the need] to know yourself and love yourself? Many cant love themselves
so they use the love of God instead. . . . [Also,]
Ive found it harder for people to forgive themselves than others
. . . . We have to like and love ourselves before we can know
what love is and then start loving others, including God.
es, we need to respect
ourselvesand care about the welfare of our soulsas part of the
process of learning to love God; after all, persons who were
mistreated as children will come up with all
sorts of reasons to blame themselves and despise themselves for being unlovable.
self-condemning psychological attitude like that,
no one can appreciate Gods love for us all.
Yet it is just as important that
respect for the self (or self-love) does not become its own
psychological defensethe defense of
narcissismin which you seek your own self-interest
at the expense of others.
When Christ sent His Apostles
out to preach, He told them, Be as shrewd as serpents and simple as
doves (Matthew 10:16).
Now, its relatively easy
to be simple and gentleeven nicebecause
simpleness and gentleness are often learned in childhood as psychological
defenses to cope with the instability and conflict
of a dysfunctional family. But unless you
have a certain shrewdness about the world, you can
easily be seduced into doing things that seem
simple yet are really sinful and
evil. Only when simpleness is more than a defense
and derives from a deep love of God, and when you have a shrewdness that
derives from a desire to not do anything that defiles love, can you truly
respect yourself and be truly loving.
Real love, or true love, therefore,
derives from divine love and is intimately related
to love of neighbor. Remember that the two greatest commandments are these:
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your
soul, and with all your mind, and You shall love your neighbor
as yourself (Matthew 22:3440).
Now, we love God because He created
us to share in His love. God is love. He is not some deluded emperor
who demands adoration from everyone around him to satisfy his inflated ego.
Souls who love God dont serve Him because He demands their obedience
like an irrational parent; souls who love God love Him in love for
the sake of love, and, through His
grace, they become love. Therefore, to love the Lord, your God, with
all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind means that you
will do anything it takespay any cost, endure any painto make
love the sole purpose of your life.
Therefore, without loving God
its impossible to love ourselves with anything more than
narcissism or our neighbors with anything more than
lust. Lets look more closely at what love of
self and love of neighbor really entail.
A good metaphor to help you
understand your own personal value in the context of self-love comes from
If you have ever
flown on a commercial airliner, you have heard the safety talks at the beginning
of the flight. One talk concerns the oxygen masks, which will drop down from
the overhead compartment in the event of a sudden decompression at altitude.
In that talk, you are warned to put on your own mask before trying to assist
Do you know why?
Well, at high altitudes there is very little oxygen in the air, and the brain
can survive for only a few seconds without supplemental oxygen. So, in the
time it takes to help someone else who is confused and struggling, you could
both pass out and die. But if you put on your own mask immediately, you will
have the oxygen you need to survive and think clearly, so you can be of real
help to others.
The point here
is that unless you take care of yourself first, you cannot be of any help
To love yourself, therefore,
means overcoming two self-defeating tendencies. Some persons will falter
more on one point than the other, so be careful to note the differences between
the following two points.
On the one hand, loving yourself
requires that you stop condemning yourself psychologicallyto stop believing
that God wants to condemn youand to start accepting that God desires
your salvation. You may feel like
garbage because of the way you were treated
in childhood, but in Gods eyes you are not garbage. In love, God created
you at your conception, and in love He calls you to Him always: Though
father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me (Psalm 27: 10).
To accept your salvation all you have to do is place yourself in
obedience to God, treating your body as a
temple of the Holy Spirit and treating your soul
with ardent concern for its growth in purity by
avoiding the defilement of inner evils:
From within people,
from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery,
greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.
All these evils come from within and they
On the other hand, loving yourself
requires that you stop blaming yourself for your past failures. No matter
how often and in what way you have fallen into those inner evilsno
matter how wretched you feelall is not lost
if only you learn from your past mistakes and
trust in Gods infinite mercy.
however, will unconsciously persist in trying to punish themselves for their
failures even though they say, Jesus, I trust in You! dozens
of times a day. Why? Well, all that self-punishment (or self-sabotage)
is just a veiled attempt to hurt someone elseusually a
parentwho failed you in some way, somehow leaving you feeling rejected,
unloved, unwanted, or incompetent. If you are
blind to this unconscious desire to hurt
others, you will not be able to purify yourself from its effects, and it
will poison your heart and kill off any love that might try to grow
Considering what has just been
said about self-love, to love your neighbor as yourself, therefore,
means to treat your neighbors body as a temple of the Holy Spirit,
to treat your neighbors soul with ardent concern for its salvation,
and to stop blaming your neighbor for past mistakes.
Moreover, this dynamic of
blame, whether it be enacted as self-punishment or as a desire to
hurt your neighbor, leads to the topic of forgiveness.
In regard to
forgiveness, you cannot forgive yourself. Why? There
are two reasons.
self-sabotaging behavior may seem to be anger
at the self, at its core it is an expression of
anger at someone else, because of what that person
did to you or failed to do for you. Its as if you amplify
the effects of the original injury and throw your dysfunction back into the
face of the one who hurt you, in an attempt to force him to see how much
It may be unpleasant to admit it, but, in all truth, you use your disability
unconsciously as a subtle form of revenge, which is itself a form of
For the original wound to heal, it will be necessary to trust in Gods
perfect justice, set aside your personal desire for satisfaction, and forgive,
not yourself, but the person who hurt you in the first place.
