In my practice, I have seen many clients experience a reduction in anxiety when they are able to truly accept themselves. And I have also seen my clients experience less anxiety when they are able to move towards a deeper experience of forgiving others for harmful acts. However, both self-forgiveness and forgiving others can be challenging practices.
First, it is important to note that abuse is never justified. We must always ensure that we are safe. If a child is being bullied, we want the child to first seek an adult for safety and later begin the practice forgiveness. Our emphasis on safety also applies with self-forgiveness. We want to always act towards ourselves from a place of self-compassion rather than self-abuse.
Once we know we are in a safe situation, why should we then work towards forgiveness? Studies show that moving in the direction of forgiveness promotes health and quality of life (Psychological Science of Forgiveness Study, Anxiety and Self-Acceptance). Why stay in a place of resentment when we can move forward with understanding, health, and ease?
I have found in my work that the ability to forgive others must first start with forgiving ourselves. I hesitate to use the term self-forgiveness because even just this term may imply that we should feel shameful and that something is wrong with us. Rather the term self-acceptance allows us to embrace our humaneness and the fact that we make mistakes.
How can we forgive ourselves? The most important task here is to begin with a will to be good to ourselves. Perhaps this will is motivated by wanting to be a loving partner, a good parent, a productive citizen. Eventually, the will to be good to ourselves will come from self-compassion. After this will has been established, then we can begin the honest and often challenging exploration into our deepest feelings- the feelings buried under the distracting thoughts and actions. The feelings under our anxiety, the feelings under our armor. A focused and compassionate therapist can help guide us towards this journey into exploring our true feelings to help us rediscover self-acceptance and help us find the freedom that comes with forgiveness.