One of the hardest things for people to do is forgive themselves, especially when they have been hurt and harmed by others. Harm done to you wounds you deeply, and can convince you that you deserved whatever harm was done to you.
Yet, healing from self-blame for wrong done to you is possible, especially through a compassionate connection. I have hardly ever seen this demonstrated as well as in the film Good Will Hunting, starring Robin Williams and Matt Damon.
Williams, the comic genius and actor of great insight who just died, was able to show that deep, deep capacity for connection that can heal, one person to another. This can be a way people can touch the pain of wrongs done to them, begin to believe it really was not their fault, and begin to let go of self-blame.
Williams played a grieving therapist in that film, and in this scene he tells Will Hunting, the gifted young man whom he is counseling who has been so grievously abused, "It's not your fault."
Watch Robin Williams' eyes in this clip:
There is a ring of truth to this portrayal, perhaps from the depths of what Williams himself struggled with in his own life. Williams apparently committed suicide after struggling over many years with addiction and depression.
Forgiveness is an incredibly difficult and painful subject, as I have learned over and over from teaching and writing on forgiveness, and counseling people in ministry. People can feel they must "forgive and forget" when they have been wronged. Nothing is farther from the Gospel truth, because that puts the burden on the one wronged, not on the wrong-doer, where it belongs.
But even so, self-blame creeps in from the larger culture and its messages of blaming the victim.
As the therapist, Williams is offering the kind of compassionate connection is also at the heart of the healing ministry of Jesus, as in Matthew 9:
35 Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every illness among the people. 36 But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered.
So many people I know are "weary and scattered" and cannot find a healing connection to another person. Sometimes, this is because people internalize a sense that they are worthless and at fault, when it is in fact the harms done to them that have created this sense that "I am not worthy of love."
I am sorry for the struggles of Robin Williams in his life, but I am grateful for this film and for the piercing portrayal of the healing capacity of compassionate connection. I believe this kind of art itself heals, and it is a gift, among so many others, that Robin Williams gave the world.
Follow Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sbthistle