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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A Christian Perspective: How to Overcome Depression

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When I first moved to Georgia at the tender age of 21, a newly married bride with not a clue about how to be a wife or an adult for that matter, I slipped into a profound depression that lasted for three years.

I really didn’t realize it at the time, but I had walked into the perfect storm, a whirlwind of stressful life changes: a move to a different state into a new role as wife away from my support system of friends and family, a start as a transfer student in a much bigger university, and a transfer to a new branch of Starbucks. I had no idea why I felt the way I did or how to make myself better. “Depression” sounded like a textbook term that had nothing to do with me. It never occurred to me that I was suffering from depression or what the root causes for that could possibly be.

Everything was new. And, to make the transition that much more difficult to embrace, I began to suffer renewed feelings of loss over a previous relationship that I had never been able to find closure in. I faked my way through lectures in lecture halls, shifts at work — and then fell into bed feeling like I was at the bottom of a cycling torpedo of black despair.

I didn’t think there was any way that I could possibly claw my way out of how I felt. One of the reasons that it went on so long is because I didn’t talk about it with anyone. I lived a double life — presenting a smiling façade to the world and suffering alone with my own angst. It was not until I went forward for prayer one Sunday, and the pastor mentioned that he felt someone needed to forgive someone and say that person’s name, that some things began to click for me. I said the name of the person I needed to forgive; instantly, the black clouds enveloping me parted.

Although I didn’t have all the answers leaving the altar that day, I understood something important about myself: I had been carrying the weight of unforgiveness and the other person’s negative view of me around for years and carried it right into my marriage. I felt so depressed partly because I had so much repressed anger at the individual in the relationship and anger at myself for “failing” in the relationship. Even though I was married, I had never processed through the emotions from the previous relationship; therefore, those emotions reared up at a time when I was feeling insecure, vulnerable and out of my element.

Christians Get Depressed

Somewhere along the way I got the idea that as a Christian I have to be happy all the time or the world will not want what I have to offer, but what I didn’t realize is that the world does not need a false façade or a fake person. The world needs authentic, flaws and all.

The reality is not that Christians will never get depressed. Christians do get depressed. We need to look no further than the book of Psalms to see a man often in the depths of despair. David got depressed! He expressed great despair when God took his child that he conceived with Bathsheba; when armies advanced and his enemies outnumbered him; when troubles overtook him and his body was weak and sick as a result.

Depression is not something to hide or pretend away. When we are depressed, our mind is processing through a loss of some kind or reacting to a stressful event or situation. The solution is not to pretend that we don’t have a problem but instead look to the root of the depression and determine the source of our negative feelings. Is there a relationship that we need to reconcile? Do we have unresolved anger towards a person, an individual, ourselves, or God? Have we just experienced a loss of some kind such as a death of a loved one, a loss of a position, or the loss of our health? Those circumstances can encourage negative thoughts that leave us feeling depressed. (More here on Forgiving Others: Taking a Relationship Inventory.)

David had the right idea — he poured out his heart to God and penned his very real emotions into poignant psalms. He didn’t put on a brave front to God and pretend like he had everything under control. He got real and admitted his need for God. However, nowhere does it say in Scripture that God was upset at him for having those emotions. God can handle our bad feelings.

Because of my own struggles since that day at the altar, I have come to understand more about how to overcome depression — and accepted the fact that Christians do get depressed, but we don’t have to stay depressed. We may not get to choose the circumstances that leave us feeling down or the reactions people have to us that make us feel isolated and unloved — but we most certainly can choose the way we handle and react to those times when a blanket of gray envelops our souls.

1. Practice thanksgiving in the moment.

I used to consider myself a realist — I thought that in order to see the world realistically and shield myself from unneeded pain meant anticipating when this pain would rear its ugly head. However, this just made me a paranoid, critical person who wasn’t very fun to be around. Thanksgiving didn’t seem like something that would help me crawl out of the pit of pain I had fallen into.

However, it is no coincidence that so many verses in the Bible stress being grateful in all circumstances — thanksgiving helps to take the edge off of the pain, even forget it. Ann Voskamp recommends listing gifts daily in her study One Thousand Gifts. She carries around a little list and writes down her “gifts” as she goes through her day.

This may not sound like a profound activity, but what I didn’t realize is that I had gotten into the habit of meditating on the negative problems happening in my life, and it was taking my mind to a dark place. The more time I spent stewing over what was wrong and who had wronged me, the more time I spent in the throes of depression.

Habitually listing what we are grateful for and rehearsing that in our mind may feel a little forced and silly at first, but as we continue to engage in intentional gratitude, we will find that our depression lifts much sooner — and we can have peace even in the midst of very stressful circumstances.

2. Prayer.

Prayer sounds like a no-brainer solution that well-meaning people offer you when they don’t know what else to say, but it really does work. Even though it is helpful to talk to others, no one else can help us in our situation like God. We can be honest with him about how much that person’s remark hurt us, or how scared we are about taking a step of faith or how angry we are at our husband.

