To forgive is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as, to cease to feel resentment against (an offender).1 But what happens when the offender is oneself? Self-forgiveness is something that can be hard for a person to grasp. It can be easy to get wrapped up in wanting forgiveness from others, to make ourselves feel better about the actions committed, but when it comes to the wrongdoing that we do to ourselves, it can be the hardest to forgive. Per-Erik Milam, a professor at the University of Gothenburg, talks about the idea of self-forgiveness, as being something that is an uncontroversial part of our common psychological and moral discourse, 2 it is unarguable that self-forgiveness is detrimental to our society, without it we would not be able to function in our society.
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Self-forgiveness though, can be dangerous to oneself, because it can bring shame and unwanted guilt to you, as the wrongdoer. With bringing unwanted, harmful effects to a person, self-forgiveness can be a burden that we must deal with, in order to grow as people and mature within our lifetimes. To really understand self-forgiveness though, four categories must be stated. The first is going to be, societal pressures, followed by guilt and shame, next, the burden of self-forgiveness, and ultimately, importance of self-forgiving.
The influence of society can be crucial in relation to self-forgiveness. With norms being different around the world, we also add in a level of ethics to this topic. For example, in one society, it can be okay for parents to spank their children and not feel bad, whereas in another, it can be seen as child abuse. In the society where spanking as punishment, there should be no self-forgiveness, or the pressure of self-forgiveness because all around, it is an okay act. In the society where spanking is looked down upon, when a parent commits that act, they’re going to have to look within themselves for forgiveness. With though, it being wrong, the pressure from society will make them feel bad about the act and force them to reflect on oneself as a person, not just the actions. The added pressure will also ensure that the wrongdoer will look at themselves as a morally bad person, even though the same act is deemed a norm in other societies.
The dangers of self-forgiveness can be derived from negative attitudes oneself portrays during the forgiveness process. Byron Williston outlines this in his article, The Importance of Self-Forgiveness, saying that Self-forgiveness is the forswearing of self-directed negative attitudes like contempt, anger, and hatred.3 Since we cater these negative thoughts, the way we respond will create a deeper self-loathing, one that will become a burden, since we as the wrongdoer, are already disappointed within ourselves.
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