Chapter Thirteen

Mastering the Art of Forgiveness


By Dr. Robert Leichtman

Forgiveness can become problematic when we are convinced that obnoxious people and situations have permanently damaged us. We may still operate effectively using our remaining strengths, but we have demonstrated that we cannot manage significant parts of our lives effectively. Now we feel inadequate and unworthy much of the time. We are too weak to give much forgiveness, and receiving forgiveness doesn’t seem right either. 

The problem with this thinking is that it results from our unresolved resentments slowly evolving into exhaustion and depression, and apathy. Our distress which used to be focused on specific individuals and situations, is now spreading to every aspect of our personality. Our thinking and feelings are progressively more pessimistic about everything. We already feel weak and are beginning to think we are also unworthy of success or happiness. 

Far too many adjust to their failures and defeats in this manner, believing that their outrage has been the only reasonable response to old insults and other offenses. They presume anyone who disagrees with this view is naive or ignorant. 

While many argue that this view is valid, it will prove wrong in time, if not before. While instant resentment about insults is understandable, sustained anger can begin to affect our whole character. Anger has a way of breeding more resentment and objections. Irritability and distrust can grow as we find many more items to dislike, including ourselves.  

This effect is especially significant in the conscientious type, who habitually internalize their grief about rejection and guilt about being inadequate and unworthy. Once we see ourselves as weak and undeserving, we fatally damage our capacity for positive expectations and confidence. After that, we will have more difficulty coping with our challenges and slower recovery from setbacks.

The critical issue here is our demoralization and descent into self-rejection and the belief that we are incompetent and unworthy. Yet, behind this horrible mindset and outlook, our accumulated anger started and still sustains this destructive mindset and feelings. Forgiveness is still the key to reversing this calamity.

Being unaware of our slow move toward self-rejection

Many do not recognize how often they demonstrate their dislike for themselves. Such individuals are often puzzled about why life is so difficult for them as they struggle to be more successful. They fail to detect the habits contributing to failure, such as losing interest in good possibilities, being deaf to friendly overtures, and failing to accept help when offered. 

Others fail to understand their self-defeating habits because they are misled by well-meaning people who quickly reassure them that they are innocent victims of nasty people and hostile circumstances. Then they are offered cheap absolution by being reassured that all their problems are entirely due to forces they cannot control. Most are told they can do nothing to relieve their distress except rest. Full recovery without major emotional scars will be unlikely. 

Many also add to their distress by certain habits guaranteed to increase their suffering. If we tend to be obsessive, we will likely magnify attention to our complaints. Anxiety and feeling sorry for our difficulties will make us vulnerable to more insecurity and self-doubt. These traits will exaggerate our response to defeat and failures, making us more likely to doubt our competence and worth.

This advice is primarily a disaster because it implies we are too ignorant or weak to help ourselves. Following these absurd ideas will paralyze our common sense and leave us permanently helpless and miserable. 

As we work with forgiveness for our external traumas and the private hoard of grievances, we will likely realize how often our doubt and self-criticism have sabotaged our well-being. Perhaps we made poor decisions and missed good opportunities because we did not control our fears or apathy. Understanding alone will not complete all the repairs needed for these issues. We will need a strong capacity for self-forgiveness to overcome the loathing we have for ourselves for missing opportunities and bungling relationships.

Turning a mistake into total incompetence  

The difficulty with distorted thinking about our behavior does not stop at simple frustration. Many believe that our disasters prove we are incompetent and unworthy. We may not notice this transition from frustration to self-rejection because this conclusion seems so reasonable. After all, it explains why losses and failures are so frequent. This warped thinking further reinforces the notion that we are unworthy of respect or hope, making hope even more elusive. 

Many deny being unworthy and undeserving. Fortunately, there are definite signs that these views are active in our lives. For example, self-rejection is revealed in how we habitually respond to good or bad events and situations. When good things happen, we assume we “got lucky.” We are unlikely to take credit for our success. Instead, we will claim it was an accident, not evidence that we have been clever and worthy. 

The opposite explanation is used when we experience genuine failure and defeat. We automatically accept credit for disappointment and suffering and attribute it to our lack of skill and knowledge. These judgments strengthen the conviction that we are undeserving of success until it becomes a curse on our future.  

When do we deserve forgiveness? 

