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

Life Changing Moments: Family Time

Another mobile post…please excuse the poor formatting.

I don’t write a lot of detail about my current family situation often out of respect for their privacy.  Some posts will contain coping challenges in general terms or about past experiences.  But often the tone and feelings are mixed.

This post comes from the perspective of being safe and loved by my father’s side of the family.

For the last ten days, I have spent a lot of time with my father’s side of the family.  Grandmother (100+), 3 aunts (seniors), and one uncle (senior) – they welcomed me into their lives, let me stay with them, spoiled me, and showed me through actions that I am safe and loved here.  In return, I tried to be a polite and respectful house guest and show them the same love.

I am not going to lie.  The adjustment was rough on all of us. It still is.  Most of their time is spent taking care of grandma; it’s stressful and difficult sometimes.   Whatever time is left, each one lives her or his own life too.

My biggest fears sort of came true. But others did not.  We walked on eggshells around each other and tried to be sensitive to the point of frustrating each other sometimes.  Other times, we fell back into old patterns without even realizing it.

Then something amazing happened.  Instead of holding grudges or getting angry, we were able to move past it and forgive or let go of the negativity.  When I got stressed and anxious into a flashback, they would help me calm down.  When one of them felt a certain way, I tried to help them.

And they all tried to get along with each other for my sake.  Something I greatly appreciate because of the strain it takes on all of them.  For my part, I tried to spend quality time with each relative one-on-one or in groups in the way that suited us both best.

In the past, we all wore masks and stayed “on” around each other.  This time, we acted like ourselves.  And got along better that way.

Communication is still iffy sometimes.  I tend to be more direct and open about my feelings. They are not.  Certain things can be said one-on-one, but are taboo in front of each other.  I screw that up a lot.

The most important part of this family visit was spending quality time with my grandma.  At 101, our time together is limited.  Instead of talking or going places, I sat with her and my relatives in her living room and occupied myself with activities while she watched game shows or slept.  Sometimes I talked with my relatives.  Mostly we did our own thing, and I tried to stay out of their way when they took care of grandma.

So while we struggle sometimes, we are doing okay.  My love of silence and solitude come naturally.  Best quiet times are when we sit together in the same room doing our own thing.  Sometimes we talk; sometimes we don’t.  Best active times are when I walked & shopped with different aunts.  Or when an aunt taught me how to hem my pants.

So I love my family.  And now I know that I am safe with them too.  So I will come back to visit when possible.  But I will not be staying with them.  Seeing me when I have to use certain coping strategies hurts them.  And they are not in a place where I can explain what they observe happening.

They accept all of it 100%, but seeing me like that reminds them what their brother/son did to me.  And their best coping strategies are denial and silence.  So it’s better to limit time with them next visit.  At least until we all can come to a place where talking about that stuff doesn’t stress them out.

thanks for reading.

Back to Basics: Perspective & Reframing Thoughts

Sorry it’s late…busy yesterday and this morning

“No, sir.  Taking responsibility and being responsible aren’t always the same thing.”

Lieutnant Dallas says this to her boss, Commander Whitney as they discuss the responsibilities of being “in command”:

I’m re-reading one of my favorite on-going murder mystery series right now: J. D. Robb’s In Death series starting Lieutenant Eve Dallas and Roarke.

In today’s book, Treachery in Death, Lieutenant Dallas, Roarke, and their team are working on bringing a ring of dirty cops (who murdered civilians and other cops) to justice.  The fact that she’s gathering evidence against another lieutenant and her squad gets her thinking about responsibility, leadership, command, and the responsibilities that go with being a cop & a boss.  Hard not to compare how she runs her squad with how this corrupt lieutenant runs hers, right?

That phrase got me thinking…

I survived abuse and traumatic experiences.  Many of my guests have either survived or have loved ones who survived abuse and/or traumatic experiences.  Here on the blog, I discuss many aspects of life after trauma and skills needed to do more than survive.

One topic I never highlighted, but discussed in a variety of posts, is the idea of responsibility and blame in recovery.

 

For a long time, I blamed myself for what happened.  I believed I responsible for anything and everything bad that happened to me or the people around me.  And I accepted that responsibility well into adulthood – especially with my family.  It’s what I was taught.  It’s what the shame and guilt reinforced.

That plus the physical, verbal, and emotional punishment I received to reinforce these lessons kept me hiding behind a wall of insecurity for many years.  Not until I started counseling and therapy with mental health and trauma professionals did I start to understand that being responsible and accepting responsibility – personal or professional – are different concepts.

What is the difference?

The differrence exists, but I can’t put it into words.  Only in personal examples of affirmations does the phrase makes sense to me.

  • So here are some examples of my affirmations:
  • I accept responsibility for myself.
  • I am responsible for my choices as an adult.
  • I believe that I am responsible for how I act and react to other people.
  • I accept responsibility for my words, actions, reactions, and mistakes.  And the consequences of those mistakes.
  • I am learning not to accept responsibility for people & experiences beyond my control.
  • I am not responsible for what other people say and do
  • I am not responsible for how people speak, act and react to me.
  • I am not responsible for past abuse, my parents, or any other individual.

Reflections for thought…

ABOUT PARENTING
If I was a parent or caregiver, I would be responsible for the care, safety, and education of the children while they are vulnerable, still learning, and unable to care for themselves.

If I was a parent or caregiver, I would be responsible for teaching the children by example how to be kind, respectful, thoughtful, ethical, and able to make good choices as they grow into adulthood.

But would I be responsible for what the grown child (now an adult) says and does?  Do I accept responsibility for the grown child’s experiences if that grown child made those choices?

ABOUT CARING FOR PETS & OTHER LIVING BEINGS
Are these concepts and connected feelings of shame/guilt the reasons why I choose to be alone?  Or why I “failed” in the past when I tried to have a (insert pet or something else here)

Is this why I believe that I can’t take care of myself or any other living being (plant, pet, person?)

Is this why I shy away from socializing and letting people into my life?

Is this why my alters and I struggle with feeling safe and spreading our wings?

If any guests reading this post want to use the affirmations or reflections, please feel free to do so.  Substitute my thoughts/opinions/perspectives with yours.

Thanks for reading