4 Reasons Why You Should Forgive Yourself

forgive yourself

I watched a “Dateline” episode recently where a woman had previously had an affair with the man convicted of killing his own wife. The wife was the woman’s friend. Though she had been cleared of any involvement in the crime, she still felt immense guilt for her involvement with her friend’s husband.

She had this to say: “I will never forgive myself for what I’ve done.”

At one time I would have thought her statement noble. Why should a person forgive herself for getting involved with a friend’s spouse? Like the woman in the “Dateline” episode, I, too, used to hold the belief that I should punish myself for wrongdoing when I didn’t measure up to my own standards. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with being angry at myself. I thought Jesus would want me to be mad at myself when I did something wrong.

But that is actually not what Jesus wants from me or the woman in the “Dateline” episode. Although Scripture talks about a godly sorrow that can lead to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10) — this is not a continual unhealthy beating up of oneself over wrongdoing.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I even realized I had a problem with unforgiveness of self. I was sitting in a counselor’s office, and she had me write a list of everyone I was angry at that I needed to forgive.

It turns out, I was on my own list. And I was surprised to discover that Jesus wants me to forgive myself. He advocates that I do — and for several important reasons:

1. Because not forgiving yourself rejects Jesus’ work on the cross.

A verse that has become my favorite is Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Even though Jesus is clear that we shouldn’t live in sin, and we need to resist sin and temptation, Jesus never expected us to punish ourselves for our sin. He is very clear in Romans that we are under no condemnation for our deeds.

Earlier, in Romans 7, Paul explains that grace doesn’t give us free license to sin — however, when we do fall short and make mistakes, God tells us in His Word that we don’t have to condemn ourselves.

Condemning ourselves rejects Jesus’ work on the cross. He became a sacrifice for our sins. We can brush ourselves off when we fall, ask Jesus to forgive us (and ask forgiveness from others if we need to) and keep going. To continually think about what wrong we’ve done or the mistakes we’ve made and beat ourselves up for them isn’t biblical.

2. Unforgiveness of self leads to relationship problems.

Not being in right relationship with ourselves affects our relationships with others. Unfortunately, when we choose not to forgive ourselves and carry around this idea that we are “too bad” to forgive, we are not able to embrace or like ourselves. We see ourselves only through the filter of what we’ve done. This affects not only our relationship with self but our relationships with others as well.

Someone who can’t let go of a past wrong may feel inferior to others and feel “too bad” to be liked by another person. Satan can get his way in and convince us we are so unworthy of relationships that we become isolated — all because we won’t accept what Jesus has done for us. Sadly, not only may we begin to feel not good enough for others, we may convince ourselves that God doesn’t want us either.

However, the idea that we’re not good enough to be loved is a lie that Satan spins to get us out of relationship with others and out of a relationship with God. God is clear that He loves us in spite of what we do! He wants us no matter what we’ve done.

 3. Unforgiveness of self can cause health problems.

In a book I reference often in my posts, A More Excellent Way, Henry W. Wright details three ways that we can open the door to what he calls “spiritually rooted disease” — disease that has a root in a relationship breach with God, ourselves or others. Not forgiving ourselves can lead to feelings of shame, self-hatred and low self-worth. Even if we have made a really bad choice and there are earthly consequences for that choice, God wants us to repent and forgive ourselves.

According to Wright, continual negative emotions towards ourselves — rehearsing words of guilt or unforgiveness or shame — can lead to health problems such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes and other autoimmune diseases.

Also, not forgiving one’s self can lead to mental torment — emotional instability, depression, anxiety, and negative thinking. As I was preparing to do this article, I felt that this term “mental torment” kept coming to mind as something I needed to include. The Bible is clear that anger that is not dealt with can give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:26, 27), and we will be handed over to tormenting spirits if we choose not to forgive (Matthew 18:23-35).

One reason we may not want to forgive ourselves is because we are so angry at ourselves for what we have done. We may not even have sinned. We may have made a careless mistake that caused great damage, and we can’t get over what happened.

I remember after a significant breakup with another person the feelings of anger I held not only towards the other person but towards myself. I felt like what happened was my fault. I kept replaying scenarios in my mind of what I could have done differently to keep the relationship. I spiraled into a dark depression that lasted for several years — and only when I let go of my unresolved anger and forgave the person and myself did I begin to feel free from the dark thoughts that had tormented me about that situation.

