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Self Forgiving is Essential for Healing

By Tim Ong

In the waiting room in my clinic, there is a poster that says "Self Forgiving is Essential for Healing". A patient once asked me what it means and why I put it up there.

There are two main reasons why I put the poster up.

Firstly, I want my patients to realise that some physical illnesses are just manifestations of unresolved emotions and conflicts. Most times, these unresolved emotions have to do with anger and self blame. Both emotions are actually two sides of the same coin. The difference is that with anger, we direct the negative emotion outward at an external object or person while we direct it inwardly at ourselves in self blame. Both emotions are harmful to ourselves and may actually lead to physical illnesses. Some researchers believe that there is a strong link between such negative emotions with cancer.

In my own practice, I see some patients whose physical symptoms are actually caused by such negative emotions. One particularly noteworthy case was of a lady in her mid-thirties who suddenly developed asthma after a recent miscarriage. We initially treated her with anti-asthmatic medications with very little improvement. After about a month on medications, she came one afternoon looking rather sad. When I enquired further, she burst out crying. She disclosed that she had been feeling guilty about her miscarriage and blamed herself for the lost. To make matter worse, she could not discuss her feelings with her husband because he refused to talk about the matter.

I spend about an hour listening to her sorrows, allowing her to grieve for her lost. As she described her pain, she cried but I could see that it was good for her to discharge her pent up emotions.

After this visit, I did not see her for some time. Several months later, she came by to see me again. This time it was to thank me for the last consultation. Apparently, ever since that consultation, her asthmatic symptoms disappeared and never came back.

This demonstrates the negative effects of self blame and guilt, and the power of self forgiving.

There is another reason why I put that poster up, and it is to remind myself sometimes to be kind to myself. As a doctor and a human being, I am sometimes faced with difficult decisions and choices. Sometimes, the decisions I made may turn out to be detrimental to my patients, resulting in unpleasant consequences. Fortunately, such incidents are rare and far in between, but they are a reality of life as a doctor. No doctor with a conscience can continue to provide quality healthcare to his patients if he allows such guilt to haunt him indefinitely. Self blame in such a case is not only harmful to the doctor himself but to the patients he has to treat everyday.

Thus, as a doctor, one has to learn to accept responsibility for his choices, both good and bad. If the decisions happened to be bad, he has to allow himself to grieve and move on as quickly as he can. He does not have the luxury of prolonged griefs.

A healthy way to handle such situations is to consciously accept responsibility for his choices, even if he does not openly admit it to others, learn from it so as not to repeat the same mistake, and then to focus on the immediate task at hand. This can only be achieved with a lot of self forgiving.

As the saying goes, "To err is human, to forgive divine." While forgiving is indeed divine, self forgiving can be the most difficult thing to do. It is often much easier to blame someone else instead of accepting responsibility for one's choices. It takes a person of courage and integrity to own his actions.

About The Author
Dr. Tim Ong is a medical doctor who runs his own thriving medical practice. In his free time, he gives public talks, trains counsellors and speakers, and volunteer his service to hospice work. He also teaches meditation and is the webmaster of and


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