When you engage in self-destructive
behavior, you injure your own body, the temple of
the Holy Spirit. In this sense, through injury to His temple you injure
God Himself. For healing to occur, it will be necessary to
repent your behavior so that God
can forgive you.
Thus your forgiveness
begins in your forgiving others by loving them no matter what they do to
Remember, Christ told us to love others as I have loved you.
And how did He love us? He loved us even as we mocked, tortured, and killed
Him. No matter what we did to Him, He did not hate us. Therefore, integral
to love is the refusal to hate, and in so far as you persist in hating others
and refuse to forgive them, God will not forgive you.
But if you do
not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your
Think of it like an electrical
circuit: neither love nor forgiveness can flow from God through you if you
are not grounded in others.
So when you speak about the fact
that forgiving others is easier than forgiving ourselves, you
expose the psychological deception of
premature forgiveness. Premature forgiveness
isnt really forgiveness at all; thats why its so easy.
Its just a way to distract ourselves from our own pain by saying the
politically correct words and doing the politically correct things as a pretense
that we love others, when really our hearts are swollen with unspoken bitterness
for what we have lost. Its just an intellectual way of telling ourselves
that everything is fine when really we havent felt
the pain and brought it to God in heartfelt
If you believe that God despises
you and that you are unlovable, then you dont really love
You are blaming yourself for your parents inability to love you.
If you say you love God but engage
in self-destructive behavior, then you dont really love
You are using self-destruction (motivated by self-hatred) to satisfy your
anger at others by punishing them unconsciously. But you cant love
yourself if you secretly hate yourself.
If you say you love yourself
but arent concerned about the salvation of others, you dont really
Youre confusing self-indulgence with love and are using spirituality
as an excuse for narcissism.
If you say you love others but
continue to hold grudges against anyone, you dont really forgive
Youre using premature
as a tactic to convince yourself that you are loving when you really are
filled with feelings of victimization.
If you say you love others but
dont find your own life meaningful, you dont really love
Youre following the rules with intellectual perfectionism, not
So think about this. If we do
not really believe that God created us to share
in His love and that He calls us to repent all of our behavior that defiles
love, then we dont really love God. If we do not really love God, then
we cant really love ourselves. And if we cant really love ourselves,
then how can we love others as we love ourselves? And if we cant really
love others as we love ourselves, then how can we forgive others? And if
we cant forgive others, then we remain lost forever in the
guilt of past mistakes. And if we are lost forever
in the guilt of past mistakes, then we are in
hell, where there is neither love of God, nor
love of self, nor love of neighbor.
1. Most often, this hatred is unconsciously directed
at your parents. Whether your dysfunction be extremesuch as suicide,
drug addiction, alcoholism, and personality
disordersor more subtlesuch as perfectionism, chronic
procrastination, or a lack of success in a careerit all has an unconscious
intent of hating and hurting your parents (especially your
father in regard to his lack of guidance, protection,
or emotional involvement) by hating and hurting yourself. And, because this
intent is unconscious, it can be maintained right into adulthoodeven
after your parents have died!
2. The spiritually negative
emotion of hate does not necessarily mean a passionate loathing; it
can just as well be a quiet, secret desire for harm to come upon someone
or something. Hate can be a subtle thing, therefore, and it often is experienced
more unconsciously than consciously. Consequently, it will often be very
easy to deny that you feel any hatred for anyone at all.
Note also that hatred and anger are
theologically synonymous. Christ Himself taught the crowds, But I say
to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment
(Matthew 5:22). And Saint John the Evangelist reflected this sentiment when
he said, in one of his letters, Everyone who hates his brother is a
murderer (1 John 3:15). The theological implication of these texts,
therefore, is that any desire for harm to come to another personwhether
through active loathing or through passive resentmentis, in its spiritual
essence, an evil desire to remove the fullness of life (with its possibility
of love and forgiveness) from that person.
3. Even though it is foolishness
to honor our enemies, we still have to love them. Christ not only told us to
love our enemies, but also He showed us how not to do it.
enemies does not mean accepting everything they do.
enemies does not mean ignoring the danger they cause to you and to
enemies does not mean forgetting the harm they have caused.
enemies does not mean that they will escape divine justice.
Loving your enemies,
as Christ made perfectly clear right from the Cross, means that you care about their
salvation and wish for their repentance regardless of how miserably they treat you.
Even as He was being crucified, Christ was not plotting revenge on His enemies; instead,
with a broken heart flowing with mercy, He yearned for their repentance.
4. This means that youre still denying your
unconscious anger and resentment, so even though
you think youve come to terms with what happened, there are still emotions
about the event which you have pushed out of awareness. In fact, many persons
can get caught up in this premature forgiveness as a way to avoid coping
with all the unpleasant emotions they would rather not
Psychological Healing in the Catholic Mystic Tradition
by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
A treasure of a resource for psychological
and spiritual healing. Information gathered from my websites is now available at your fingertips
in book form with a comprehensive index.
Psychological defenses help to protect us from
emotional injury, but if you cling to the defense mechanisms that were created in your
childhood and carry them on into adulthood—as most everyone does unconsciously—your quest
for spiritual healing will be thwarted by overwhelming resentments and conflicts.
Still, God has been trying to show you that there is more to life than resentment and
conflict, something so beautiful and desirable that only one thing can resist its pull:
So now, and in every moment until you die, you will have a profound choice between your
enslavement to old defenses and the beauty of God. That decision has to come from you.
You will go where you desire.