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athgarvan

Forgiving Ourselves

I was reflecting over the weekend on the notion of 'forgiveness'. We often find it difficult to forgive those who have offended us in some way. But  we can also find it troubling to know that we have offended others but cannot forgive ourselves. We realize we have been at fault but cannot forgive ourselves. This in turn can lead to unease, disquiet, lack of peace of mind, or even, in extreme cases, suicide.

Christians are always aware that their God, in his love, has already forgiven them. The problem is that they cannot forgive themselves and often carry that unease to the grave with them. Catholics, of course, can have recourse to the sacrament of Confession in which they are reminded and assured again and again that they have been already forgiven by God in his love and this should help them to be able to forgive themselves and restore their peace of mind. Unfortunately many Catholics no longer avail of this means of coping.

I often wonder how people who do not believe in a loving God find solace in such circumstances.

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Comments

Speaking only for myself...

There are some things there simply is no solace for, some mistakes that one has to live with for the rest of one's life. Acknowledge one's offense, and accept the responsibility for it. Ponder what lesson it has taught you. Make restitution, if at all possible - at the very least, apologize sincerely. If that's not possible, resolve never to harm anyone in that way again, and resolve also to right other such wrongs when you can; this requires living more mindfully. Try to teach others, so they can learn from your mistakes instead of having to make all the same mistakes themselves. Keep living, and do the best you can.

"There are some things there simply is no solace for, some mistakes that one has to live with for the rest of one's life."

I wonder is that true?
Forgiveness doesn't wipe out the damage that was done. The one who was harmed may forgive you, the loving God of the New Testament may forgive you, you may even manage to forgive yourself, but forgiveness alone doesn't un-wreck the car or un-break the leg or otherwise "make it not have happened". It also encourages the human tendency to avoid accepting responsibility for one's actions.

On the other hand, wallowing in guilt for the rest of one's life is pretty counterproductive also. As in so many other things, a middle course makes the most sense.

Beautifully put.
Thank you!
atheists learn to forgive themselves regardless of who else, deity or otherwise, has managed to do so.

similarly, in judaism, there is a holiday (yom kippur) in which it is necessary to seek out the people one has wronged, apologize, and attempt to make it up to them. but if one does that three times and the wronged still cannot forgive, the burden is still lifted as g-d can forgive on their behalf.

(jews have the lowest suicide rate among religions studied; followers of religions that strongly prohibit suicide such as catholics and muslims have higher rates than ones that don't such as buddhists and hindus.)
"atheists learn to forgive themselves"

How do they manage this? Are there psychological ways of approaching the problem?
yes, many. here is a list of some: http://www.wikihow.com/Forgive-Yourself
Reading your other two commentators I realise they have said some of what I feel. I'm not an atheist, I'm a Goddess woman (you would probably call me a pagan - although I dislike the term.)

That said, I do believe anyone can learn to forgive themselves. It's hard work but I know it can be done. And yes, there are psychological methods - counselling for one thing.

Your friend acelightning says it well, not least: There are some things there simply is no solace for, some mistakes that one has to live with for the rest of one's life.

I agree 100% with this. It doesn't preclude forgiving oneself. It means you learn to live with the consequences of your 'offence' & make the best of it. You become a better person & hope to be remembered, not as the person you were but the person you have become.

What is also required, in my view, is more forgiveness of others. To forgive is to present oneself with the ultimate gift.
Exactly. Learn from your mistakes - if only so you can make new mistakes instead of repeating the same old ones over and over. And forgive others, because it drives them nuts :-)
Also - forgive the people who have hurt you, because it heals you.

When we are hurt or damaged, it's natural to want to disconnect from the person who has done the hurting. Sadly, left too long in a state of unforgiveness (or hatred) people can become stuck & ultimately the biggest damage is to themselves.

In the end, forgiveness can be a circular thing.

