Why I Don’t Use the Word ‘Forgiveness’ in Trauma Therapy

Downcast girl sitting on fenceIf the title of this article threw you off a bit, it’s OK—I understand why it would. After all, forgiveness is quite the hot topic. Religious leaders, spiritual gurus, and even some mental health professionals emphasize the importance of forgiveness as a part of finding true happiness and freedom. I get where they are coming from. I can understand how forgiveness could be beneficial in some circumstances. For example, if a loved one says something uncharacteristically harsh in the heat of an argument, and you would like to keep that person in your life, it may be beneficial to understand that we all sometimes say things we don’t mean when we are upset and to forgive him or her in order to move forward in the relationship.

I work with people who have experienced horrific traumas at the hands of other people. These traumas include acts of sexual abuse, rape, exploitation, and physical and emotional abuse. Some of the perpetrators are relatives and some are not. Regardless, the degree of trauma in each of these cases is significant and has had a major impact on their lives and well-being.

The people I work with in the therapy room are resilient and courageous. They are able to work through their traumas, but many get caught up on one point: They believe they are supposed to forgive the perpetrator but can’t seem to get there.

This is what I tell them: You don’t have to forgive in order to move on.

Understand that if a person comes in and finds that the word “forgiveness” resonates, I do not discourage it. We roll with it. But often people struggle with this word, and rightfully so. They do not want to imply what happened to them was in any way OK. They don’t want to excuse the perpetrator’s behavior. They feel the perpetrator is not deserving of forgiveness. The worst thing I can do as a therapist is to talk people out of the way they feel.

Emotions are important and automatic. When we can acknowledge and appreciate even the darkest, most negative-feeling emotions, they often soften and release. As soon as I say, “You don’t have to forgive,” the person usually breathes a sigh of relief.

Once we have determined that forgiveness is not necessary, we work on finding a word that will be more congruent for the person in his or her trauma work. I like the word unburdening.Once we have determined that forgiveness is not necessary, we work on finding a word that will be more congruent for the person in his or her trauma work. I like the word unburdening, which is something I first heard in Richard Schwartz’s book Internal Family Systems Therapy. I understand unburdening as a letting-go process. That is, letting go of the power the trauma has over a person, expressing and releasing anger and other strong emotions about what happened without criticism or expectation of what needs to come next. This includes allowing a person to have as much time as is needed to feel whatever he or she is feeling. This may include rage, hate, and resentment, among other emotions.

It is equally important for others to refrain from pushing someone into forgiving a perpetrator. Even if the intention is coming from a good place, trying to get someone who has been violated to forgive can feel like being victimized all over again. Instead, it is more helpful to validate that the person is entitled to his or her feelings. Being a listening ear instead of trying to fix the issue is much more supportive and healing. The person needs to be able to have a voice and express what he or she is feeling and thinking without the fear of judgment.

The brain and body are so intelligent. It is important to allow the natural process of working through trauma to happen and to remove any barriers that may get in the way. This includes the belief we aren’t supposed to feel “negative” emotions or that we have to forgive. Once we remove that expectation, the natural process moves through. Even if someone doesn’t get to a place of forgiveness, he or she can still move on, unburden themselves, and thrive.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Anastasia Pollock, LCMHC, therapist in Midvale, Utah

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Maisie

    January 20th, 2016 at 9:09 AM

    We should all try to be a little better at unburdening OURSELVES, realizing that no matter what is going on with any trauma, most of the time it is not your fault.

  • CC

    September 6th, 2016 at 9:07 PM

    I love this article and I hate the word forgiveness in relation to the trauma I experienced. This term is often used as a battering ram to tell me to get over the abuse, that to forgive is for “my sake” and I will not move on until I do. “My sake” does not need to forgive my mother for sexually abusing me or a nursery school full of adults who chose to ritually abuse. I need not forgive a family that either continued to perpetrate sexual abuse or deny in the face of undeniable truth that these horrors occurred. I need not forgive an institution that chose to not believe me though I begged them to understand, nor hospital personnel who chose to ridicule me after I finally attempted suicide because I just could not figure out how to be the bigger person and forgive them all. “My sake” needs me to hate them all for a little while. “My sake” needs me to grieve MY losses not forgive THEIR behaviour, and my sake sure as hell doesn’t need someone from the outside telling me what I need to do to heal. There may come a point where I choose to see where their pain played into their actions, and there may not. I may choose to never, ever use the word forgive and they are certainly not OWED that gift. And being who I am as a person I may one day see it differently. But that is MY choice having lived MY hell. Not yours or anyone else’s to decide. There is one person and one person only I must forgive–and that is me. For ever thinking it was my job to undo the damage others did. There is forgiveness to be given here–it is theirs to offer, though even I know that will never be forthcoming.