4. Because the Bible says to do it.

One of the reasons I haven’t really known about self-forgiveness until recently is because I didn’t know that this mandate was in the Bible. I had read all of the verses about forgiving others, but I didn’t realize that this instruction about forgiving others also extended to one’s self. Recently, I read an article on a deliverance ministry site I have frequented before, and the author pointed out that the “one another” referred to in Colossians 3:13 in the Greek also can be a reference back to one’s self. The verse is as follows:

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

I had skipped over this because I generally don’t make it a habit to study the Greek translation of words — however, “allélón” (the “one another” used in the verse) is a reciprocal pronoun that refers not only to others but yourself.

God knew that we would make mistakes and mess up. Romans 3:23 reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Often, unforgiveness of self makes us feel like we’re the only ones with a problem or broken behavior. The truth is all have fallen short. Because we can’t achieve perfection, God made a plan for us, so that we can be made a new creation, by accepting Jesus’ free gift of salvation.

We shouldn’t abuse that gift by doing whatever we want, excusing bad behavior with, “It’s OK, Jesus will forgive me.” But when we fall into sin, we can call out to Jesus and ask for forgiveness. We were not meant to carry the burden of our guilt or shame. We can give it over to Jesus, knowing that He doesn’t expect us to self-punish or hold unforgiveness against ourselves.

He wants us to confess our sin, accept His forgiveness, forgive ourselves — and move on.

Suggested prayer for self-unforgiveness: Jesus, forgive me for the sin of unforgiveness. I forgive myself for ______________________. Help me to see myself as you see me and not hold my mistakes against myself any longer. Help me to walk freely in the freedom that I am under no condemnation for my sins because of your work on the cross. Amen.

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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Self-Worth: How to Start Accepting Yourself

heart-462873_1280She walked past me, and I caught sight of the stump of her right arm and the deep pock marks on her face.

This was not the first time I had seen her. She worked at my doctor’s office and had conducted a few billing transactions for me. She had always been friendly and cordial.

But this time when I saw her, something was different. I felt two words press down into my soul like boot marks on muddy soil: Self-rejection. Anger. Although I knew very little about this woman, I suddenly knew so much about her. I felt the pressure again on my spirit. Those words again: Self-rejection. Anger.

Are you serious, God? Do you want me to say something to her? Although I felt compassion for her, I most certainly did not want to say anything to her. I most certainly did not want to ask her if those words meant anything to her. I most certainly did not want to get involved and embarrass her by bringing up a painful past where perhaps those words had begun to define who she was.

How I Started not Liking Myself

If her story was anything like mine, I could trace my own dislike of myself back to when I was a child. I had developed an anxiety very early on about my worth in relationship to others. The feelings had developed because we lived in a house that was a never-done work-in-process with particle board floors, door-less cupboards, and knob-less doors.

These feelings of inadequacy intensified when I went to school in shabby hand-me-downs and developed much later than my peers. I was scorned for being skinny, unfashionable, and poor. And without even knowing it, I began to feel less than other people. I masked this pain with a brave front, but all the while I had a negative tape playing in my head.

I felt angry at myself for not measuring up. I felt angry at God for making a “mistake.” I felt angry at the cruelty of my friends. I didn’t know that the relationship I had with myself was one of the most important  — the one that would impact how I felt about God and others. I didn’t know that self-rejection would separate me from my peers even more than I already felt separated.

When this scorn for myself got to a level where constantly beating myself up was a normal part of each day, I had to find an out to overcome the negative voices. My method for relieving myself of my pain and feeling good about myself was looking to others to fill what I felt was empty in myself. I vowed to not upset or confront those around me so that I could avoid rejection. I became a perfectionist to perform enough so that I could be useful and acceptable to convince myself and others of my worth.

I married young and used my husband’s attention and love to try to feel good about myself. Even as a married woman, I became flirtatious with the men around me to attempt to further convince myself that I was beautiful and smart. I became a workaholic to try to out-perform others and be the best so that, again, I could quiet the voice inside myself that said I was not worthy.

Getting Rid of Self-Rejection and Self-Hatred

According to a 1990 radio message by Charles Stanley, self-rejection is generated from “chronic feelings of unworthiness.” People who have problems with self-rejection are “willing to base their self-worth on the opinions of others rather than on [their] relationship to God.” Causes for self-rejection can include “an early-in-life deformity, deep emotional hurt from childhood, death of a parent, abandonment, divorce, abuse, guilt from past mistakes, and criticism from others.”

I didn’t know for the longest time what a healthy self-image even looked like and through some study I discovered that God really wants me to be confident in the person He has made me to be. When I turn against myself, I am essentially turning against God and telling him that what he created is defective.

In addition, self-rejection is a strategy Satan uses to get us out of relationship with God and relationship with others. It is based on lies from the master of lies himself. When I look back at pictures of myself and see a beautiful, brown-haired girl, I feel so absolutely sad because the way I saw myself — and still see myself at times — was and is so very distorted.

