Monday, November 7, 2011

Self Forgiveness

Last night I watched two programs on television that had to do with our soldiers who are bravely fighting our wars overseas and the very serious PTSD that many of them are suffering from when they get home.  As I watched these  men describe the issues they were facing, a consistent theme started occurring to me.  Self forgiveness.  The heart of the matter for most of these men was that they have not been able to forgive themselves either for doing things that they were ordered to do, but went against their moral or human grain, or for not being able to save someone, or in the case of a medic, many people.

As Oprah would say, I had an AHA! moment.  I realized just how difficult forgiving yourself for something you feel deeply in your soul was wrong for you to do,  is.  How a person can become stuck in their guilt.  How it can affect how you view yourself, your world, the people you love and how it can completely destroy your self worth.

I'm not convinced that self forgiveness can be fully achieved.  I think that by speaking about the ideas in our heads that we feel are the worst of the worst, the things so bad that if people knew about them they would surely hate us or worse, by speaking of those things to someone, anyone, we free ourselves to go on with life, to grow, move forward and start to heal.  I don't think that that means that we forgive ourselves fully.  I think that complete self forgiveness requires accepting that you did the best that you could at the time, you did all that you were capable of for what you had control over.  Therein lies the problem.  For those of us that struggle with self forgiveness, there is always a part of us that knows we could've done better, there had to have been something else we could've done, something we just didn't see at the time.  That's the part that will never go away.  If you can get to the point where you can accept that you did the best you could at the time, and there is nothing you can do to change the past now, you have to learn to live with the "what if's?".  I think for most of us, that is the most healing we're going to get.


  1. I have never read your blog before, but feel moved to comment on this subject.

    What you state here is very much how I feel. I have tried to strike a balance between forgiving myself, because the past is past and there were many extenuating circumstances around my surrender, and taking responsibility for my part in it rather than just blaming everyone else.

    Like you, I feel I missed opportunities, stayed silent when I should have spoken up, passive when I should have been active. I can't reach that "I did the best I could at the time" place, because in my heart I know I did not. I gave up. I lacked courage.

    On the other hand, I do not want to spend my life blaming and hating myself or anyone else either, nor can I expect forgiveness to come from my son or any external force, so I keep working on forgiving myself and moving on. I did apologize to my son for my responsibility for his surrender, and that seemed to clear the air a bit.

  2. Have you read about the Milgram experiments? Perhaps Phil Zimbardo - The Lucifer effect? Good stuff and explains how good people can be compelled to do things completely contrary to who they are and what they believe. Here is a wiki link for more good stuff.