“I forgive myself.”
Stop here. Think for a second. What does that sentence mean to you?
We were in a conversation with Denver Daughter when she pointed out to us that when we say to her, “Jessica, you have to forgive yourself,” it might not mean to her what it means to us.
“My perfectionism,” she explained, “limits my ability to operate within the attitude of forgiveness. To me, forgiveness amounts to letting myself off the hook. And what if I forgive myself, take positive action to see that I don’t make the same mistake again, and I’m not successful? I screwed up and that’s what I’m left with. More evidence. In my perfectionism, its more comfortable to hold back forgiveness than to forgive myself and screw up. Again.”
I began to think about the role of perfectionism—which is an insidious form of fear—and its role in forgiveness. I wondered when I urge clients to repeat the mantra: “I forgive myself. I forgive others. Others forgive me. And now we are all free,” do we share the same working definition of forgiveness? Perfectionism can block the compassion necessary for forgiveness. It’s difficult to step away from one’s perfectionism long enough to see its grip and how it stands in the way of joy and happiness. The scenario below demonstrates the role of compassion and perfectionism in self-forgiveness. This imaginary client is involved in a long-term, toxic friendship.
Through the lens of perfectionism:
• I feel negative about myself when I’m with my friend, but I suck at setting boundaries. Even staying friends has been a mistake and I know it.
• I’m afraid if I break away from this friendship and forgive myself, I’ll repeat the pattern. Then what?
• I can’t forgive myself for—once again—not protecting me within a friendship because that’s just letting myself off the hook.
• I can’t forgive myself until I get this right and never do it again.
Through the lens of compassion:
• I had good intentions when I engaged in this friendship. It seemed healthy at first, and I did the best I knew at the time.
• It really didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to.
• I forgive myself for thinking there’s a standard of perfection that I should achieve.
• I forgive myself for being too ashamed to share or ask for advice.
• I view myself like a beloved child, who is always learning and growing, and I can move into that growth edge.
• I release myself to make the decision that is positive for me. I do not hold myself in the consequences of the past. I’m growing. That’s all I can ask of myself.
May we all—especially those who have perfectionistic tendencies—adopt forgiveness, compassion, and self-love.