In my last post, I discussed some of the research on forgiveness and how important it is to healing and recovery from trauma. But it is also important to remember that not everyone easily embraces forgiveness.
What happens if the trauma victim is not ready to forgive?
A victim of trauma can have angry, antagonistic or vengeful feeings toward the perpetrator of the trauma, and these feelings need to be processed appropriately before the victim can forgive the perpetrator. Traumatized individuals who attempt to force forgiveness prematurely create interesting implications to their existing trauma.
Judith Herman (Trauma and Recovery) shares that sometimes a trauma-impacted person moves prematurely to forgiving his or her perpetrator as a way to avoid fully experiencing the necessary remembrance and mourning stage. It is as if the forgiveness might be a replacement for experiencing the deep pain and the losses associated with trauma.
Signs that it may be time to forgive
When we hold on to pain, grudges, bitterness or hatred, many areas of our lives can suffer. It is we who pay the price over and over when we’re unforgiving because we carry our anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience. Our lives may be so wrapped up in past wrongs that we fail to enjoy the present.
Other signs that it may be time to consider forgiveness include:
- Dwelling on the events surrounding the offense
- Hearing from others that you have a chip on your shoulder or that you’re wallowing in self-pity.
- Being avoided by family and friends because they don’t enjoy being around you
- Having angry outbursts at the smallest perceived slights
- Often feeling misunderstood
- Drinking excessively, smoking or using drugs to try to cope with your pain
- Having symptoms of depression or anxiety
- Being consumed by a desire for revenge or punishment
- Automatically thinking the worst about people or situations
- Regretting the loss of a valued relationship
- Feeling like your life lacks meaning or purpose
- Feeling at odds with your religious or spiritual beliefs
Are you currently miserable and feel that normal life is impossible?
Generally, the most significant sign of readiness to embrace forgiveness is when our current life is so miserable that a normal and purposeful life feels impossible. That sense of misery can become a catalyst that prompts us to move toward forgiveness for the acts of the perpetrator.
Once we begin the process of forgiveness, the perpetrator can longer victmize us. Working toward forgiveness empowers us to be released from the impact and ongoing negative effects of trauma. It can be extremely freeing and life-giving to those who have faced such past tragic difficulties.
Forgiveness is a precious and powerful gift for a trauma victim.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network
Information taken from Deepening Trauma Awareness, Diane Wagenhals, 2008. All rights reserved. Licensed materials.