This is part 3 of a 4 part series on forgiveness. Part 3 in this series covers how to overcome trauma by forgiving perpetrators and events of the past.
The parts in this series are as follows:
- Why Should We Forgive?
- Building Deep, Meaningful Relationships Through Forgiveness
- Overcoming Trauma Through Forgiveness
- Forgive Yourself and Find True Inspiration
This subject may not be relevant to the lives of all readers. Though, I believe most of us have experienced some level of mistreatment or abuse at some time in our lives or know someone who has. In any case, many of the principles and experiences shared here can be applied to any circumstance where forgiveness is needed.
Books and volumes have been written on the subject of healing from traumatic experiences, and for some, many hours, even years, of therapy are focused on this. I can only scratch the surface in a single post (even though it is much longer than my usual posts), but I hope to map out a general course on how to let go of the influence of the past and allow the future to be different. The ultimate spiritual goal is to allow each moment in life to be free of the influence of the past.
Forgiveness should not prevent accountability. If someone has seriously wronged you, there are times when action should be taken. Whether legal action is necessary or simply a decision to exclude this person from your acquaintance depends on the circumstances and your comfort level. But always, in the end, honestly recognize the wrong doing, forgive and let it go for your own sake.
This is much easier said than done in many circumstances, especially if someone else’s actions have resulted in deep trauma. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort and time to forgive, or help from a professional. Whatever it takes, forgiveness should always be the ultimate goal.
The effects of trauma almost always lead to anger toward ourselves. What did I do to make this happen? What could or should I have done to prevent this? Why didn’t I fight back? Was it my fault? Did I deserve it?
The fact is, whether our actions played a part or we were an entirely helpless victim, we did not deserve it! It doesn’t matter what you have done, what thoughts you have had, it was not your fault. Repeat this to yourself every chance you get until you believe it. Forgive yourself for any mistakes you have made and let go of the temptation to place blame.
When we let go of blame and realize that mistakes we have made do not define who we are, it becomes easier to face them and forgive. We cannot begin to forgive others until we have forgiven ourselves. See tomorrow’s post, Forgive Yourself and Find True Inspiration, for more information on self forgiveness.
How to Let Go
Letting go of the effects of a traumatic experience is both the job of the intellect and of the emotion. We have to understand intellectually why we no longer need to hold onto the feelings associated with the past, and we also need to experience those feelings.
Do not feel guilty for being angry. Anger, though sometimes frightening and difficult to control, can provide a necessary force to defend us from further abuse. It is natural and also tends to defend us from the effects of deeper feelings of shame, sadness, fear and pain. With the trauma in the past, it is safe for us, today, to allow ourselves to feel the deeper feelings, cry if necessary then let go.
One of the most significant turning points in my life is when I intellectually came to the conclusion that, despite the traumas I had experienced in the past, I am a worthwhile person. It’s amazing how experiencing trauma distorted my view of myself prior to that moment.
The moment I came to that realization, I broke out in tears and much of the pain of the past was released. Prior to that day, many years ago, I responded to everything in my life that I was unhappy about with rage. The wreckage of my past suddenly had little effect on the present moment and I was able to see things with a clarity I had not experienced before. The cruel God I had perceived suddenly became approachable, and I could feel God’s forgiveness.
My view of those in my life who had wronged me in some way also became much clearer. I could see them as worthwhile people who had made some harmful mistakes based on what they had learned in life, just as I had made harmful mistakes based on what I had learned in life.
What Changes After Forgiveness?
Actions have consequences and forgiving does not mean removing consequences. It means letting go of our own feelings of anger and contempt that batter every relationship we try to nurture. It provides more benefit for the forgiving person than the forgiven.
It is something we do to the best of our ability. Days may pass where anger and resentment creep back in and upset our peace of mind, but the effect it has on us will lessen over time. Our connection to family, friends and all those we love will strengthen without replicating the bruises of the past. Living in the moment, consistently, will become a much easier chore.