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PTSD and the Healing Power of Self-Forgiveness

Very recently, I've learned of the healing power behind forgiving yourself for a troubled past, and as highlighted in JDartistic's post about dealing with humiliation, I'm not alone in that sentiment. I would, however, like to explain where I was, where I am now, and what changed in hopes that someone who feels how I did can learn from my experience.


Prior to my learning of self-forgiveness, I would spend my all day, every day in a state known as "ruminative preoccupation". This means what the name implies, and meant I would spend all day turning over thoughts of past pains and humiliations over and over in my head, as if my consciousness was a TV and someone else had the remote. Random, everyday words, objects, and situations would trigger specific painful memories.

Those memories would play like a recording, and the recording would only stop when I thought about suicide. So, in essence, because of these ruminations I would spend all day thinking about suicide. The suicidal thoughts served as a crude "thought stopping" mechanism, and it turned out that this mechanism was actually the problem (note: any surge of painful emotion would serve the same purpose, it doesn't necessarily need to be about suicide or self-harm).

The suicidal thoughts would stop the memory from playing and "push it down", but it did nothing to address the memory itself or why it was painful. The same memory would just pop back up in rotation later on, sometimes just seconds after I had stopped it with a surge of negative emotion and a thought of suicide. It did nothing to assuage the real reason why traumatic and humiliating memories are so painful:

Guilt. Guilt isn't why traumatic memories are so painful, but guilt is - albeit indirectly - the reason we keep recalling those memories long after they're over and done. Guilt breeds regret, and regret itself takes many forms: regret for what we did, regret for what happened to us, regret that things didn't go differently, and so on. It's this guilt-fueled regret that keeps traumatic memories bubbling up to the surface.

So, what's the response to guilt (and vicariously, regret)? Forgiveness. Forgiving yourself for what you did, or failed to do. Forgiveness for the awful things that happened to you - to be clear, I am NOT talking about forgiving the perpetrators. They can burn in Hell. However, when bad things happen to us we ultimately regret the things that happened - meaning we feel guilty for the things that happened - and forgiving yourself for what happened to you is a necessary step in healing from that trauma.

In my aforementioned thought process involving traumatic recall leading to a surge of negative emotion and thought of suicide, I decided to give self-forgiveness a try. The negative emotion stayed, but instead of thinking "I want to kill myself", I would instead think something like "It's okay. I forgive myself." To my delightful surprise, a wonderful thing started happening:

As I made peace with each individual memory by forgiving myself for it having happened, those memories started going away. As the thoughts bubbled up and I forgave myself for them, the bad memories stopped intruding upon my conscious thought. When I forgave myself for each individual memory as it came, they went away and stayed gone. Some memories were harder to forgive than others, but ultimately the tide of bad memories that would loop over and over in my head had abated.

I feel so free. So alive. So present in the moment instead of stuck in the past. So...dare I say...happy? At the very least, I am much more at peace with myself than I was just a week ago. Most of the memories are gone, and I'm forgiving myself for any others that pop up from time-to-time, but I never thought I'd be so free from PTSD. A new chapter has begun in my life, and it's all thanks for the healing power of forgiveness.


Thank you for writing this very insightful post. It means a lot to me.

Forgiveness is essential to be able to live this life happily, since nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes.

In a book that I read (Toxic Parents, by Susan Forward, I think), the author says that we have to become our own parents. In my case, that idea made forgiving myself easier for me. I imagined that I was my daughter and that I forgave her. I also pictured my self in the past, younger, and that I hugged myself, saying to my previous ‘me’ that I forgave her. I also told her that she should have been loved more, but that it was ok, because now I loved her very much.

Well, this subject struck a sensible cord because I am crying now. Nevertheless, I am in a moment in life, when I feel very happy. During the last months, my life have started to make sense again and I am very glad to be alive.
Wow, what a powerful post Gritches, thank you so much. So happy that you are in a better space now.

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