The Counseling Corner
By Rev. Judith T. Lester, B.Min. M.Th
This writer served as the final conference presenter during the Spiritual Enrichment Women’s Retreat in May 2018 sponsored by the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Milwaukee. The topic was: “The Journey to Self-Forgiveness” intended to encourage participants to forgive themselves.
Self-forgiveness has been described as the neglected step-child of the forgiveness literature (Hall & Fincham, 2005). Studies of forgiving oneself are fewer and less sophisticated than studies of forgiving others, and no consensus exists among scholars regarding a single theoretical definition of self-forgiveness.
What is self-forgiveness?
One of the earliest definitions of self-forgiveness is a willingness to abandon self-resentment in the face of one’s own acknowledged objective wrong, while fostering compassion, generosity, and love toward oneself.
Who is self-forgiveness for?
Everyone. Most people have experienced times when they simply messed up and hurt someone and they know it— know it all too well.
Why? (1) God has forgiven you! (2) it is good for your health! and (3) we have no right to take the role of judge and pronounce the death sentence on ourselves. That is pride to think we can hear God’s verdict of, “I forgive you,” and refuse it. We refuse it and set ourselves up as the new judge and pronounce a death sentence over ourselves. The biblical problem with that is an arrogant failure to trust in the forgiveness of God.
Four stages of self-forgiveness
1. Responsibility – Taking responsibility gives us an awareness that we have hurt another person and accept the responsibility necessary for our actions.
2. Remorse – is characterized by a variety of offense related negative emotions (such as guilt and shame, blame, self-condemnation).
3. Restoration – If it is possible, restoration allows for the opportunity to make amends with the individuals we have hurt.
4. Renewal – This stage allows the offender to genuinely forgive themselves for their past transgressions and engage in more positive and meaningful behaviors such as self-compassion, acceptance, self-kindness, and respect for oneself, etc. (1)
Beloved, forgiving yourself is essential. There is a tendency in all of us to hold ourselves more accountable than we do others. Perhaps you can justify forgiving others, even for a terrible offense, yet find no justification for forgiving yourself for an equal or lesser offense. Perhaps you believe forgiving yourself is not even a consideration because you think you must hold yourself in a state of constant remembrance, lest you forget. The reality is you cannot change what has happened. Forgive yourself and let it go!
(1) Cornish, M.A., Wade, N.G. (2015). A therapeutic model of self-forgiveness with intervention strategies for counselors.” Journal of Counseling & Development.
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The writer does not assume responsibility in any way for readers’ efforts to apply or utilize information or recommendations made in this article, as they may not be necessarily appropriate for every situation to which they may refer. This information is for educational purposes only. If you would like to contact Rev. Lester, write to her c/o P.O. Box 121, Brookfield, WI. 53008.