I like what you say about taking responsibility - it's also liberating. :)
I'm a big believer in fairness, and I will be fair to people even if they haven't always been fair to me. (I'm also a big believer in responsibility.) On more than one occasion, I've forgiven someone who has wronged me, and they've been infuriated by it, because they were clearly expecting me to treat them the way they treated me. I always find that amusing - and far more satisfying than revenge.
A few years ago, I came to conclusion that Pagans had a problem when it came to Forgiveness. On the positive side, Pagans do not have the same concept of sin, shame, or guilt that Christians do. In general (and, in saying this, there is quite a variety among Pagans), Pagans have either no, or a limited, concept of evil. There is no "rule book". There are no "crimes against God". We have only one simple rule, "treat others as you would like to be treated"... same as you. However, I noticed a few years ago, however, that Pagans would get into these feuds that would go on forever because they thought that "forgiveness was for Christians". Therefore, I have been teaching a Forgiveness Ritual that I created based upon a ritual depicted in "The Golden Ass". In it, one can forgive all of those that have harmed us... including ourselves. I recommend that people perform this ritual about once per week.

Worth noting, the ritual does not ask our deity's forgiveness. We already assume a loving god... whoever that may be... it is, rather, a Purification ritual where we wash away our own feelings of anger and rage so that we may be more pure in our approach of our deities.

I have taught it to a few people, and some of them do it and some don't. If I ever write a book, I'll be sure to put it in. I think we as a community would benefit from it highly.
I would like to thank those of you who have tried to help me better understand the issue. I see I must continue in my reflections.
Something that has recently occurred to me is, instead of spending energy regretting and replaying and praying for peace for me -- to spend it praying for the person harmed.

(Of course this is in addition to mundane restitution.)
I am neither pagan nor christian. I am me.
There seems to me to be two types of "harm" that which is done consciously with intent to injure and that which may result from action not meant as harm. And there is, of course, the degree of harm done.
Individuals who have done the best they could in a given situation can only wish for better results but must move on. The past is past and can not be relived.
Grave harm calls for attempts at restitution.
Therapy is the modern "confession"

As an historical note "confession, the sacrament of penance is a relatively modern development. Reconciliation was first devised as a means to reconcile and reincorporate those who had denied the faith during the times of roman persecution. Until modern times it was still reserved for very public sinners who had broken with the church.
It seems everyone else was left to find their own way of satisfying conscience.
Therapy is the modern "confession"

Very good!
I have been thinking about this since I first read it, and wanted to consider it fully before commenting. Some of your other responders have touched on elements that I feel, but I'd add to them, so:

Yes, there are some things there is no solace for. Some losses too deep, some actions too hurtful. In each aspect you can only acknowledge, even if only to yourself, what you did, understand why, and do what you can to make amends.

Off loading to a deity and feeling justified in continuing on one's ways have seen great crimes committed by 'good' people. An example I would use is the harm done to the Aboriginal people here in Australia. As late as World War II the church was linked to selling them as slaves. Good people endorsed eugenic political systems, and did so confident in their faith that all harm they did was forgiven. Sadly, too many still treat them that way, it's not just in the past.

I've seen truly good people of Christian, Atheist, Judaism, Muslim, Agnostic, Hindu, varying pagan beliefs, and uniformly they are those that have learnt to own their transgressions and set things right of their own volition, to the best of their ability no matter what their beliefs.
But apart from religion and rituals I have known people who even after many years are still blaming themselves for something they have done or said and are not at rest. Others have forgiven them long ago but they themselves have not.
Even with religion or rituals, if the transgression is one that wounds their heart, mind or soul, then it is entirely possible to get caught up in a guilt spiral that magnifies the supposed transgression, and eclipses the forgiveness of others. It's their own wounds, and own characters that wont give them rest.It's a lesson for them, and only they can choose to learn, or to let it become their whipping post. I've seen that even in sincerely devout people.
and a more personal note, I was raised Christian until I began to question and found answers lacking/contradictions, and saw how it had been changed through the centuries. I do believe in a greater/cosmic good though. I am not perfect, therefore I have hurt others. The lessons I have learnt from being raised around a huge cross section of peoples (I grew up in a migrant town and went to school with the first Vietnamese refugees as well as the second generation European immigrants)taught me that, when I have done all I possibly can to make amends,I find a secluded place and watch the sun rise while I look honestly at the chain of events, accept that I can not change the past, and try to live better in the future.
It is a blessing when one can do that.