Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Forgiving Ourselves

Forgiveness is hard.  It’s difficult to forgive someone who has wronged you.  But it’s even more difficult to forgive ourselves for wronging someone else.

Among my friends, I am often a confidant, a listening ear, someone who will hear a person’s story and won’t judge.  It has also been a component of the jobs I’ve worked in over the years.  And over all those years, through all those stories, I’ve heard from a lot of people who are unable to forgive themselves.

I think that if we wrong someone, we are far less likely to forgive ourselves than we are if someone wronged us.  And I don’t know why that is.  Is it perhaps because we expect more of ourselves?  But why would we expect so much more of ourselves than we do of anyone else?

I wonder if it has to do with the phrase “forgive and forget.”  I think that after the process of forgiving, it’s easy to forget that someone else did something wrong — but if it’s something we did, we have to forever live with the memories.  How often do we cringe at a sudden recurrence of a memory that we’re ashamed of?  And then, sometimes, those memories play on auto-loop or auto-repeat in our mind and we just dig ourselves deeper into a hole of depression and anxiety, and we tell ourselves that we will never forgive ourselves for what we did.

Sometimes it’s not even a big thing.  Sometimes it can be a small error in our judgement, but an error that we thought we were above making, and an error we have difficulty accepting that we’ve done.

But I’m still hung up on the fact that if someone else did that wrong to us — if they made that same slip in judgement — we might hurt for a bit, but the hurt would heal, we’d learn to forgive that person, and, with time, we would forget the hurt and move on with our lives.  But we are unable to do that to ourselves.

I’m still bothered by things I said and did in high school.  I was generally a quiet introvert with his nose in a Star Trek book, but I’ve been rude to a few people over the years.  They probably don’t even have the slightest memory of me being rude — they probably only remember me as the quiet nerd who was always nice.  Yet if I think back on my high school years, all that really stands out are those few incidents I’m embarrassed to remember.

During my first go-through of university, I took a recurring summer job that involved lots of public speaking (and singing, and dressing like a giant blue dog sometimes).  And after university, I took on a different position that, again, involved a lot of public speaking.  And in that position, I had to sometimes work with other people that were going to speak in front of crowds.  While I’d become comfortable with it, it still terrified everyone else I was working with.  So I gave them one piece of advice — people tend to forget speakers who are spectacularly bad, but remember those who are spectacularly good.  The lesson in that?  Don’t worry about a disastrous attempt at public speaking — the embarrassment will quickly fade and people will only remember the good parts of your speaking turn.

I think the same goes for memory in general.  People are much more likely to remember the good qualities about us and let the bad fall into the dustbin in the back of their minds.  So when we wrong someone, when we hurt them, eventually they return to having mostly or only positive feelings of us, or at least neutral feelings.  (If we hurt them spectacularly badly, then that process might take a much longer time, but it will usually happen.)

But the hardest person to earn that forgiveness from is ourselves.  We need to take a lesson from those around us — we need to learn to be easier on ourselves, more forgiving, more kind, more just, and more loving.  After all, we wouldn’t punish someone else so severely for that minor slip in judgement — so why should we hold ourselves to such an unreasonable standard?

Forgive.  Forget.  Move on.

It’s difficult, but we can do it.  And we’ll be so much healthier for it.

Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Seduced by My Best Friend’s Dad (co-written with Sandra Claire). He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit http://www.camerondjames.com.


  1. I think it may be easier to forgive others than ourselves because we can't get into another person's head. We can give them the benefit of the doubt for any number of extenuating circumstances we may not be aware of. When we fuck up, we own whatever thought processes that created the situation.

  2. Memory is the key, as you note. Other people DO forget our slips, because they're more focused on their own lives and processes. Each of us is more or less ephemeral in the eyes of the people around us. Meanwhile, since we're naturally focused on our own inner lives, we remember our mistakes, and continue to beat ourselves up about them.

    BTW I want to see pics of you dressed up as a big blue dog!

  3. I guess our own feelings of guilt can be harder to forget than our feelings of having been wronged, which is just as well. The few people I've known who never let go of a perceived wrong and never acknowledged faults of their own were much less happy than those who could forgive and forget, and in fact seemed to have mental/personality disorders that alienated them from family and friends.

    1. Yes, Sacchi. Those kind are also drama addicts; if they don't let go, the drama can continue.

  4. This is a really insightful post, Cameron, and thanks for writing it.

    I do disagree with what Daddy X proposes about the reason behind it, though. I read it as saying that we know where we were being selfish, or what have you. But even when I know my thought process was innocent, that doesn't seem to help. Even when I know that I totally didn't mean harm, I feel terrible if I've caused it, and tend to be really hard on myself about why I didn't anticipate it.

    As Cameron said, I also remember specific things I said or did in high school that I regret. It's really easy to fall into running that sort of thing on loop if I'm not careful.


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