October 16, 2007 3:20 PM   Subscribe

What does buddhism/hinduism/christian say about forgiving self. I am not able to forgive myself for the mistakes i made and mistakes i will be making in the future and keep torturing myself saying i should be perfect. I am not able to change myself as a result. Any other insight on self-forgiveness.
posted by mot123 to Religion & Philosophy (26 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Buddhism has a lot to say about "mindfulness"; here's one article by Thich Nhat Hahn that elaborates on the idea:

As I understand it, mindfulness is about being aware; in this case being aware of how you're thinking about past and future mistakes. By recognizing these feelings when they happen, and examining where they come from, we can decide whether or not those feelings are valid - and more importantly, whether they're useful or just self-destructive. This way of thinking says that mindfulness of doubt and fear and so on is the first step towards self-forgiveness.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 3:42 PM on October 16, 2007

A lot of Buddhism focuses on accepting who you are, not running away from the discomfort your feelings cause, and living in the present moment instead of the past. Buddhism teaches compassion for yourself as well as others. You might find these essays useful:

Pema Chodron, To Know Yourself is to Forget Yourself

Thanissaro Bhikku, Reconciliation, Right & Wrong
posted by desjardins at 3:46 PM on October 16, 2007

If you're Buddhist, you don't forgive or not forgive. You acknowledge the struggle (in this case, caused by your attachment to perfectionism,) and stop struggling against it. Once you do that, you have right view, and you can move on to right intention, and the other six aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path.
posted by headspace at 3:47 PM on October 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

I come from a Jewish background but this is just my personal interpretation:
- No human can be perfect. Only God is perfect. It is human to make mistakes and presumptious to think that you won't make them ever again in the future.
- Before these is forgiveness there be (1) acknowledgement that you made a mistake including an apology to anyone hurt by your mistake (2) a real effort to repair what was damaged by the mistake (3) a sincere intention not to do it again.
- (3) doesn't mean you won't ever make the same mistake again. It means that you try to understand what happened, why it happened and take active steps to make it less likely to happen again
- If you do those three steps, you will be forgiven by God. God has the attributes of BOTH justice and mercy. Let God's mercy inspire you to be similarly merciful to yourself.

This isn't religious but if you can find a way that you learned from your mistakes, it gives the mistake meaning. (I wouldn't be where I am today if I didn't make the mistake and learn from it, becoming a better person in the process.)

Finally, if this is really disfunctional for you, it may be based on very deeply rooted ways of being and you will probably need a therapist to help figure out why it is so hard and how you can become the growing, improving person you want to be.
posted by metahawk at 3:50 PM on October 16, 2007

Radical Acceptance is a great concept to learn more about. I'm having difficulties finding online resources that explain how it works, (maybe this article? kind of?). Personally, though, in accepting the parts of myself I've traditionally not been in love with, and letting go of the judgment (key!), I've actually gotten mostly beyond that self-torture you mention.

Also, therapy-wise, I'm a huge proponent of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which incorporates mindfulness and radical acceptance as a way to work to that self-forgiveness--and a shit ton of other fabulous skills. (DBT was designed for people with borderline personality disorder, but has been being used for more common things like depression and anxiety. It made a huge difference in my life when I went through a particularly horrid depression a few years ago. Whew.)
posted by Stewriffic at 3:55 PM on October 16, 2007

Buddhism says no self. Therefore, no need to forgive. Buddhism says that it is your belief that there is a single, centralized "you" that makes you feel that there are mistakes that you made, that you have lost things along the way, that you have not gotten things that you should have gotten.

Think of it another way: Let's say "you" made a mistake when you were 15 and now you are 30. You were shaped differently weighed more, looked different, thought different, knew less, knew some things you have forgotten since then, and are made up of different molecules than you were then.

Buddhism would say that you are suffering because you have a deep belief that the person who did those things then shares some essence with who you are now, an essence that is not lost over time or really changed at all. Since people believe that they have such an essence, that essence can lose things it can't get back, own things which are taken from it, and be denied things it is entitled to.

Now imagine looking at life without that you. Things "you" have done in the past have occured, but there is no need to link them to what is going on right now. Mindfulness tells us to pay attention to what is going on now, not the past. That rather than focus on all of that which went before and linking it to what is going on now, to pay attention to what is actually going on now.

By engaging in meditation, we slowly learn to focus on the now and see that the connections with those things in our past and those things we desire for our "self" in the future are only in our minds.

