Forgiveness and Self-Harm

TIPP skills for self harm feature
We must learn to be compassionate to ourselves, and out of this self-compassion, to forgive ourselves for having damaged our bodies in very real ways.

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My left wrist is covered with scars; so are my right thigh and my left shoulder. Some of the scars have faded in years gone by–they are hardly noticeable anymore — yet, some still sit angry red upon my skin. I’ve struggled with self-harm for almost a decade now. It’s still hard to see these ever-present reminders engraved on my body of how I tried to kill my sadness, make myself feel something, or punish myself.

Sometimes, I get angry at myself for having harmed my body in this way.

Anger occurs when you or something you care about is being harmed or threatened, therefore, it is only natural to feel anger at having self-harmed. However, anger at ourselves is not helpful in this situation. It only leads to guilt and shame–to defining ourselves by our self-harm, and not through who we are as a person.

We must learn to be compassionate to ourselves, and out of this self-compassion, to forgive ourselves for having damaged our bodies in very real ways.

A few months ago, I had a self-harm relapse and came down hard on myself, feeling incredibly guilty for my mistake. Then, I remembered the need to be compassionate during this difficult time.

Self-compassion involves being kind and understanding with ourselves as we would with a friend. It means recognizing we are not alone in our mistakes, weaknesses, and failures.

Making mistakes is intrinsically human and a normal part of life.

Through having compassion for ourselves, we are able to accept our struggles with self-harm as a part of our humanness. And, in our humanity, we can forgive ourselves for having injured our bodies.

We don’t really think about forgiving ourselves for our struggles, mistakes, and failures.

Forgiveness seems to me to be interpersonal–something that occurs only when we have wronged and harmed another. But, it is equally as applicable when we have wronged and harmed ourselves, especially when we are feeling anger and guilt.

Forgiveness is challenging. It is not black-and-white, and there is not an instruction manual on how to forgive yourself.

It might involve writing a letter of forgiveness to yourself, or treating yourself gently and kindly as you would a friend. Maybe it’s simply saying “I forgive you” to yourself over and over until you believe it.

Regardless, forgiveness means we stop being angry at ourselves about our self-harm. It means we stop blaming ourselves for the pain we have caused.

This is counterintuitive to what we naturally want to do, but it is vital to walking in freedom.

If we continue to blame ourselves–to be angry for our struggles with self-harm–we end up defining ourselves by our struggle.

The truth is that we are so much more than our self-harm, past or present.

Forgiveness permits us to live free from the guilt and shame which can accompany anger. Forgiveness allows us to see beyond our struggles and frees us to be more.

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