Learn to Forgive Yourself

How do we forgive ourselves?  A lack of forgiveness over most anything can linger deeply within us for years. A lack of forgiveness results in painful self-judging and can eat away at us like acid etching glass.

I well remember a neighborhood picnic with friends and neighbors one beautiful day in August. Someone brought their 10-week-old Golden Retriever puppy, the type of little fluff ball that can melt the hardest hearts and cause adults to descend into baby talk and reminiscences. A neighbor started to pet the little thing, and within minutes she had gone from smiles to sobs.

"What is wrong?" we asked.

Through sniffles, our neighbor "confessed" that, in college, on a whim, she and her boyfriend at the time bought a Golden Retriever puppy. The relationship that was supposed to be forever dissolved, and though she tried, after a few weeks she had to give the puppy up for adoption at a "No-kill" animal shelter. She recalled how she drove away from the shelter crying her eyes out at her cruelty. Though the shelter had an extremely high rate of puppy adoptions, she could not forgive herself.

"How long ago was this?" we wanted to know. It was 25 years, at least.

A lack of forgiveness is like that. Unless we learn to be kind to ourselves, it may take years -- if ever -- to take away the pain. Here are several lessons on forgiveness

  1. You Didn't Do Anything That Was Unforgivable  
    What is it that you cannot remove from your heart and soul? I cannot identify it, of course, but you can. In this case, the woman gave up a puppy she loved so she could cope with many other stressors in her life. She was not cruel or mean in her intentions and, in fact, she brought it to a shelter that undoubtedly adopted the puppy to a new family within days. We must examine the "what" in all of this. "What" she did was to protect the puppy in the best way she knew how.
  2. Stop Beating Yourself Up  
    There are some things people do that are unforgivable. For those kinds of crimes, there are jails, but even in most of those cases, there are second chances. For the vast majority of us, our wrongdoings may be "poor decisions of the heart," or they may be workplace mistakes, but we have to allow a statute of limitations. The puppy undoubtedly fell in love with its new family within a day -- and they with her. The puppy long forgot the original owner.
  3. Be Gentle  
    We are humans, living and breathing, filled with a great capacity to love and to be kind. In all things, be kind and gentle to yourself. Yes, you can mourn that puppy you gave up for adoption, but beyond the sadness you felt at the time, there must be some gentleness toward yourself.
  4. Don't Expect Too Much from Yourself  
    "I should have done this; I should have done that!" These statements can completely cripple us. Who cannot look back 10, 20 or even 40 years ago to a mistake we made and say, "I might have done that a lot differently?" We are older and more mature now. We can't keep beating ourselves up for an action taken in another place and time. We would if we could, but we cannot. Do the best you can today.
  5. Put Everything in Perspective   
    One of the greatest gifts you can give is your time. Volunteer in any way that has meaning to you. Walk a dog at a local shelter, cut the grass of an elderly person or tutor a child. Visit a shut-in or a hospital patient, help out at your place of worship or build a new walking trail in a local park with other volunteers. Volunteering fills hearts, not only the hearts of those who we have helped, but your heart as well. Be part of something bigger than yourself. Nothing breaks routine more than helping others.

  6. Make Amends  
    Though my neighbor can't go back in time, she could have considered volunteering at an animal shelter or donating to a good cause for animal welfare. You may not have the capability to fix a decision you made earlier in life, but you have the ability never to make it again while discouraging another person you know from making the same kind of mistake that you made.

  7. There Is Blame to Go Around  
    We have all known people who cannot forgive themselves for mistakes. We may even be one of them. If we are honest with them, or with ourselves, we understand that few of these mistakes ever happen in a vacuum. We need to understand where a person's behavior and decision-making originated. In addition to our past behaviors, we need to remember that when our lives are not in balance, we make poor decisions. In our puppy case, the woman's boyfriend at the time was more than happy to go along with the decision to acquire it and then give it to a shelter.
  8. Don't Keep It All Inside  
    Finally, if you grieve over your past, if your regrets and shame are too much to handle, as a friend I ask you to share that pain with someone else. It could be a spouse, a dear friend, a pastor or a mental health professional. You were not meant to carry your burdens alone. When someone can help raise you up when you are fallen, it is a powerful, empowering thing not only for you but also for him or her.
One mistake does not have to rule a person's life. Your past mistakes are not meant to define you, but rather guide you. I can truthfully say that I would not be where I am today, doing what I do, if I hadn't learned to forgive myself. Years ago, while sobbing, I told my dearest friend that my life was over as I knew it. He said, "Everyone makes mistakes. You need to forgive yourself and realize that a new chapter in your life is just beginning." He was right! Forgiveness is the greatest gift you can give yourself.


Steve's December 2017 Schedule


Fairmont, MN
Mankato, MN
Worthington, MN
Lakeville, MN
Rochester, MN
Menomonie,  WI
St. Cloud, MN
Lacey, WA