Can we truly forgive ourselves?

The road to self-forgiveness can often be a lonely and alienating place.

The shock is still reverberating since late February 7th when Chanelle Morgan and Annez Mohamed were killed in a devastating hit and run while they innocently crossed the road near Granville Island. While family members and friends grapple with their loss and begin the heavy hearted task of mourning and attending funerals, the accused, 18-year-old Kurtis Rock, is in custody - his life forever changed by his mistake.

The Morgan and Mohamed families will never forget this tragedy. Time may heal some wounds, and forgiveness may even play an integral role in that healing. But while "forgiving those that sin against us," as highlighted in the Lord's Prayer, is difficult in these circumstances, research shows that it is far more difficult to forgive yourself. So the question Kurtis Rock now faces is, will he ever be able to forgive himself?

Trinity Western University Associate Professor of Psychology, Chuck Macknee is an expert in grief and forgiveness. He cites a bulk of psychological studies by scholars that have been done on forgiveness with results showing that those with an unforgiving heart can experience, "increased anxiety symptoms, struggles with depression, heart disease, less resistance to physical illness, and increased callousness towards others and themselves." While much is known on the benefits of forgiving others, what does the road to self-forgiveness look like?MackneeChuck

Macknee says, "In a way, self-forgiveness is a process of self maintenance and compassion to ourselves. Just like if the regular systems of the body don't function, the outcome can manifest as a whole host of other physiological and psychological problems. In the same way, self-forgiveness allows us to let go of things in the past."

The fall-out of this type of tragedy often results in the perpetrator being estranged from families and friends, suffering shame and public humiliation.

"Un-forgiveness as it relates to self is a very lonely and alienating place," says Macknee. He describes self-forgiveness as a journey that never has a destination or a single event but is instead a long process. "We have to deal with feelings such as guilt, sadness, confusion, and alienation and it's important to recognize what actually happened and understand the intentionality behind it."

Macknee says that learning to forgive oneself should not be done in solitary. "We really can't journey to self-forgiveness alone. We need a traveler to accompany us and to treat us as forgivable."

Besides seeking support from family and friends, Rock may also find aid in his spirituality. It has been reported that he has had a strong faith in God in the past. Macknee says, "Self forgiveness is a spiritual thing, whether or not you pursue a belief in God, we have to give it up to something bigger than ourselves."

When asked if Kurtis Rock will ever be able to forgive himself Macknee says, "I hope so. I think he will probably need a lot of encouragement along the way and to connect with the deceased's families. Fear keeps us away from what we need to do for ourselves. Courage enables us to face the fear of our failures and the harm they have caused. Courage confronts patterns and helps us to relinquish or cut away the past that won't let go."

It's hard to imagine turning attention to those that have caused such grief and hardship and encourage healing in their own lives; the natural reaction is to wish suffering. Macknee says, "At some point we have to accept that there is no payment for the lives that were lost. We are broken people and grace is the glue that mends us. Like the lyric from the U2 song Grace, ‘Grace makes beauty out of ugly things."'

More information on Dr. Chuck Macknee can be found at

Trinity Western University, in Langley, B.C., is an independent Christian liberal arts and sciences university enrolling approximately 4000 students. TWU offers 41undergraduate majors, ranging from biotechnology, education, nursing, theatre and music, to psychology, communications and biblical studies. TWU's 17 graduate degree programs include counseling psychology, business, theology, linguistics, and leadership, and interdisciplinary degrees in English, philosophy and history. TWU holds Canada Research Chairs in Dead Sea Scroll Studies, Developmental Genetics and Disease, and Interpretation, Religion & Culture.


Last Updated: 2009-02-16
Author: Erin Mussolum