Obviously easier said than done, but in Buddhism one has buddha nature, the innate ability to understand that we can be free from all of this and possess wisdom. Buddhism also has reincarnation until we pass into Nirvana, so that we have a long time to work on our issues until we break these bonds to the alleged "self" that hurts us so much.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:58 PM on October 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

One other thing-hang in there. Be friends with yourself. Would you torture another for the mistakes they made, and will be making in the future and say they should be perfect? No. You would not. So try and think of yourself as a friend when you start to do these mental battles.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:03 PM on October 16, 2007

Well, it may be germane that the innovation of Christianity was that people can only be forgiven by God, after they die. Within the faith there is no way around original sin.
posted by rhizome at 4:23 PM on October 16, 2007

To elaborate a little on what rhizome said, Catholics believe that sins can be forgiven before death via the Penitential Rite of the Mass (for venial sins) or the Sacrament of Reconciliation (for mortal sins). The Annointing of the Sick also, I believe, contains an element of absolution.

One element of Reconciliation ("Confession") is the earnest promise to go forth and sin no more, so while it's not exactly a forgiving of self, it does drive one to do better next time.

The reason for this is that the wrongs we commit against others are also sins against God, for our neighbors are also created in His image. Making amends for the wrongs we have done to others - or the good that we have omitted - is generally part of the penance. Or it should be.

Earnest, contrite confession is difficult sometimes to be sure, but it's a clean slate...until the next stumble, in any case. See metahawk's response above. There's also a nice write-up here.
posted by jquinby at 4:42 PM on October 16, 2007

This is an incredibly vague and complex question. I think youre going to get answers from everywhere, but i think this is a fair summary answer:

Arguably, guilt (especially sin/original sin) is very important in Christianity. Forgiveness is delivered through Christ without question.

In Buddhism, guilt does not have this special significance. Pain, arguably, of all kinds is supposed to open you to the noble truth that life is suffering (or unpleasant, or unsatisfying). There is no perfection or Christian state of grace. To work off pain (or guilt) a person needs to accept the noble truths and walk the eightfold path. This is not the quick fix Christianity offers. This involves three major components: devoping wisdom, living morality/ethically, and praticing medition. This in the long run improves your Karma and opens you up to the possibility of achieving Nirvana.

Perfectionism is also a no-starter in Buddhism. The Buddha clearly states often that life in impermanent and flawed and people can only be unsatisfied (dukkha)
posted by damn dirty ape at 4:53 PM on October 16, 2007

A Protestant Christian input is that you ask God for forgiveness and in the process, repent by promising to not do such again and doing your best to follow the path of Christ. By this way, God will forgive you.

So, if the OP is Christian, it'd mean asking for forgiveness and then living your life as much as a good Christian as you can be.
posted by Atreides at 4:57 PM on October 16, 2007

A few thoughts from the Tao te Ching, specifically along the lines of not expecting yourself to be perfect:

"If you close your mind in judgments and traffic with desires, your heart will be troubled.
If you keep your mind from judging and aren't led by the senses, your heart will find peace." (Ch. 52)

"The Master never reaches for the great; thus she achieves greatness.
When she runs into a difficulty, she stops and gives herself to it.
She doesn't cling to her own comfort; thus problems are no problem for her." (Ch. 63)

"I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world." (Ch. 67)
posted by jbickers at 5:24 PM on October 16, 2007

I've always interpreted "love thy neighbor as thyself" as a two-way street--you can't be properly kind, charitable, and loving toward your neighbor unless you are also kind, charitable, and loving towards yourself.
posted by fermion at 5:56 PM on October 16, 2007

i agree with wcitymike. one of the hardest things to do is acknowledge that we have done stupid, stupid things in the past (every now and then i remember some past flub and it grates on me for hours). my thinking, which is not buddhist but probably not incompatible with buddhism, is that we are all works in progress. have you ever heard of those x-rays of famous paintings that art conservators do where you can see a completely different version underneath that was painted over? that's what we are. we may carry our mistakes with us always, but they don't define us, and in fact may be totally invisible to those who see us today.

that said, it sounds like your issues are keeping you from addressing other areas of your life, and that's not healthy. a cognitive therapist may help you break some bad thought-habits or come up with strategies for usefully dealing with those thoughts when they arise. who knows, you may very well be able to find a buddhist counselor in your area, but most will probably be familiar with the teachings. just a thought.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:03 PM on October 16, 2007

If you want Jesus' perspective on this, you might want to look at New Testament stories of healing. Bear in mind that in Jesus' time sickness was often considered a sign of personal failing on the part of the ill person. Jesus was constantly healing people who were severely ill - those most "had it coming".
posted by medusa at 7:24 PM on October 16, 2007

Here are two relevant passages:
From Psalm 130

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
2 O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
3 If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins,
O Lord, who could stand?

And from John 8:

1Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.

2And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.

3And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst,

4They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.

5Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

6This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

7So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

8And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

9And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.

10When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?

