on the individual circumstances.
If someone forgot your birthday and you were deeply hurt because birthdays mean the world to you – you may be able to forgive them in time. If you told a friend in confidence something and they broke your trust and divulged that information to someone else, you may find it rather difficult to forgive them.
If you were abused, it would be much more of a tall order to forgive that person for the pain they caused. Working with a trained therapist could help you through the process of forgiving others and forgiving yourself in all different circumstances. As seen here, there are degrees of acts done that can be harder or easier to forgive.
Aviva Keren Barnett (PgD, M.A ) is a UKCP registered existential psychotherapist and counselor. Aviva holds a Master of Arts in Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling. Aviva, a very passionate therapist, works with individuals on a private basis.