Jesse TherrienWhat do you know about the topic of self-forgiveness? Does the word seem idealistic and not realistic to you? Have you exercised forgiveness in your life before? The term “forgiveness” brings a host of feelings to the surface for many people. Some people bulk at the term and proclaim their refusal to forgive someone who has hurt them or even forgive themselves. Others accept the term and know what they should do, but just can’t. Still, others refuse to embrace the term “forgiveness” because they fail to recognize its power. What would you say if I asked you to consider whether or not you have forgiven yourself for things you feel responsible for?

Most people in our society live their daily lives under the yoke of burdensome un-forgiveness of themselves. For many people living with or caring for an individual with a severe or untreated mental health diagnosis, a host of feelings arise ranging from shame, embarrassment, and discrimination to anger, resentment, and denial. This can make a loved one feel very guilty and in turn, unable to forgive themselves. For others, their feelings of un-forgiveness can take the form of self-righteousness, arrogance, and repression. Trying to cope with the reality that a loved one has a severe or untreated mental illness can take its toll. That toll can cause parents, family, or caregivers to even resent their hurting loved one, treat them distantly or unfairly, stigmatize them, or even completely walk away. When these things happen, self-hatred and un-forgiveness arises.


For the rest of us, self-forgiveness may be a challenge because of things we feel guilty for. There are a few ways we all have incorrectly learned how to cope with negative feelings. The most problematic forms of coping include:

  1. Preoccupation: Many people deal with negative feelings by keeping themselves busy, submerging themselves in their jobs, and remaining preoccupied with schedules. Preoccupation keeps us from focusing on the things that may require more attention.
  2. Denial: It’s so much easier to deny what our reality is revealing to us. Denial can take many forms, but the most common form of denial is repression.
  3. Repression: Repression is basically “pushing down” any truth that is brought to the surface by others or our own thoughts and behaviors. Most people tell themselves and others “nothing is wrong.” Some people are very unaware of the fact that there is a problem.
  4. Suppression: Suppression occurs when you recognize that there is a problem, but fail to acknowledge it. The person may recognize that something needs to be done, but doesn’t know exactly what to do. In such cases, the best “coping mechanism” is to refrain from thinking or talking about the problem.
  5. Compensation: Some individuals engage in all of the above and compensate by driving nicer cars, striving to work in the best companies, focusing repeatedly on appearance, wearing expensive clothing or jewelry, etc. Compensation basically says “I know something is wrong in my life, but look at what I’ve got!”
  6. Fantasy: Some people are really good at living a fantasy. For me, fantasy can take the form of denial, repression, suppression, and compensation. I see this behavior a lot in domestic violence cases. The abused woman may begin to fantasize that her spouse is beating her because he loves her too much to let her go. In other cases, a painful reality may lead someone to fantasize that their life is better than it actually is.
  7. Displacement: Some people have such a problem forgiving themselves that they take their frustration out on others. A father whose son had severe schizophrenia was hospitalized in June of 2008. The son was very upset and began to view his father in negative ways. The father displaced his frustration of this reality on other young men who reminded him of his son. (Note: characters have been changed to protect identity).


What do you think of this list? Does this sound familiar? As always, feel free to share your thoughts and let’s learn through discussion.

All the best


Photo credit: Jesse Therrien