11She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
posted by sondrialiac at 7:27 PM on October 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

All I know is, my therapist says that perfectionism is self-abuse. If you are raised Christian, you are told to love your neighbor as yourself; you are also told to turn the other cheek and forgive others' trespasses and they are to forgive yours, and since you and others are equal, you must view your own sins with compassion, too. Imperfections, should you genuinely believe in God, are there for a reason, and not to be questioned, so you cannot hold yourself to a vision of perfection because if you were perfect, you would be God. You are not God, but his creation. Live your life compassionately, both externally and internally, and you are doing God's will. Perfection is impossible; a life lived in balance for the greater good is attainable.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 7:45 PM on October 16, 2007

Some of the Christian perspectives upstream are pretty grim. Here's my view: In Christianity, remorse for sins is necessary, but so is compassion--for the mistakes of others and of oneself. My perspective is, what good is God's grace if we don't believe ourselves worthy to receive it? To me, Christianity is about hope, about becoming a better person, about divine potential. To get bogged down in constant guilt/original sin/unworthiness denies our divine heritage and makes a mockery of Christ's atonement. God wants us to progress, to strive to be better, but He recognizes that we will make mistakes along the way, and hopefully learn from them. If you're still hung up on what a stupid mistake it was and how dumb you are, are you learning and progressing?

When I get to feeling this way, I have a little mantra I stole from the novel The Kite Runner. Basically, it's about a man who did something pretty terrible in his youth, and he has the chance to address it as an adult. When he is presented with this chance, he is told, "There is a way to be good again." Over and over this theme is repeated in the book. Rectify your mistake. There is a way to be good again. Just because time has passed, does not mean that you are condemned to live with your guilt and sorrow forever. Every day you are alive is a chance to make better choices.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 8:34 PM on October 16, 2007

I'm not a scholar, and I don't even pretend to be a good Catholic, but one thing the priest has said to me in confession is to forgive myself. I find this to be the hardest part. I think that people have a hard time forgiving themselves and others, and it's difficult for us to imagine a being that would love us unconditionally no matter what we do. However, I think it is important to not forget the bad things you did but try to forgive yourself. Otherwise it is hard to move on. As for me, I just try to identify what led me to make a mistake/sin and try not to do that again, or put myself in that same situation so I will repeat myself. That's all I can offer as far as advice. It's a struggle.
posted by m3thod4 at 11:13 PM on October 16, 2007

Here is the most relevant thought that came to my mind.

"You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. you yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe deserve your love and affection." Buddha

Of course that's one little piece of the pie and an Eastern slice at that. A question of the same issue from a different perspective may look at the reasons that you believe that you are not supposed to make mistakes.

Do you believe that you can be loved even if you are flawed?

If not where may have you have gotten this idea. A shrink may help get you a bit unstuck.

I like Buddhas words but may not be enough.
posted by jade east at 12:37 AM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Christianity basically says that none of us can really forgive ourselves on our own. Deep down we are all pretty messed up and we need God to change us. Forgiveness can't be imparted on one's self, instead is a gift of God through Jesus. By admitting to him our mistakes and failures, he gives us the gift of forgiveness. Here are some relevant Bible passages.

Romans 3:23
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.

1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Ephesians 2:4-10
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) ... God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

The road to forgiveness is a long one, but for me, knowing God loves us and wants to forgive us and heal us helps a lot.
posted by roaring beast at 1:07 PM on October 17, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for your suggestions. It is extremely
posted by mot123 at 5:37 PM on October 17, 2007

I am a little late to this thread, but wanted to follow up/elaborate with some buddhist resources (Theravadan School of Buddhism mostly -- it's what's helped me most).

Stewriffic mentioned Radical Acceptance -- Tara Brach wrote a book and teaches about Radical Acceptance. She's based at the Insight Meditation Center in Washington D.C.

Also, Sharon Salzberg is a buddhist teacher who focuses much attention on the concept of Metta (loosely translated as loving kindness from the Pali) -- Metta practice is an excellent way see yourself and your world in a kinder light. Also, Sharon Salzberg's book Faith was a huge help to me in a dark time. I can't recommend it enough.

I'd second the writings (and talks) of Pema Chodron.

It's difficult to truly express how much these teachers and teachings have helped me - I hope they can be of help to you too.
posted by nnk at 10:17 AM on October 19, 2007

I think I read somewhere, once upon a time, (and maybe someone else has already said this), that to forgive means to see through/beyond the fault.

I could be misremembering completely, but I think of forgiveness as about accepting our imperfection at that human level, and seeing beyond it to the divine perfection of each of us.
posted by Lleyam at 11:10 AM on October 19, 2007

You might also check out Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. Among many possible symptoms are attitudes of perfectionism like what you describe.
posted by XMLicious at 11:35 PM on November 2, 2007

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