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Is forgiveness necessary to heal from trauma?
by TeenHelp March 5th 2019, 04:26 AM

Is forgiveness necessary to heal from trauma?
By Anonymous

Disclaimer: This is my personal opinion on this topic. It is in no way correct or absolute. It is more than okay if you disagree, as everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Throughout my childhood and teen years, I was severely physically, sexually, and emotionally abused by four different people. I developed Complex Post-traumatic Stress, Fibromyalgia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and other major difficulties as a result. I was a young toddler when the abuse began, and it wired my brain pathways differently. Healing is a very personal thing and it varies for each person; I have made a lot of progress but I have a very long way to go, and I will probably stay in therapy for the duration of my whole life.

My experiences and my passion to help others helped me decide to go to school to become a counselor. Even though I love psychology, I have since found my calling elsewhere and am no longer headed into the helping profession. I did spend quite a bit of time taking psychology and counseling classes, however.

I had a class a few months ago, and there was a debate sparked about forgiveness one night. I remember feeling really out of place, not because I was uncomfortable with disagreeing with my peers, but because I was the only one who had a differing opinion. Some of the things my peers said made me question whether or not I (or they) were headed into the right field. I heard everything from "I wouldn't be able to work with a client who couldn't forgive" to "Lack of forgiveness means someone does not actually want to change". I felt those things were close-minded because in this profession, you have to put your own thoughts and opinions on the back burner to assist someone else.

During this time I was experiencing the illness and death of one of the people who abused me and otherwise knowingly participated in my abuse from other people. I received a lot of judgment from many people in my life after I did not visit the person on their death bed or attend their funeral. Forgiveness was a topic that was on my mind a lot, because people kept being harsh with their opinions.

I struggled for a while with this and I wanted to share the things I heard, as well as my thoughts on them. I know I have an unpopular opinion on forgiveness but I also know that I am not alone in this opinion.

Something I personally believe is that forgiveness is a value, similar to other values such as 'hardworking' or 'reliable'. Everyone has different values in their lives, which makes me believe that forgiveness is subjective and not a necessity. It isn't necessary in the way that brushing your teeth or taking a shower is. How it is defined or how it works for one person most likely will not be the same for someone else.

People can make progress without forgiving; I am living proof of that. I started therapy and did a lot of work on the different therapeutic techniques. I came onto TeenHelp to help others and to make myself feel better. I started medication, began driving and going to school again, and I developed one or two very close relationships with people that would not have been possible without the help of my amazing doctors and therapists. I wake up every day and choose to help myself yet I have not forgiven.

A lot of people in my class emphasized the idea that forgiveness takes the anger away. I have not forgiven so I can't comment on that aspect but I do not believe it does. Anyone who is recovered, or recovering knows that there are sometimes bad and angry days. I do struggle with anger as a manifestation of my anxiety but in my case, the anger doesn't eat away at me. I use my anger and bitterness as a fire to make myself change because I want to be so much better than the people who hurt me. I also have a dark sense of humor and I tend to use it to laugh and make it through the day because otherwise I'll cry.

People in my class mostly talked about forgiveness associated with traumatic events, such as losing a loved one to suicide or being abused but I don't believe forgiveness should be talked about so strictly in that context. If someone broke my favorite mug, or cut me out in traffic I would forgive. One thing about my traumas is that some days it makes the little things feel like nothing and other times it amplifies it because my brain can't tolerate anything else. I am not "holding a grudge" over a broken mug, however. I am "holding a grudge" over being severely abused as a helpless child; one of the people knew I was being abused and covered it up instead of helping. I "hold a grudge" because I have struggled so much in my lifetime and probably shouldn't have survived what I endured. Even though I do help myself and have made progress, I do have a lot of bad days and I wish that I was killed instead of surviving. There is most definitely a difference between forgiving someone for something that was intentional or unintentional.

Because forgiveness means something different to each person, some peers talked of actually wanting clients to tell the harmful person that they forgive them because that is what worked for my peers. Forgiveness can be for the survivor, but some people use it to help heal the perpetrator as well. Most of the time, however, the perpetrator will not admit to wrongdoing, will not ask for forgiveness, and will not make any effort to change. This is especially common in abuse cases because people who abuse tend to have a 'sickness' of their own which makes them harm others.

One thing I noticed is that many people in that class were Catholic or otherwise had a religious faith that puts a lot of emphasis on forgiveness. If religion and forgiveness works for them, then that is good, but it doesn't always work for everyone and it seemed to me that they were too close-minded to even consider it.

At this point in time I have defined what forgiveness will look like for me, but I am not ready to forgive. I don't see myself forgiving, but I would be open to it if I change my mind in the future. For me, forgiveness will look like leading a healthy life in spite of my symptoms and not being as angry or upset with the people who changed the course of my life. It will be a peacefulness within myself, though, and it won't be for anyone else. What does forgiveness look like for you?

Some people want to forgive, while others are not ready or just don't see it in the cards for themselves. While it is not necessary to agree with others, it is helpful to respect their views and treat others the way we want to be treated.
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