Why is that, for some people, forgiving themselves is like water off a duck's back—they apologize, vow to do better and just move on with their lives? Yet for others, there's so much shame attached to a perceived wrongdoing that it's almost impossible for them to forgive and make peace with themselves?
Most scientists now distinguish between two types of forgiveness: "decision-based" and "emotion-based" forgiveness. When it comes to forgiving yourself, which way you lean has a huge impact on how deeply you feel shame and how you deal with the weight of your past actions.
Here's why you find it so hard to forgive yourself, based on your personality, plus a few strategies to help you pull back if you're being unfairly self critical.
Idealists: Forgive Everyone But Themselves
Forgiveness comes so easily to Idealists ... unless you're trying to forgive yourself. Then it takes years! It's as if you can see when others have made a mistake and are happy to forgive them, even if they have really hurt you. But you don't offer yourself the same kind of empathy. For you, it's a constant struggle to show yourself some compassion.
There are a few things feeding this tendency. The first clue is in the Kiersey label—Idealist. Intuitive Feelers (INFJ, INFP, ENFJ, ENFP) are passionately concerned with becoming their best possible selves and creating their best possible world for everyone, and they can be merciless with themselves when they fall short of these lofty ideals.
Having a strong moral compass feeds the self-punishing behavior. You are so authentic, NF, that "walking the good walk" becomes an integral part of our self-identity. So when you betray your own values or realize a discongruence between what you did and what you think you should have done, it causes some serious inner turmoil. You feel undeserving for forgiveness because you have betrayed all that is right and good in the world.
Tips for forgiving yourself:
- For Idealists, emotion-based forgiveness is key. This means you cannot rationalize away your demons, but instead must smother them by replacing all the negativity with positive emotions that make you feel good about yourself.
- Keep a journal and write to get negative thoughts and emotions out of your head.
- Do good things and acknowledge that you are doing good things. This is the best way to reinforce the picture of yourself as the good person you truly are.
- Surround yourself with people who will support and appreciate you, and show you the forgiveness that you cannot give to yourself.
Rationals: Forgiveness Occurs When There's a Fix in Place
Rationals tend to be much more consistent that Idealists in matters of forgiveness, in the sense that they set the bar high for themselves and for others, and find it just as hard to forgive others as they do to forgive themselves. Which is to say—they are terrible at forgiving period. But they will do it because, normally, it is the most logical response.
Pragmatism is a key trait of Intuitive Thinkers (ENTJ, INTJ, ENTP, INTP), which is why they will always look for the fix to a problem. Whether forgiveness is the issue or something else, a Rational will seek the most efficient solution possible, which typically is the one that wastes the least time and resources. So, if beating yourself up is causing you to be distracted or angry or less effective, then you quickly will fix whatever is causing you to feel that way, then move on.
For most NTs, forgiveness happens instantaneously as soon as there's a fix in place. That fix could take any form, from showing yourself and the world that you are proactively correcting the mistake, to taking some time to analyze the specifics of the situation so you can give yourself a good reason to believe you're not going to make the same mistake again. Do that, and it's case closed.
Tips for forgiving yourself:
- For Rationals, decision-based forgiveness is key. This is about the need for rationality; letting go of resentment and shame so you can understand why you are in this situation. There is a separation of feelings from reason in making the forgiveness decision, followed by an act of will.
- Categorize the offense so you know what you're dealing with—the fix may become immediately clear.
- Take some time to process things. You're going to need some objective time to sort through why you did something, why you thought it was okay, and why you're feeling so bad about it now. Use your ability to see the big picture to put things into perspective.
- "Forgive but never forget" could be considered a motto of NTs, and it's no different with self-forgiveness. This means there's a risk that you'll forgive yourself now, but then you'll continually bring up the incident as an act of self-sabotage. For this reason, it's best to think of forgiveness as the act of dropping the narrative on a particular story. Remind yourself to let the past be.
Guardians: Cut Yourself Some Slack
Healthy Guardians are practical, organized and decisive. They go to great lengths to do the right thing by their values and communities, which means they are quick to wipe the slate clean of a grievance, and start building relationships again.
This attitude does not always carry through to self-forgiveness. Sensing-Judgers (ESFJ, ESTJ, ISFJ, ISTJ) live to do the right thing, and they can be very hard on themselves when they mess up. Guardians value their status in the community—it's critical to their self-esteem that others think highly of them. They can become self-pitying and victim-like in the way they punish themselves for taking a wrong turn, because it's associated with a loss of status.
Perhaps the biggest problem here is the unconscious rulebook that you have written for yourself. Rather than seeing your life as a work in progress, and every mistake as an opportunity to learn and grow, you tend to get bogged down in your own private rulebook for how you should think, act and behave. That rulebook is not always realistic, is it? Setting the same bar for yourself as you set for others will help you to forgive yourself and may turn your life around in ways that you can only imagine.
Tips for forgiving yourself:
- For Guardian, you need a mix of emotion-based and decision-based forgiveness. Realize that the shame you feel is entirely self-imposed—no one else puts more expectations on you than you do. Once you've acknowledged those unrealistic expectations, focus on all the good things you do.
- Speak to a good listening friend. Sometimes, you just need to have your feelings validated before you work towards a solution.
- Try creating a "re-do." Guardians learn through experience and taking some time to roleplay through the things you might have done differently will help you feel prepared to face a similar situation better in the future.
- Cut yourself some slack! Everyone makes mistakes—even you.
Artisans: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff
When a Sensing-Perceiver is in a happy place, he will live the life he lives with no regrets. Artisans (ISTP, ISFP, ESTP, ESFP) are good at living in the moment, and find it easy to wrap their heads around the fact that they can't undo the past. This "what's done is done" attitude gives the a winning way with forgiveness, and Artisans are quick to draw a line through their past indiscretions. If nothing else, forgiving yourself helps you to avoid pain or suffering, which Artisans don't get on with at all!
Where it all comes crashing down is that Artisans can be so...unpredictable. One minute you're all calm and logical with both feet on the ground. The next minute you're being reckless and hurting people, and it's not until much later that you realize the true consequences of your actions. It's in these situations where the demon inner voice comes out and starts cutting you down with its vicious, vicious words.
For Artisans, the biggest problem is your here-and-now thinking. You tend to get stuck on the gut-clenching feelings that go hand-in-hand with shame, and all these emotions can make you shut down and lose all perspective on the situation. You don't want others to see you like this either, which means you have a lot of solo work to do in terms of acceptance and forgiveness of your actions.
Tips for forgiving yourself:
- For Artisans, you need a decision-based approach to forgiveness-troubleshooting is key. You'll find it much easier to forgive yourself if you follow a direct and practical process, or ritual, of self-forgiveness.
- Tackle the big issues and forget the small ones. Basically, you need to clear your conscience of any major regrets that are holding you back. Bring the big mistakes into the room and figure out how to fix them. Don't sweat the small stuff.
- Own it. Taking responsibility for what you did is important to support your self esteem.
- Don't ruminate; it's unhelpful. Accept what you cannot change and resolve to live with a little more care in the future.