I wrote in my last post about processes and phases associated with recovery from trauma. One vital aspect to healing from certain traumatic events is forgiveness. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of this powerful emotional process.
How does forgiveness promote healing?
While it is noted that trauma science is a relatively new field of study, and that the research is in its infancy, research does indicate that forgiveness may play a significant role in healing processes for individuals harmed as a result of interpersonal trauma.
Forgiveness appears to have the power to contribute to physical and emotional healing. Conversely, research seems to indicate that not forgiving involves holding grudges, being resentful, vengeful, bitter, chronically angry and even filled with hatred–all which are unhealthy emotions that do not contribute toward healing and exacerbate the trauma.
How does one define forgiveness?
Based on the number of books and articles written about forgiveness, it turns out that defining forgiveness is one of the struggles for researchers and students of forgiveness. Schiraldi and Kerr in The Anger Management Sourcebook state…
“Forgiving means that we choose to release resentment, hatred, bitterness, desires for revenge for wrongs done to us; it is a way to come to peace with the past. In forgiving, we decide to break our troubling connection to the offender. We realize that no offense is worth the price of destroying our peace.
Forgiving is taking the arrows out of our gut, rather than twisting them around inside us. We move away from it beyond the offender and the offense and take full responsibility for our present happiness. We choose to forgive so that we will suffer less and be free to live.
Forgiving is a personal choice that does not depend on the offender’s deserving it, asking for it, or expressing remorse–although this certainly can make forgiving easier. Forgiving is about the offended person’s inner strength, rather than the offender’s. We voluntarily forgive because we realize that getting even does not heal.” [p. 182]
What are some of benefits of forgiving?
Dr. Fred Luskin in Forgive for Good asserts that one of the most important benefits of forgiveness is that through forgiveness we discover that we no longer need to be victims of the past.
“When we forgive, we become calm enough to say confidently that [a specific injustice or injury perpetrated by someone who should have been trustworthy] was dead wrong. With the calmness, we can chart the best course for our lives. Forgiveness is the beginning of a new chapter, not the end of the story… no one’s past is to be a prison sentence. We cannot change the past. We must find a way to resolve painful memories. Forgiveness provides the key to acknowledge the past and move on. When we can forgive we have less to be afraid of.” [p. 71]
Dr. Luskin says that a second benefit of learning to forgive is…
“…how much help we can offer to others. You may not know the power and example forgiveness can provide. You can help many others with your example of how you overcame adversity and pain.”
He says, too, that…
“Forgiveness is an act which shows strength. We can forgive from strength only when we know, have named, and shared those feelings. We can forgive from strength only when we have made clear we are hurt and that we are not ashamed of being hurt. Our strength can be an example to others.” [p. 72]
Dr. Luskin shares that a third benefit from forgiveness occurs through the process of being able to be more loving and caring towards important people in our lives.
“If we rent too much space to what went wrong, where is the space to appreciate the good in our lives? If we focus our attention on past defeats, how can we give our full loving attention to our significant others, friends, or coworkers? If we remain bitter over passed parenting cruelties, who suffers—our parents or our current friends and loved ones?” [p.73]
He and others stress that forgiveness is not about condoning behavior that was unkind, inconsiderate, selfish, unjust or harmful. It is not the same as forgetting. It is not the same as reconciliation, which may or may not occur.
Forgiveness denotes a sense of readiness
I think it is important that those who have had traumatic experiences and choose to forgive have a sense of readiness. We want to make sure that when we encourage someone to forgive that the person has processed enough of the situation to be aware of the traumatic incident or incidents, have understanding of their personal impact and have grieved necessary losses to be able to see how forgiveness will facilitate healing and recovery. What we do not want to do is to push someone to forgive when he or she is not ready and cause more guilt and shame for something the person was not responsible for in the first place.
A individual’s place in the forgiveness process may not be so easy to assess. However, what we do know is that forgiveness is an important part of someone’s recovery from trauma whenever it can be granted toward those who have inflicted the trauma.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Information taken from Deepening Trauma Awareness, Diane Wagenhals, 2008. All rights reserved. Licensed materials.