  • Esther

    September 7th, 2016 at 10:02 AM

    CC – I totally agree with what you wrote. Wow, you went through masses and it upsets me how people and society in general respond to folks who have been totally crapped on (for want of a better word). No one has the right to tell anyone what to do. And if religion comes into it, well I always remember someone once powerfully reiterating that Jesus came to LOVE and Not judge. :-)

  • Mary

    September 7th, 2016 at 3:56 PM

    Hear! Hear! i totally agree with you on that! I am always mystified by well-meaning friends, therapists, religious advisors etc who tell me i (a survivor of a difficult childhood and – while still trying to get my head round that – a victim of horrific, sustained psychiatric abuse) that i must “let go and let God”, “drop the baggage and move on”, “forgive them or they will continue to have ‘power’ over you”, “you are not ready for counselling because you are not ready to forget!” or – how about this from a twisted, male, “faith”(?) healer – “the devil has a hold of you because you won’t let go of the past!”!! None of these do-gooders (ok, well-wishers) seem to realize i find it impossible (and unnecessary) to forgive the psychiatrists (and their accomplices) who reduced me to a virtual vegetable over the space of 3 and a half months with intensive ect, modified narcosis, unlicenced drugs and abusive psychological blackmail – all without my consent and most of it without my knowledge – because i made unverified/ unverifiable claims against 2 senior college students… 40 years later, the anger, rage, hate, fear is still there.
    Mary

  • Kim u

    November 10th, 2016 at 7:10 AM

    This is a great post…Specially for those who have been abused by a parent. I always refer to the Bible trying to find a way around the word forgive and I try to find a way to feel ok …putting my parents out of my life forever. But I always feel I’m causing sin upon myself in doing so…..Even though I love this article,I agree not using the word forgive….But I still go back to…..”Am I committing a sin not forgiving the horrible abuse…..!!!
    I have put my father out of my life… and I will say I am able to “forgive” what he has done because he is never able to do it again….But I know if I would have ever went back ,he would try the abuse again….He has since died…. Yes, I cried and felt a sense of loss,but by no means do I feel a loss like a normal loss that a child feels losing a father…..And it goes back on me …as feeling a bit of guilt and sin…..
    As for my mother ….The healing is starting,because I just broke ties completly with her about a year ago….I’m going through a lot of different emotion….loss ,hurt anger,rage …..and I’m pushing toward that dreadful word “forgive”It truly takes a lot of time to get there…..But I am honest I’m not there ….no use in pretending ,God knows what’s in your heart! But I do feel I will,just as I did with my Dad.
    My other emotion I’m dealing with is….Should I have to go to their funeral….Does God expect me to do that!?
    With all this said….I have wasted 48 years in pain and in abuse and I am moving on to take my life back……a life I never had a chance to enjoy….I’m trying to truly find who I am outside of all the pain, anger and HATE…. that has taken over who I am!
    I’m finding that I’m a …loving …Christian that wants to do good by others….I find that when I read stories of others that are going through this pain….it helps me to heal….because I feel the pain and loss that is in me is also in them….and I feel so deeply sorry for anyone that lets pain destroy their happiness…like it has mine…it’s hard to walk away…..But for me it is my way of getting to that word ” forgive”!

  • Lynn J

    December 27th, 2016 at 10:43 AM

    Totally agree! This is an essay I wrote about that, to support those who cannot even imagine what it would mean to “forgive” the atrocities done to them. lynnjames.net/Lynn_James_Counseling/Lynns_Writings_files/Forgiveness_An_Act_of_Defiance_Sept2014.pdf

  • zim

    January 20th, 2016 at 11:11 AM

    While I actually think that this is a good idea, it must be quite the obstacle to overcome with some patients because I think that ultimately this forgiveness is what they are seeking: to be able to understand and forgive that one person or situation that hurt them so badly. I don’t think that it is in the collective mindset that we might not be able to forgive someone but that we can still get on with our lives and not have this hamper our forward progress any,more.

