Day 28 of my 40 Day Blog Challenge. A friend emailed me and said this might be a good subject. Speaking from personal experience, this friend said that in their own life, emotional healing from past abuse and trauma began to be more complete, once they had come to a place of forgiveness. In fact, my friend wondered if:
“forgiveness is as close to a panacea as one can get in counselling”?
Forgiveness & Healing…
Before I go any further, I feel it’s important to say that forgiveness is a deeply personal matter. It should not, and cannot be forced upon anybody, e.g. “You must forgive this person or that person”. Such impositions often only add to the trauma or sense of abuse, and runs the risk of invalidating a person’s experience.
So where does it come in – in the journey of emotional healing? There are a number of ways in which we can learn to “move on” or “recover” from the various hurts and traumas from the past. Some of our tactics may be more healthy than others. Some of us may choose to “toughen up”, choosing to ignore the hurt and push it deep down inside. We may thrust ourselves into unhealthy distractions such as alcohol, drugs, relationships, stuff, work… but somewhere, the wound is still open, just very well (or not so well) covered.
Of course, we may choose therapy. We could go talk to a counsellor and learn to normalise/confront the events that caused our hurt. Alternatively, or often in addition, we could learn coping strategies such as those taught in EMDR for trauma, we could take a course in mindfulness, exercise, or a combination of all of the above. And they will all help, and in a much more fruitful way than the first examples.
But however much we learn to cope with the hurt from our past, if we hold on to un-forgiveness, then in a sense, we continue to hold onto the original hurt. I define un-forgiveness as a lived sense of resentment, bitterness and ill regard toward the perpetrator. And it is often very understandable and even reasonable that we would hold onto this. The pain and suffering others can inflict on us is often impossible to forget.
But forgiveness isn’t about forgetting. What’s happened to us in many ways shapes who we are today, for better or for worse. Forgiveness to me, is about a radical acceptance that what’s happened has happened. The more we struggle to accept the reality of a situation, the more we fight it – and we get hurt – continually. Once we gain acceptance of what’s happened, we are in a better place to appraise our response to it. Forgiveness then acknowledges that we may be holding onto powerful emotions such as rage or hate, and then chooses to begin to let them go.
We let them go, not because we think what’s happened is now ok, and not because we have unrealistic expectations about the nature of any future relationship with our perpetrator. We let go because those emotions become abusers themselves. I had a colleague who always used to say of people who took up all our head space:
“You’re letting them live in your head rent free – and they’re not a good lodger”!
Most of the time, and especially if we have no contact with the person who caused us hurt, it is only ourselves who continue to be hurt by holding onto painful resentments and un-forgiveness.
So do we need to forgive? In one sense no. We can learn to cope with the pain, or manage it in a healthy way. We can live a good life coping and managing. But forgiveness has the power to take us from merely coping and managing, to genuine peace within.
Forgiveness is such a personal matter. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this. Do get in touch, either leave a comment or use the contact box on the about me page.