Compassion is the Key for Self-Forgiveness; What This Means for Resolving Conflict | Pollack Peacebuilding Systems

May 20, 2020by Natalie Davis

Summary of:

Gilbert P., Woodyatt L. (2017). An evolutionary approach to shame-based self-criticism, self-forgiveness, and compassion. In Woodyatt L., Worthington, Jr. E., Wenzel M., & Griffin B. (Eds.), Handbook of the psychology of self-forgiveness. Springer, Cham.

Background & Theory

This article discusses how human psychology has been shaped over time, and how this has impacted us in our experiences of self-criticism, self-forgiveness, and the multiple factors that contribute to these areas. The authors discuss what this means today, why compassion is a critical component to self-forgiveness, and how one can learn this ability.

Research Questions

The author answers the following questions:

  1. How have humans adapted over time in terms of the impact from and our understanding of self-criticism and self-forgiveness? Why are these critical to our well-being?
  2. What role do compassion and social context play?


The authors conduct their research by evaluating the basic needs we have, an understanding and explanation of shame, humiliation, guilt, the role of social context in our actions and reactions, self-criticism, self-forgiveness, and compassion. Examples are provided to build an understanding of these areas and what the interconnections are between them. Further analysis of compassion includes evaluating its six competencies, as well as Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) and what this entails.


The results show that as humans have developed, we are more self-aware, and thus have a greater tendency to be harsh on ourselves and bring on self-criticism, which requires self-forgiveness for proper healing and moving past those negative behaviors. Two fundamental psychological needs of human beings include competition and care. Self-criticism is actually detrimental to the caring process, both for ourselves and those around us, as it produces negative behaviors. These negative behaviors have consequences, such as adding much more stress to our minds and bodies. The social context of which we are a part plays a large role in how we see ourselves since social identity plays a key role in forming personal identity. If one falls short of social expectations, it can induce negative self-criticism. Compassion may be the answer to forgiving ourselves, and in general, resolving conflict internally (and externally) as it exists.

What This Means

  • We all have tendencies to be tough on ourselves. However, we should aim to be objective and understand what our true abilities are and how valuable we are, despite our shortcomings. Learning to maintain a positive self-regard even in the midst of mistakes, or in areas we might not quite meet social standards, is a key component to positive well-being and living a healthy life.
  • Compassion goes a long way in creating positive relationships, preventing violence, and resolving conflict; it’s not a wonder this is critical for forgiving ourselves and moving toward a positive view of ourselves. Self-compassion also has significant implications for how we see others, and how we learn to prevent and address conflict.

Final Takeaway

For consultants: Clients who have trouble forgiving themselves, may have trouble forgiving others, or may actually resolve the conflict with others but yet struggle to consider that chapter closed and move forward. Teaching clients to have compassion (and possibly encouraging this through CFT) may increase the likelihood that they’ll not only forgive or reconcile with the other person or group, but may also forgive themselves for any perceived shortcomings. When this is done, it’s likely that conflict may be more easily mitigated in their future as well, given the likelihood they won’t withdraw or neglect their own feelings and can recognize how to properly address both sides of a conflict.

For everyone: Learn how to see yourself positively; there are no downsides to this as long as you keep a level head. If anything, it not only saves your body from physical stress and your mind from emotional turmoil, but it can prevent conflict in your life, and overall lead you to a healthier, more peaceful life.

Natalie Davis

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