  • Bloom

    January 21st, 2016 at 9:37 AM

    I respectfully disagree, Zim. Most Survivors are angry over the loss they have experienced. Why shouldn’t they be? Within the article we read how the perpetrator/s involved in bringing about the traumatic abuse are not family members whom they wish to continue any form of a relationship with. And even if it is a family member, if there is no desire to continue a relationship, or maybe there never was one to start with, there is no need nor desire to forgive. All there is at that point is a need to move forward. And an individual does not need to forgive a hyanous act in order to move forward. It is important to understand what motivated the perpetrator to carry through with such an assault on a person. As we all know for example, rape has nothing to do with sex. It’s all about power. Once a survivor knows this, they can begin to move forward. There’s no need to burden themselves with questions of, “What could I have done so this wouldn’t have happened to me?” The answer? “Not a darn thing.” Since that type of assault revolves around power, the perpetrator committed the crime against the survivor due to many reasons. Being in the right place at the right time, stumbling across the path of a perpetrator while the perp is in the heat of their moment, and so forth. This allows the survivor mental freedom of knowing that they did nothing wrong. Moving forward once a traumatic event has taken place is the primary objective for the survivor. There is no need to live in the shadows of the incident.

  • lynn

    January 21st, 2016 at 8:36 PM

    As a survivor I chose to forgive so that person would have no more control over me. I am responsible for my own actions..even if they are the guilty ones.. its on their conscious now..not that I have forgotten.. but I have forgiven. Its a relief for me this way

  • Renee

    August 26th, 2016 at 10:40 AM

    I can possibly forgive my perpetrator but I am still calling him to justice in court for what he did. Perhaps it will keep him from victimizing someone else.

  • lynn

    January 21st, 2016 at 8:39 PM

    I have forgiven because I refuse to let that person have that control over me any longer for me to have that negativity inside..

  • Tonya

    June 24th, 2016 at 11:22 AM

    I refuse to forgive because I’m in control now. It’s my choice. The abuser controlled me for a short time but now I make the decisions and I’ve decided the abuser is unworthy. You cannot sexually abuse someone for five years and claim it was a mistake. Suggesting one must forgive or they’ll be controlled forever by the abuser is ridiculous and it shames and blames those of us who refuse to forgive. You’re suggesting I’m still controlled by the abuser. I am not. If I were controlled by the abuser, I would forgive him (like he wants) and keep my mouth shut (like he wants me to) and go back to having xmas dinner with him and the family and seeing his ugly face (like he wants me to). I don’t find it necessary to forgive or even think about the abuser. He’s dead to me. Trying to forgive him, being controlled by forgiveness culture that shames victims who cannot or will not forgive, is what nearly destroyed me.

  • John

    August 7th, 2016 at 9:12 AM

    I agree Lynn, I too am a survivor of abuse and neglect as well as abandonment. I too chose to forgive because to hang on to the hate and resentment gave my abusers free rent in my head. Forgiving them is for your well being and no one ever said to forget or give them another chance to do it all over, but stop continuing to give them power over your lives.

  • CC

    September 18th, 2016 at 1:14 PM

    I always find it interesting when people see this situation as black and white. “I must forgive so I no longer have “hate” for my abuser or I must forgive so the abuser’s actions “no longer control me”. Choosing not to forgive doesn’t mean the only alternative is the 180-degree difference of hate. I may not forgive and choose to see them as not worthy of my forgiveness, but neither worthy of my energy or desire to hate. I might decide that energy I might spend trying to forgive someone who will never see their actions as wrong, is better spent on creating a life for myself that is full and contains people whose actions when hurtful would most certainly be worthy of my forgiveness. In terms of no longer allowing the abuser to “control” my life, perhaps “your” need (generalized your) for me to forgive feels controlling and in order for me to re-find control in a life where every adult had the power and made the decision to continuously abuse me, is to have the right to choose to say “No, I needn’t forgive that which in my own eyes is unforgivable”. There is no ONE answer here. My choice to not forgive does not mean your choice to forgive is wrong. Your choice to forgive does not mean my choice not to is wrong. There are as many right answers and right choices as there were abusive experiences because no one experience was identical in terms of situation, people involved, length or severity of abuse, or time passed since it occurred. This article is SO important however, because for perhaps the first time it allows those of us whose “right choice” for ourselves is to say, ‘I choose not to forgive’ the same honour and voice as those who who do.

  • Mamie

    September 18th, 2016 at 8:47 PM

    YES!!! I think the same way as CC! We are all inherently different. What works for one of you, doesn’t mean it will work for all of us. I choose not to forgive, because frankly, it’s not my job. I choose to spend my energy in healing my family and not spending any of it on the those who do not deserve it. Forgiveness is a much maligned and misunderstood word. For those of you who desire it in your lives, then hooray for you.

  • LaRae

    August 27th, 2016 at 7:14 PM

    How nice of you to inform them of what they want. What would they have done without you and your informing them of them of what they want? Oh, nothing victims love more than being told how they want to feel or should feel.

    What a pompous assertion that victims just really want to forgive. Some might want to forgive, some have no desire. You are simply making your personal preference the expected desire for all victims..

    People can have happy, unhindered lives without giving excuses or forgiveness to their abusers. A person is not broken if they never get around to forgiveness, don’t want to forgive or can’t forgive.

