Recovery: Thinking about forgiveness

Background

Often I get asked about forgiveness and being able to forgive, not just myself, but also the people who hurt me in the past.

If I do/can/have forgiven those people, how/when/why did I forgive them?  What is the importance of forgiveness?

If I do/can/have forgiven myself, how/when/why?

What is the difference between forgiveness and acceptance?  Are both important?  And again, why?

My Thoughts

Disclaimer: any content written here is based on my personal experience combined with education via trauma informed therapy, self-help resources, psychology books, and learning from other victims/survivors/educators.  They are NOT professional opinions, facts, or theories based on academics, professional education, etc.

Forgivness and Acceptance are two separate but inter-related concepts.

Forgiveness is very personal and subjective – depends a lot on an individual’s personal goals – that can help individuals move beyond recovery & living towards thriving after surviving trauma.

Responsibility is not the same as Accountability.  I do not hold myself or others accountable for choices, actions, or reactions because I do not expect anything from myself or others.

I do hold myself and others responsible for choices, actions, or reactions because I or they chose to act or react a certain way.
Then I can CHOOSE TO make reparation or not, but I don’t HAVE TO do that.
Same with other people; they can CHOOSE TO make reparation or not, but no one expects them to.

Making reparation for a mistake or apologizing is something learned based on morals and ethics.  And the concepts are learnable at any age.

**Forgiveness is a never-ending work in progress that moves in cycles and can transform lives**

Forgiveness of Others

Yes, I have forgiven the people who hurt me, especially my parents, immediate family, and relatives.  I forgave them a few years before starting this website and blog.  And continue practicing forgiveness as more and more memories come back.

But forgiveness is hard.  I struggle with not being able to forgive these people all the time or unconditionally because the pain and memories can feel so strong.  Plus sometimes I still think that forgiveness comes with strings attached when it doesn’t.

So I can forgive my parents and still maintain a no-contact stance.  Same with other people in my family. I can forgive friends and still feel afraid of interacting with them in person or letting them back into my life.  Finally, I can forgive other relatives and feel good with the choice to maintain limited contact with them.

Why?

  • Holding on to anger and grudges only hurts me by reinforcing my fears and holding me hostage within the limitations these people created for me
  • These people are human beings with pasts and experiences beyond their control that influenced their choices and actions as adults
  • Blame doesn’t help anyone; it only shifts responsibility and choices away from responsible parties
    • they can rationalize, justify, make excuses and find ways to turn the blame back on victims with guilt, shame or emotional blackmail
  • Holding these people responsible for their choices is a positive perspective on what happened that validates anger without the negativity of shame, or guilt that causes blame
  • These people made choices and are responsible for those choices, so I can feel angry with their behavior and hold them responsible without blaming them
  • I am learning about compassion and perspective as part of my recovery.   Part of compassion is being able to understand experiences from another’s point of view or perspective and understanding that forgiveness is part of compassion
  • By forgiving these people I am also reducing the influence my past has on present choices, experiences, and goals

Forgiveness of Self

One thing predators and abusers excel at is shifting blame to the victims and convincing the victims they are both responsible and at fault for experiences and circumstances beyond the victim’s control.

It took me a long time to be able to forgive myself for not being able to escape sooner.  And even longer to stop blaming myself for what happened to me.  Some parts of me still blame themselves for what happened.  Others are now capable of feeling compassion for themselves and understanding the difference between blame/fault and responsibility of one’s choices.

But I couldn’t make progress until I learned to at least forgive myself and really know in all aspects of my sense of self that I wasn’t responsible for the trauma of my past.  Without awareness of my behavior/thoughts/feelings and how they were influenced by my past, I couldn’t consciously make choices with conscious awareness either.  So my past was controlling my present, and I felt ashamed because my life was out of control.

Therapy in group and individual settings helped me learn to forgive myself instead of blaming, shaming, guilting, and feeling angry with myself for how I acted and reacted sometimes.  Then these professionals gave me the tools to help take back control of my life and my choices.  The small successes built on each other and helped me realize something important:

  • I am not responsible for my past or what happens when I feel triggered without awareness – in my mind I am protecting myself
  • I am responsible for my choices once I do have awareness of these triggers because I can change the negative reactions into positive ones or apologize & make reparation for mistakes or misunderstandings or miscommunications caused by me
  • Finally, I am human and make mistakes because mistakes are part of how humans learn, so I can forgive myself for making mistakes and take the opportunity to grow instead of shutting down

Conclusion

Like compassion, forgiveness can help heal wounds and offer perspective that allows victims and/or survivors or anyone really to move past negative feelings or blocks.  The concept is easy to understand.  The practice is difficult and not something that is accomplished once and then done forever.

Forgiveness is an ongoing practice, a life choice, and a way of life like compassion that can help ease suffering.  There are many misconceptions about forgiveness, but it’s up to each of us to question what we know and challenge ourselves to look for different answers.

That’s how I stumbled onto this definition of forgiveness.

And learned:

  • that forgive does not equal forget
  • that a person who can forgive while holding the other party responsible is stronger and more resilient than a person who holds on to anger and grudges
  • that accepting responsibility for my part only doesn’t make me weak; it makes me stronger and more confident because I am taking control of my life and my choices

I hope that someday even if my guests can’t forgive the people who hurt them, they can forgive themselves.

Thanks for reading