Question: Why is it so difficult to forgive oneself? I feel that I have forgiven my parents, friends, lovers, everyone, and I still don’t allow myself off the hook?
Answer: I think it’s so hard to forgive oneself because we’ve accepted the critical judgements of others about ourselves. Someone in childhood, or the past, might have said “shame on you” and we believed them. Also, if we continue to punish ourselves with unforgiveness, it may prevent someone else from criticizing us or abandoning us.
Many people who have a hard time forgiving themselves have also been made to feel responsible for other people’s happiness. They’ve learned to take the blame for whatever happened, to anyone. A client of mine felt responsible if there was an accident outside her building. She felt that somehow she should have been able to prevent it.
I think that the reason a person can forgive others and not themselves is that some part of them knows that the standards they judge themselves by are impossible to live up to. Therefore they can release anger at others who haven’t been able to fulfill that unrealistic code of conduct. But they can’t grant themselves the same compassion.
All unforgiveness is a continual self-punishment because we didn’t live up to someone’s expectations, generally someone else’s. Somehow, a part of us feels that if we don’t forgive ourselves, then we won’t do the “bad” thing again. It’s an unhealthy guilt/shame, and it’s there because we have felt less than worthy most of our lives.