How can I forgive myself for something I did that was horribly wrong? I knew better and still I acted? People struggle with forgiving themselves all the time. But my personal battle with self-forgiveness looked a little different.
You’ve probably heard it said, “don’t blame the victim.” And that’s a good thing. Because the victim will often bury herself with far more blame than anyone else could shovel on top of her. I spent year after year after year blaming myself for being a victim of date rape. Telling myself things like I should have known this would happen, I should have ran out of that car screaming, the clothes I was wearing made me look like I was asking for it…etc…etc…etc… Mountains of self-hate crushed my soul. I forgave the man who raped me long before I forgave myself.
And maybe that’s you too. Maybe you struggle with blaming yourself for something that really wasn’t your fault. I want to share a few things that helped me finally move past self blame and hatred and allowed God to set me free…
1. I had to stop holding myself to a hindsight standard of judgement. It’s easy to judge our actions in hindsight. To think and say all the should have, could have, and would have’s. But the truth is we often had no idea what would happen in the situation we were in. Were there signs we might have missed that we can see looking backwards – yes. But we must realize that we did not have the ability to see those things at the time.
Also, we must allow ourselves to be the age we were when whatever happened, happened. For me, I judged the decisions I made as a 15 year old with an adult level of knowledge and maturity. Might I have known things were going nowhere good as a 34 year old with a counseling degree – yes. But my 15 year old self had no idea what was about to happen. I had to set 15 year old me free from the ridiculous standards I was holding her to.
2. I had to think about what I would tell someone else. We are so much kinder to other people than we are to ourselves. Allow yourself to step back and think about what you would tell someone else who went through what you’ve been through. Then apply that empathetic response to yourself. You may not feel you deserve the response at first, but with time and effort you can offer yourself the same compassion you would offer to a friend.
3. I had to process in my own practical way. Come up with a way to go back and love the parts of you that were broken and wounded in that moment. Communicate with her and tell her she is loved. For me, that looked like writing a poem to her. There is a picture of that poem at the bottom of this post. For you, it might look different. Maybe you need to write your younger self a letter telling her that she is loved, maybe you need to visualize your current self coming alongside your younger self and nurturing her…ask God to lead you in what this process should look like for you.
4. I had to ask myself if Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was enough. Maybe you are like me, and because I could see all the sin I had engaged in before I was victimized, I felt like I deserved what happened. I knew Jesus died for my sins, but I couldn’t allow myself to live free from the things I had done. I had to ask myself if I would let the blood of Jesus enough. If He forgives me and He is God, should that not be enough for me to forgive myself?
Philippians 3:12-17 tells us, ” Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
What is behind us is behind us. This forgetting he speaks of is not forgetting in the sense of denying our past, it is forgetting in the sense of allowing ourselves free from shame so that we can run towards what is ahead – full freedom in Jesus.
Jesus came to set the captives free, but satan came to take the free captive. What happened to you is a part of you, but it does not define you. It was not your fault, and it is okay to set yourself free to live and enjoy life. His blood paid the price for you to do this. His sacrifice is enough. Don’t live another day in the bondage of hating, blaming, and refusing to forgive yourself for something that was not your fault.