Prayer time is a great emotion neutralizer. We come into it with angry, despairing, devastating emotions and walk out of it with a different perspective, a sense of calm, and a release from all of the bad that has been swirling inside of us. As Philippians 4:6-7 recommends: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

The truth is that when we are at our lowest, we just don’t feel like praying at all, but when we do it despite not feeling like it we really see results. In fact, as this verse suggests, God promises to guard our heart against the anger, despair, and bitterness that threaten to overtake us. God’s peace becomes our protector.

3. Know it’s a season.

The reality with depression is that it sometimes can last for a long time — especially if it is following a loss of some kind. There may be quite a bit of time that passes before you begin to feel good again. In her CNN article “Going Public With Depression,” published shortly after Robin Williams’ death, Kat Kinsman reflects on her own journey battling depression at fourteen and how she feels now as an adult:

Now, 25 years later, I’ve lost too much time and too many people to feel any shame about the way my psyche is built. How from time to time, for no good reason, it drops a thick, dark jar over me to block out air and love and light, and keeps me at arm’s length from the people I love most.

The pain and ferocity of the bouts have never eased, but I’ve lived in my body long enough to know that while I’ll never ‘snap out of it,’ at some point the glass will crack and I’ll be free to walk about in the world again. It happens every time, and I have developed a few tricks to remind myself of that as best I can when I’m buried deepest.

While I can’t agree with everything Kinsman says concerning depression (namely, I believe that we can overcome our negative thinking patterns and indeed “snap out it”), I like how she acknowledges that we can look to the hope that we may be in a hard season, but it won’t last forever.

Knowing that the depression will pass and that there will be a day when we wake up and no longer feel trapped in a black hole helps us when we don’t feel like talking about it, praying about it or keeping in touch with the outside world.

4. Keep moving.

In yet another juncture of my life, when I had quit teaching and was feeling isolated and insignificant in my role as stay-at-home mom, I felt like I was in a major slump. Something told me to just keep going. Keep attending church events. Sign up for a mom class. Keep searching for a school for my daughter. Keep showing up at my husband’s basketball games.

Sometimes when we are praying and working through things, and we still feel like we are in the valley — choosing to continue to engage in social avenues helps to lift some of the heaviness. As Joyce Meyer suggests in Approval to Addiction:

When we are hurting, our natural tendency is to nurse our wounds. We may want to isolate ourselves and think about how pitifully we have been treated. I have discovered that when I am hurting, the best thing I can do is keep moving. While I am hurting, I just keep doing what I would be doing if I were not hurting. I go to work, I study, I pray, I go out and preach, I keep my commitments. I keep doing the good things God has given me to do, and I trust Him to take care of the evil things.

5. Focus on others.

As I detail in another post, I was at the doctor’s after a miscarriage for an ultrasound and follow-up visit, and I felt God’s nudge to minister to some of the nurses and patients at the doctor’s office. I have to admit that I was very uncomfortable with the idea. Offended, even. Are you serious, God?  Do you really want me to say some things to these people when my own heart is broken?

It turns out that reaching out to others in my own pain and sharing my story had a very healing effect on me. I actually started feeling more sorry for some of the pregnant women in the office then for my own un-pregnant state. I have to attribute this feeling to God because my own feelings did not suggest to me that I should do anything but focus on my own state. God knew by pulling my heartstrings that I would help myself by turning outward and aiding others.

(We can often swing to drastic extremes where we try so hard to pretend nothing is wrong and only focus on others that we lose ourselves in the process. With keeping our commitments and focusing on others, I definitely am not suggesting doing these things without taking care of ourselves. There definitely needs to be some alone grieving time after painful events or losses; however, sometimes we can isolate ourselves to the point where we hurt ourselves more.)

As I look back on some of the seasons where I thought that my depression would consume me whole, I can admit quite happily that I made it through. In time, the feelings lifted, and I was able to enjoy life again. Although I was fortunate to get the healing I needed at the altar as a young bride, there have been other seasons that took some persistence and perseverance to make it through the tough valleys.

Simply knowing that bad things will happen, and we will experience negative emotions but do not have to let these things derail or define us — helps a little when sadness steals its way into our lives.

 Related Resources:

Do you believe that you may have depression because of repressed anger towards another person that has not been resolved? Another great resource for you to learn about the healing effects of forgiveness is outlined in Joyce Meyer’s article “The Poison of Unforgiveness” — a read I highly recommend!

 

 

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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How Helping Others Helped Me Get Over the Tragedy of Miscarriage

An ultrasound when you’re not pregnant has to be just about the saddest thing ever.

That was my thought as I walked into my doctor’s office a week after a devastating miscarriage. I was scheduled for a follow-up ultrasound to check to see if my surgery at the hospital the week before had successfully removed the remaining tissue.

I could visualize it now: my empty uterus blown up on the screen, its rounded walls encircling life no longer. No comforting blinking blip of a baby’s heartbeat — just a yawning expanse of gray fuzz where a fetus had been just a few weeks earlier.

