American Association of Christian Counselors
American Association of Christian Counselors

Helping Others Forgive Themselves

Everett L. Worthington, Jr., Ph.D.

This week, we’re excited to feature a blog series by Dr. Ev Worthington, Jr. of the soon to be released title, Moving Forward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free from the Past. Whether you work in a clinical, pastoral, or lay care-giving setting, Dr. Worthington’s insights about forgiveness and emotional healing have both personal and professional application.

I have compiled some practical resources for you to help others or yourself with experiencing relief from self-condemnation through forgiveness of yourself.

 

Six Steps to Self-Forgiveness

Worthington, E. L., Jr. (2013). Moving forward: Six steps to self-forgiveness and breaking free from the past. Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Multnomah.

Website: www.forgiveself.com

 

Responsibility

Step 1: Receive God’s Forgiveness

Keller, T. (2010). Generous justice: How God’s grace makes us just. New York: Riverhead Books (Penguin).

Step 2: Repent and Repair Relationships

Worthington, E. L., Jr. (2003). Forgiving and reconciling: Bridges to wholeness and hope. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Step 3: Reduce Rumination

Cloud, H., & Townsend, J. (1992). Boundaries: When to say yes, when to say no, to take control of your life. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Meyer, J. (2010). Power thoughts: 12 strategies to win the battle of the mind. New York: FaithWords.

Reaching Peace

Step 4: REACH Emotional Self-forgiveness

You can learn all about the five steps by visiting www.people.vcu.edu/~eworth

Realistic Living

Step 5: Realize Self-Acceptance

Not much has really been done on self-acceptance.

http://www.oprah.com/spirit/How-Self-Acceptance-Can-Crack-Open-Your-Life

Step 6: Resolve to Live Virtuously

I highly recommend two recent books on living virtuously.

Charry, E. (2010). God and the art of happiness. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.

Wright, T. (2010). Virtue reborn. London: SBKT.

Website: www.greatergood.berkeley.edu

http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/

General Books on Self-Forgiveness

Brené Brown. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are (Hazelden, 2010).

Brené Brown is a PhD social worker and research professor at the University of Houston. She has studied shame for years. Several years ago, she experienced a spiritual awakening (aka breakdown). She tallied the characteristics of shame-prone people and people living a wholehearted life. She found she had many, and that realization flung her into psychotherapy and a spiritual make-over. Her 40,000-word book is about how she put aside shame and accepted her imperfections. Brown is unapologetically an academician and research scientist writing a trade book for the lay person. She incorporates well-written summaries of research into her narrative. It is only marginally related to religion, but it is positive toward the human spirit.

R. T. Kendall, How to Forgive Ourselves—Totally: Begin Again by Breaking Free from Past Mistakes (Charisma House, 2007)

R. T. Kendall is a retired pastor now living in Florida but formerly pastor of Westminster Chapel in London for 25 years. This 70,000-word book is a pastoral how-to book. It has chapters on reasons to forgive ourselves, false guilt and true guilt, grief, regret and repentance, and Satanic attack. The book ends by discussing self-acceptance, and exhortations to forgive and accept oneself.  The book is predicated on exhortation and straightforward appeals to forgive oneself because God has forgiven us, and because it is a sin not to forgive oneself. His theology is conservative Protestant theology. He gives attention to Satan’s temptations and accusations. Overall, this is a pastoral book.

Hiram Johnson. Tragic Redemption: Healing the Guilt and Shame (Langmarc Publishing, 2006).

In this book of about 50,000 words, licensed clinical social worker and also holder of a parish counseling master’s degree from Asbury Seminary, Hiram Johnson, has told a personal story. When he was a junior in college, he had a car accident that resulted in the death of a high school girl.  The book is not aimed as directly at self-help and self-forgiveness as it is aimed at inspiring people through telling a personal narrative. It is, for the most part, an unadorned personal story.

John Ensor. Experiencing God’s Forgiveness: The Journey from Guilt to Gladness (NavPress, 1997). 

John Ensor is president and executive director of A Woman’s Concern, a pregnancy resource center. He is a former pastor. In his book of about 65,000 words, he lays out a clear statement of Christian grace and God’s divine forgiveness from the theological perspective expected in a book from NavPress. I share a likeminded theology with Ensor. This is a good book, but it does not touch on much self-help or psychology.

David Stoop & James Masteller. Forgiving Our Parents, Forgiving Ourselves: Healing Children of Dysfunctional Families (Regal, originally 1991, rev. 1996).

David Stoop is a marriage and family therapist and popular speaker on topics relating to marriage and family. James Masteller is a marriage and family therapist who was co-director for the center at which Dave Stoop worked. This book was originally written in the late 1980s and published in 1991 at the heyday of work on dysfunctional families and children of dysfunctional families. This in fact was the major thrust of the book and self-forgiveness is muted.

Beverly Flanigan. Forgiving Yourself: A Step-by-Step Guide to Making Peace with Your Mistakes and Getting on with Your Life (Macmillan, 1996).

This is not a Christian book but is a secular trade book through Macmillan. Beverly Flanigan is a Clinical Professor of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin and a therapist. The book weaves research, using Flanigan’s interviews in 1980 while she was on a research fellowship with the Kellogg Foundation, with people who were struggling to forgive others for heinous crimes. The first set of interviews resulted in a book, Forgiving the Unforgivable. This is a spin-off from the data. The data are not analyzed but are presented as excerpts from the interviews. In each chapter, she has a series of exercises that people can use to progress through her four steps to forgiving the self.

Lewis B. Smedes, Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don’t Deserve (Harper SanFrancisco, 1993).

This book by Lew Smedes is—well, what can we say about any book by Smedes—beautifully written. Smedes wrote the classic book in 1984 that launched the modern movement that has developed a scientific study of forgiveness—Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve. The book is classic Smedes. Smedes, when he was alive, turned a phrase like few other writers. This book brims with great illustrations and beautiful writing. I enjoyed reading it a great deal. As psychology, it is research-lite. As theology, it would, by theologians, also be called theology-lite. But the book works as a beautiful trade book.

Six Steps to Self-Forgiveness

Responsibility

Step 1: Receive God’s Forgiveness

Step 2: Repent and Repair Relationships

Step 3: Reduce Rumination

Reaching Peace

Step 4: REACH Emotional Self-forgiveness

Realistic Living

Step 5: Realize Self-Acceptance

Step 6: Resolve to Live Virtuously

Worthington, E. L., Jr. (2013). Moving forward: Six steps to self-forgiveness and breaking free from the past. Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Multnomah.

www.forgiveself.com

 

Everett L. Worthington, Jr., Ph.D., is a Professor of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University in the APA-accredited doctoral program in Counseling Psychology. He is a licensed Clinical Psychologist in Virginia, a Professor for 35 years and a researcher who studies clinical interventions to promote forgiveness, self-forgiveness, humility, better couple relationships, and better mental health through Christian accommodated interventions. His most recent book is Moving Forward: Six Steps to Self-Forgiveness and Breaking Free from the Past (WaterBrook Multnomah).

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