When we are reluctant to admit that we do not like parts of ourselves, we also quietly assume we do not deserve forgiveness for our weak character traits. The sign that this is our authentic judgment is our habit of brooding on our memories of failure and defeat. Frequent zoom visits to our guilt department and the inner critic reinforces this tendency. These activities provide vivid reminders of our failings and mistakes and add another boost to feeling inadequate. 

Concentrating on our failures almost guarantees we will suffer from a recurring mood of discouragement and low expectations. Thus, certain people establish a pattern of underreacting to success and compliments and overreacting to insults, rejection, and loss. While such people are often tolerant of other people’s shortcomings, they rarely are merciful about their faults and failures. They also cannot congratulate themselves when they finally experience success. And thus, they plod on in their gloom and pessimism, wondering why they are stuck in this pattern of recurring discouragement.

The changes that are essential for curing self-rejection 

Developing a mature and healthy character requires us to do more than excuse or be annoyed by our dysfunctional traits. We must learn about effective mental housecleaning techniques for removing toxic attitudes, the belief that our situation is hopeless, and our status as helpless victims. It will be essential to replace these traits with intentions and habits that promote our well-being instead of continued suffering. The following are some suggestions that will support this effort.

  • We need a more balanced view and interpretation of our experiences. Stop ignoring personal victories and achievements and begin owning them as evidence of our growing competence and worth.
  • Make it a daily habit to nourish our sense of worth with praise. Exercise gratitude for the knowledge and skills we have. Be enthusiastic about our ability to increase these qualities. Appreciate the effort and self-discipline we invest in our achievements. 
  • Be as kind to yourself as you are to others. Put yourself on the list of those who deserve affection and congratulations. Act like you are your best friend, and tell your inner critic to give as much praise as criticism. Your good qualities need attention too.
  • Remember that spirit is always on our side of the best in us. We deserve God’s grace. The divine can come to us directly outside of religious rules and restrictions if necessary.
  • Appreciate that the poor results we experience may be due to our self-rejection instead of our unworthiness or incompetence. Cultivate the confidence to accept the abundance of life available to us.
  • Realize that everyone has both strengths and weaknesses in their nature. We should identify with our powers and talents instead of our shortcomings. Use our abilities to compensate in areas where we are not so gifted.  


Removing our dysfunctional attitudes and habits is a fundamental part of mastering forgiveness. This step is exceptionally significant when we believe we are flawed and unfit. These beliefs inevitably cause us to assume we do not deserve to receive or give forgiveness. 

Because the belief that we are unworthy develops slowly, we may only partially recognize this handicap in our thoughts and attitudes. Repeated rejections and failures are often required to push us into full awareness that remorse and helplessness have become part of our mindset.

Fortunately, these dysfunctional beliefs and habits leave many markers and signs of their presence. The most crucial evidence for this is our inability to be comfortable accepting our authentic successes and the praise we receive for them. The second sign is our continued expectation that we will always be frustrated.

Our higher human and spiritual resources will provide the guidance and strength to realize we deserve a better quality of life. The linchpin to this transformation lies in developing the right convictions and determination to conquer our self-loathing. 


  • When anger is a typical response to difficulties in life, it often expands into self-rejection. As this occurs, we will gradually lose our capacity to be peaceful and generous with affection and trust. These are signs we view our world as barren or hostile. This perspective creates a global change in the quality of our life.
  • The belief that we are inadequate and unworthy occurs as we internalize our mistakes and grievances by viewing these experiences as evidence that we are weak, incompetent, and helpless in specific areas. All our abilities and attitudes will suffer if our self-confidence is weakened in this way.
  • Our work in mastering forgiveness will not be successful until we diminish the disappointment we feel about how we have responded to our significant experiences. We can heal this negativity by remembering our successes and victories and the strengths we need to achieve them.


  1.  Are we more likely to criticize ourselves than give praise for what we do? Do we ignore the virtues and skills we have? Is it time to give more attention and support to the constructive parts of our character and lifestyles?
  2. Do we find accepting success, compliments, and favors difficult? Are we uncomfortable with receiving praise? Is it time to understand it is okay to receive and give affection and support to ourselves?
  3. Are we avoiding many social situations because we suspect others will recognize the many ways we are inadequate and awkward? Do we understand how these fears are usually excessive and unrealistic? Is it time to embrace life more fully? 

Think on these things

Written by Dr. Robert Leichtman