When it comes to trauma, many misunderstand the true meaning of forgiveness. How can you forgive, move forward, and thrive? Discover the secrets to post-traumatic thriving.
Forgiveness is often a misunderstood topic. How we forgive is a profoundly personal thing. Some say we must forgive, yet some cannot forgive. Some state that forgiveness is useful or even essential. Perhaps our religious texts and teachers have instructed us to forgive.
For some of us, after years have passed since the trauma, we still feel anger and resentment. Others say that we cannot heal until we forgive our perpetrator. Yet others say that we must forgive ourselves before moving forward. Some say that God has already forgiven, while others say that some acts are unforgivable. It is one thing to be told to forgive or say the words, but it is another thing to do so. Ultimately, forgiveness is an issue that we must decide for ourselves.
When traumatic events happen, it is essential to face them, go through the anger process, and express the rage that we feel. Forgiveness never means forfeiting our legal rights, the responsibility to report a crime, or remaining in a toxic relationship. Numbing ourselves and shutting up never results in healing. Some events cannot and should not be forgotten.
Forgiveness is a somewhat abstract concept, and as such, we all experience it in different ways. Self-guided forgiveness allows us to listen to ourselves and trust ourselves. Sometimes we do not want to forgive, at least yet. If there is still hurt, anger, or bitterness, it is there for a reason. Even if we don’t know what that reason is. There may be a lesson to learn by exploring those emotions as we go through life and encounter new experiences. Those feelings may be protecting us until we find replacement coping mechanisms. Or the event may have impacted us so significantly that we may just need to process the event slowly.
There is a difference between not being ready to forgive, which can be healthy and holding a grudge, which is a more active feeling that we obsess over and take unhealthy actions. Setting boundaries is part of this, as there are people we may not ever want to speak to again. However, this may be more about protecting ourselves from their toxicity, not about punishing them or seeking revenge. If we are holding onto a hardcore vengeance grudge, we should seek help.
Remembering hardship is essential for many people. Simply knowing this and setting aside the bad advice to do otherwise can bring us a big step closer to healing. Some say that we cannot forgive until we feel the full measure of hurt. Forgiveness is a personal and individual experience. It is a matter of the heart and cannot be cajoled or forced. For some, it comes easily, and for others, it takes years. Yet, for some, it simply never happens. Generally, we cannot forgive until we face the pain that was caused. Premature forgiveness may be retraumatizing. Yet those who do forgive may call it a mystery, a grace, or a gift from God.
To truly thrive, we must be at least open to the idea of forgiveness. We must at least see the benefits and make a conscious decision of whether we are ready to forgive or not, and what forgiveness means to us. In other words, we can take the steps and put ourselves in a position where forgiveness is more likely to happen. Many people report that forgiveness finally came unexpectedly, at a time when they listened to their inner voice. They were intentionally practicing self-care or building the courage to face their perpetrator square on. But we are all different. The essential point is that we are taking steps to heal and create peace amid chaos.
Not forgiving may cause us to be hypervigilant to protect ourselves from being revictimized. Few would dispute that forgiveness is a desirable objective, and there are some practical considerations in the process. Carefully consider what the world would look like without mercy. If you find yourself angry and bitter, talk about it with someone you can trust. Think about how resentment towards those who harmed you is causing you harm. Talk to your doctor about the long-term effects of extended stress, brooding, blame, and anger. Consider how fixating on another’s bad behavior is affecting your good behavior. Think about ways to channel the anger into a constructive cause.
Merely hoping for forgiveness is a tangible step toward achieving it. Even a scant or halfhearted effort is a step in the right direction. Forgiveness often does not come all at once. At times the word “forgiveness” is inadequate. It fails to capture the profound damage and grief we experienced and the intense work to overcome them. Being a victim of trauma shocks us to the core. We feel broken, violated, and dehumanized by the terrible acts. Working towards forgiveness can help us reclaim our rights to humanity.
Courtesy of Dr. Randall Bell and Core IQ Press. (c) 2021 by Randall Bell, PhD. Used by permission.