Because of the lies I began speaking over myself (mainly those I assumed were true or believed from the words of a small handful of people), I stopped seeing myself the way God saw me and instead embraced a version of myself that simply wasn’t true.

What I have learned in my journey to a healthy self-worth is that a confident person does not base his or her self-worth on the opinions of others. A confident person gets his approval from God. As Joyce Meyer says in Approval Addiction: 

We can enter the rest of God concerning what people think of us and whether they approve of us. We can become so secure in Christ that as long as we know our heart is right, we know whatever people think of us is between them and God and is not our concern.

Meyer gives the example of Paul as one confident in his position in Christ. She notes that in 1 Cor. 4 we see a situation in which Paul is being judged regarding his faithfulness. Paul responds to the criticism by saying that he is concerned with God’s judgment rather than man’s, emphasizing, “I do not even put myself on trial and judge myself” (1 Cor. 4:3).

What is encouraging to me (and what Meyer stresses) is that Paul had people questioning him and yet he chose not to let their accusations define him. Although he was concerned about his reputation among men, his primary concern was a clear conscience before God.

I don’t know about you but I struggle with that kind of confidence.

Where Healthy Self-Worth and a Sense of Acceptance Come From

What Paul knew about having a healthy identity and what I am learning is that we can be confident because of Him who lives in us and what He has done for us. We can choose to accept and love ourselves as children of God because He has claimed us and cancelled our failings. We are acceptable because of what Christ has done in us and not because of what we have done for ourselves.

It takes the pressure off when we acknowledge this because we don’t have to worry about gaining the approval of others. We won’t please everyone around us all of the time. We simply have to follow Him where He leads and depend on Him in moments of insecurity when we are afraid we won’t get it right.

When we hear a negative thought creep in such as “There is something wrong with you” or “No one likes you” — we can immediately reject it as a thought from Satan. God convicts us of wrong actions that need to be addressed, but his conviction never comes to destroy us but always to restore us.

As Stanley notes in his radio address, turning away from self-rejection involves identifying the feelings of rejection, rejecting the feelings of rejection, and affirming that you are “unconditionally loved, completely forgiven, totally accepted and complete in Christ.”

To get to that place of acceptance of myself, I have had to forgive myself for not being perfect; forgive my parents for not parenting me perfectly; forgive my tormentors for making fun of me; and forgive God for giving me parts of my story that I thought were imperfect.

Self-Acceptance: How Can You Like Yourself?

The woman at the doctor’s office. I didn’t know anything about her. I didn’t know her story. But in some ways I did. I didn’t have to know every in and in out of her past to see the scars left behind. I felt it so strongly again when I was sitting in the room waiting for the doctor to tell her my own tale of overcoming my own self-rejection and forgiving those who had hurt me.

As if to confirm my assignment, I caught sight of the woman on my way out of the office. She was hurrying along, papers clipped under her disfigured arm. Coward that I am, I did not stop her then. I needed time to examine this, think. I made my next appointment and left. It was not until a week later that I called the office and with a shaky voice told her on the phone that I felt that God had something for me to tell her.

She didn’t say much in response but thanked me for my call. I hope that my words to her will begin a process in her that He began in me some time ago — of learning to accept His love and His version of me.

And I hope my words will inspire a work in you if self-rejection or self-hatred is a struggle, knowing that there is a God who loves you and wants to restore you to Himself. Getting there means believing what He says about you and resisting messages from Satan or peers that would tell you otherwise — and taking yourself off trial.

Related Bible Verses:

1 Corinthians 4:3: “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.”

Galatians 1:10: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be servant of Christ.”

 Related Resources:

Charles Stanley, a pastor and author, suffered rejection as a child and has written extensively about the the damaging effects of rejection and self-rejection. Click here for his devotional on self-rejection featured on Crosswalk online magazine or here for notes from his radio message.

Have you experienced rejection and as a result find yourself trying to perform to avoid rejection from those around you? Do you have a hard time standing up for yourself or saying no because you fear others’ reactions? Joyce Meyer talks about how to not let the desire for others’ approval dominate your life in Approval Addiction: Overcoming Your Need to Please Everyone.

Photo Credit: Celeste Lindell, Flickr

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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Self-Worth: How to Feel Better About Yourself

Sometimes the simplest things make the biggest difference.

Take for instance when I was teaching: My student standardized test scores at the end of my first year were low, and I knew I needed to improve those. After attending a workshop on teaching strategies, I did some serious praying and realized that I was doing too much of the work for my students. I was reading the text and explaining and analyzing — to an audience of air — because while all of my brilliant discussion was going on most of my students were daydreaming about what they were going to eat for lunch.

