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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

[What about the need] to know yourself and love yourself? Many can’t love themselves so they use the love of God instead. . . . [Also,] I’ve 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.

Outline of the Answer
• The Dangers of Self-condemnation and Self-absorption
• Shrewd and Simple
• True Love
• Self-love
• Love of Neighbor
• Forgiveness
• Premature Forgiveness
• Clinical Counsels
• Summary

Yes, we need to respect ourselves—and care about the welfare of our souls—as 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. With a self-condemning psychological attitude like that, no one can appreciate God’s love for us all.

Yet it is just as important that respect for the self (or “self-love”) does not become its own psychological defense—the defense of narcissism—in which you seek your own self-interest at the expense of others.

Shrewd and Simple

When Christ sent His Apostles out to preach, He told them, “Be as shrewd as serpents and simple as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

Now, it’s relatively easy to be simple and gentle—even nice—because 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

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 22:34–40).

Read an excerpt from a treatise about love of God
by Saint Diadochus of Photice

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 don’t 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 takes—pay any cost, endure any pain—to make love the sole purpose of your life.

Therefore, without loving God it’s impossible to love ourselves with anything more than narcissism or our neighbors with anything more than lust. Let’s 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 aviation.


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 someone else.

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 others.


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 psychologically—to stop believing that God wants to condemn you—and to start accepting that God desires your salvation. You may feel like garbage because of the way you were treated in childhood, but in God’s 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 defile.


— Mark 7:21-23


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 evils—no matter how wretched you feel—all is not lost if only you learn from your past mistakes and trust in God’s infinite mercy.


Some persons, 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 else—usually a parent—who 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 there.


Love of Neighbor

Considering what has just been said about self-love, to love your neighbor as yourself, therefore, means to treat your neighbor’s body as a temple of the Holy Spirit, to treat your neighbor’s 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. 


Even though self-destructive and 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. It’s 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 he hurt you.[1] 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 hate.[2] For the original wound to heal, it will be necessary to trust in God’s 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 you.[3] 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 transgressions.

— Matthew 6:15

Think of it like an electrical circuit: neither love nor forgiveness can flow from God through you if you are not “grounded” in others.

Premature Forgiveness

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 isn’t really forgiveness at all; that’s why it’s so easy. It’s 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. It’s just an intellectual way of telling ourselves that everything is fine when really we haven’t felt the pain and brought it to God in heartfelt scrutiny and prayer.

Clinical Counsels


If you believe that God despises you and that you are unlovable, then you don’t really love God.


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 don’t really love yourself.

You are using self-destruction (motivated by self-hatred) to satisfy your anger at others by punishing them unconsciously. But you can’t love yourself if you secretly hate yourself.


If you say you love yourself but aren’t concerned about the salvation of others, you don’t really love others.

You’re 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 don’t really forgive others. 

You’re using premature forgiveness [4] 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 don’t find your own life meaningful, you don’t really love yourself.

You’re following the rules with intellectual perfectionism, not love.


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 don’t really love God. If we do not really love God, then we can’t really love ourselves. And if we can’t really love ourselves, then how can we love others as we love ourselves? And if we can’t really love others as we love ourselves, then how can we forgive others? And if we can’t 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.


Who wrote this web page?


1. Most often, this hatred is unconsciously directed at your parents. Whether your dysfunction be extreme—such as suicide, drug addiction, alcoholism, and personality disorders—or more subtle—such as perfectionism, chronic procrastination, or a lack of success in a career—it 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 adulthood—even 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 person—whether through active loathing or through passive resentment—is, 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.


Loving your enemies does not mean accepting everything they do.


Loving your enemies does not mean ignoring the danger they cause to you and to others.


Loving your enemies does not mean forgetting the harm they have caused.


Loving your 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 you’re still denying your unconscious anger and resentment, so even though you think you’ve 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 examine.


Who wrote this web page?


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: hate.
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.

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