To make matters worse, I was not feeling great. I had a racing heartbeat and low iron levels — walking from the car up to the office was an effort for me. I was feeling sorry for myself, and I was prepared for others to feel sorry for me too. I figured God had arranged a motherly ultrasound tech to do the ultrasound, perhaps a kind nurse to minister to me in my time of brokenness.

But God had other plans.

The ultrasound tech who found me in the waiting room was not the maternal tech I was hoping for — she was younger than me, thin. There was a vulnerability about her. Although she gave me instructions in a most professional way about what clothes to remove and where to position myself on the table, I felt a sensitivity immediately in my spirit, a prick.

We chatted pleasantly for a few minutes. As pleasant as a conversation about a lost baby can be. Yes, I did just lose my baby in the hospital one week ago. Yes, I was supposed to have my 12 week ultrasound today, but instead they changed it to my post-miscarriage ultrasound. No, this was not my first pregnancy. The conversation then took a rather innocent turn. I had mistakenly thought that my ultrasound was going to be after my doctor exam and had filled up on water. So, I commented on how excruciating it can be to have an ultrasound with a full bladder. She began to relate a story to me of an ultrasound she had had recently where she was in intense discomfort.

I assumed she had children and asked how many she had. She quickly explained that she had no children but had actually had an ultrasound to look at a cyst on her uterus that she had been having problems with for the past few years. The moment that she said “cyst” a word dropped into my brain, and I tried to shake it off, but it came again. Unforgiveness. She continued to talk and the word came again. Unforgiveness. It drowned out all other sounds and kept interrupting my thoughts like an incoming message chime in an email.

As much as I would like to say that I am a wonderful Christian and that I wanted to speak to this woman and tell her about my own past struggles with unforgiveness and the physical problems it caused me, I really didn’t. However, I also know that God gives me very specific words for people at extremely inconvenient times, and when I ignore his assignments I always regret it. Feeling a thin film of sweat develop on my brow, I made my way off the table and into the bathroom to get the rest of my clothes on. God, do you want me to tell her that her condition may be caused by unforgiveness in a relationship? I only heard silence and the efficient hum of the ultrasound tech’s movements on the other side of the door.

I already knew the answer.

In the least awkward way possible, I opened the door, smiled at the woman and said to her, “I am not a medical professional, and this may not even be for you, but when you were talking about cysts a moment ago, I got a word in my mind for you.” I then proceeded to tell her I was a Christian and how my decision to hold onto hatred for a friend after she had hurt me had caused a problem with bleeding.

The issue continued for over a month until I felt convicted about it and apologized to my friend. The very day I forgave her and sent her an apology the problem went away. I told the ultrasound tech that sometimes we just get physical problems (we live in a fallen world and experience illness as a result), but at times we get physical problems as a result of emotional or spiritual problems. I offered her my story and told her I did not want her to suffer, so she could weigh out if what I said applied to her.

The awkward thing for me in that moment was I could very well have been wrong. I could have imagined the words in my head and imagined that it had anything to do with her. I could have greatly offended her and made a stressful situation worse. Yet, Jesus was bold with people. He gave them actions to complete and didn’t mince words. He was compassionate, but he didn’t just stand around and lament the condition people were in. He healed them.

Truthfully, I wasn’t feeling very much like Jesus, but if He was indeed giving me these words for this woman — He was offering her a step to healing. And a step to Himself.

I was just a flawed woman in a doctor’s office after the loss of a pregnancy. A woman who could be wrong. A woman feeling dizzy and lightheaded and sad for my baby. But when I began talking, I felt such strength and power — as only Christ can provide, and I didn’t feel sad at all. My problems were so far removed from me at that moment. And I really felt that there was something sadder than an ultrasound when you aren’t pregnant: a person without the hope of Jesus Christ.

Even in my condition, I had a hope to lean the weight of my sadness on.

She didn’t say much in response, but I could tell by the look in her eyes that something had moved her. And because nothing else came to mind and she looked like she needed a moment to process everything, I gave her a hug and stepped away. I didn’t know what was going on her life or what was going on with her body — but God did. And all I could do was offer Him.

The lesson I learned in the ultrasound room is this: God wants to use me even when I feel that I am at my lowest and weakest point. He always has others on His mind, and while I mainly have myself on my mind — reaching out and ministering to others in my own broken state can heal not only the other person but can help to heal my own heart. As Shelene Bryan notes in Love, Skip, Jump, “It is in sacrificially loving others that God can use us and fulfill us in a way that nothing else can. By surrendering our plans and desires to Him we can be part of something He wants to do.”

Is there something right now that the Lord might be asking of you? Something that makes you a little scared, a little uncomfortable? You may have to push aside your own desires or even reach out in the midst of your own suffering; but I promise if you do, you may be able for a moment to forget your own sadness and feel the goodness of God in the midst of your pain.

 

 

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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