So, I replaced my teacher-centered activities with more student-centered ones. Rather than have students listen to a story and fill out teacher-generated questions, I had them read portions of the story on their own and fill out 2-column notes, main idea notes, and double-entry journals. The change was really a simple one for me: I didn’t have to come up with all of the questions for the stories and could use fabricated graphic organizer templates, merely changing up the categories depending on the assignment.

That small adjustment paid off for me in a big way in my test scores the next few years.

I’ve found a similar principle to be true in my spiritual life as well. Sometimes minute tweaks can have a big impact. One small but big change that has begun to transform my thought life is simply taking God at His word and believing and speaking His truth over myself.

I didn’t even realize until recently that I was allowing my mind to be infiltrated by lies from the enemy. The area that I was allowing Him to infiltrate the most was in the area of my self-worth.

Somewhere around the time I was 11 or 12, I began to speak negative words over myself. The tape that I had playing in my head sounded like this: There is something wrong with you. No one likes you. You’re not pretty. You’re not enough. You aren’t smart like other people. Obviously, most adolescents do have negative thoughts running through their minds as their bodies change; however, I clung onto these words as absolute truth and let them stay with me into adulthood.

The thing that saddens me so greatly about my decision to believe these lies is that I always had a choice and didn’t know it. I chose to get into agreement with the devil about my self-worth, and by allowing degrading words to invade my thoughts throughout the day, I began to feel really badly about myself. I felt shame and imagined rejection in all of my relationships.

The words began to affect my health and my sense of well-being. All the time that I was letting this internal tape play, I was literally speaking curses over myself and impairing my ability to have successful relationships because I was so insecure and needy.

The simple truth I came across at the age of 34 was this: To change how I felt about myself, I had to start accepting what God said about me and begin to speak those truths over myself. As Joyce Meyer advocates in Approval Addiction, the only way Satan’s lies can destroy me is if I get into agreement with the lies and out of agreement with God’s truth. As Meyer says:

According to Paul’s letter to the Romans, God is for us. We also know that Satan is against us. The question we must ask is are we going to get into agreement with God or with the devil? You know the answer. Stop being against yourself just because Satan is against you!”

The truth that I started to speak over myself is this: I am loved. I am forgiven. I am beautiful. God created works for me to do in advance. He has a plan for me and my life.

You might be reading this, thinking: That’s it? That’s how you revolutionized the way you thought about yourself? Yep! It’s hard to believe that such a simple change could truly make me love myself after years of rejecting the creation God had made.

There are still times the ugly lies present themselves and my confidence is shaken — when I fail or make a mistake and the unkind words of others remind me of my past or my downfalls. Yet, when I hear those old familiar phrases coming back to wreak havoc, I know to resist them.

As a result, I feel happier and more refreshed. I have the confidence to put myself out there in new relationships because I don’t have to fear the risk of rejection.

Meyer comments on the self-assuredness we can have in Christ if we refuse to allow Satan to attack us:

Satan works through people as well as independently. He attacks our confidence through the things people say or don’t say … If people’s opinions, judgments and attitudes toward us are sometimes inspired by the devil, instead of agreeing with what they think and say, we must resist it. If we know God is for us, then it shouldn’t matter how we feel, or what people think of us.”

Refusing to Believe Lies About Your Self-Worth

I encourage you to be honest with yourself right now: What are the lies you are speaking over yourself? What have people said about you that might be crippling your confidence and ability to step out into a fulfilling life? How might you be different if you begin to take God at His word and believe that you are a special and precious creation with a unique purpose for your life?

The antidote to the crippling deception of the enemy is to stand firm against those lies and instead dwell on God’s truth. And, as Meyer concludes in her chapter, “Once we understand how God sees us through Christ, we can refrain from caring about what people think about us, and feeling bad about ourselves … ”

Truths to Help You Feel Better About Yourself

-When you feel reminded of your bad choices: Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

-When you feel bad about your appearance: Psalm 139:3: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

-When you feel like your life has no purpose: Jeremiah 29:11:For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”

-When others come against you: Romans 8:31: “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

-When you feel unloved: Romans 8:37: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither present nor the future … will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Related Resources:

Charles Stanley, a pastor and author, suffered rejection as a child and has written extensively about the the damaging effects of rejection and self-rejection. Click here for his devotional on self-rejection featured on Crosswalk online magazine.

Have you experienced rejection and as a result find yourself trying to perform to avoid rejection from those around you? Do you have a hard time standing up for yourself or saying no because you fear others’ reactions? Joyce Meyer talks about how to not let the desire for others’ approval dominate your life in Approval Addiction: Overcoming Your Need to Please Everyone.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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