    I wish therapists would stop acting like thinking about a bad thing that happened with bad emotions makes a person unhealthy. When a person thinks about being raped, or beaten, or a horrible car accident – they should have bad feelings. They should not be unburdened or unscared by things which happen. They are human beings.

    Demanding people forgive is really to make other people comfortable. The other people don’t have to be sensitive about how they speak. They don’t have to feel the bad feelings when it comes up. They don’t have to learn to be understanding and respectful of other people’s pain. They don’t have to see their loved on in pain and feel impotent. No, this forgiveness expectation is about everyone around the victim, not the victim.

    It is another victim shaming activity.

    Go away with this forgiveness is what they want non-sense. It is condescending bullpucky.

  • LaRae

    September 7th, 2016 at 12:25 PM

    This comment was for Bloom.

  • Joey

    January 20th, 2016 at 2:29 PM

    I applaud anyone who is brave enough to go through this experience and who ca somehow find the strength to come through the other side stronger than before.

  • Cade

    January 21st, 2016 at 7:57 AM

    Awesome piece! Thanks for reminding us all that this is not necessary, that we can heal without giving that

  • Emily

    January 21st, 2016 at 9:16 AM

    THANK YOU so much!!!!!!!! It means a lot to me that an expert agrees with how I feel. I am not as “crazy” after all as one Christian psych nurse once tried to make me feel. In reality, it feels really good to have cleansed my world of the people who almost ruined me.

  • Joanah

    January 21st, 2016 at 9:52 AM

    Thanks for saying u dont need to forgive THe persons who did what they did to me has no regret or sorry bout anything so why the hell should I forgive them

  • Tonya

    June 24th, 2016 at 11:24 AM

    Exactly. Telling me I have to forgive is putting the burden on me. The burden belongs only to the abuser. There is no action needed on my part except to survive, live, thrive on my terms.

  • Carla

    January 21st, 2016 at 3:29 PM

    This really is a different way of thinking about things isn’t it?
    I know that for years the theory was that to be able to get past the traumatic events that you have dealt with then you must be able to forgive and forget.
    I actually find it uplifting that no, you don’t have to give that unless you feel like it is something that is earned by that person. This isn’t something that you should ever just feel like you have to give out .
    They want respect and forgiveness? Then they better show you that they are worth it.

  • Cherese

    January 21st, 2016 at 6:05 PM

    For me the word was acceptance. Accepting that is who they are, accepting the relationship for what it is/is not, accepting that was the experience I had and accepting my feelings about it were okay to have.

    The only thing the word forgiveness did was make me feel bad that I wasn’t a good enough person to forgive. In essence, giving them the power over me, again. Forgiveness became a huge burden. Accepting that I don’t have to forgive them to heal, that is when I became free and was able to move forward in my process.

    This article NAILED it. Thank you, I appreciate this acknowledgement!

  • Alaina

    January 21st, 2016 at 7:11 PM

    I just have to add my 2 cents. I have struggled with this word for so long. It is confusing because “forgiving” in my mind was equivalent to “condoning” or accepting things as ok. I use to feel guilty or that something was wrong with me because I knew how wrong my parents were and they showed no remorse and i could not forgive. I was told in 12 step groups,in treatment centers, and by religion that I needed forgive.
    I was stuck. I really just needed to understand that I was wronged and that some people do wrong things, but I don’t need let it live on in my head,to rob me of a fulfilling life or to cripple me.
    So…I agree with letting go. AFTER I found the person’s who seem to have been placed in my life at strategic times to listen and hear my pain, I was connected enough to begin healing and eventually let go. It is as if the sun is now allowed to shine! :)
    I feel sorry for my parents now because they are very unhappy people who will never see the truth.

  • Alaina

    January 21st, 2016 at 7:15 PM

    I wanted to add a big thank you to the thinkers in the world!

  • Wes

    January 21st, 2016 at 8:22 PM

    I’ve spent my whole life thinking I deserved the abuse. I don’t need it in therapy, too; and telling me to forgive those who hurt me feels like a double standard: I should be responsible but not they. I need help with how I feel, not be told over and over that i must excuse what they did.

  • Bonnie

    August 27th, 2016 at 12:23 AM

    Forgiveness doesn’t mean your abuser wasn’t wrong or that what they did was in any way ok. It just means you stop hating them for it. Its not something you do for them. It’s for you because keeping hate in your heart hurts you. If you keep hate in your heart you allow your abuser to continue to harm you ongoing after the actual abuse has stopped because hate prevents peace. You are going to feel anger at them and thats ok hate may be there for a time and how ever long it takes you its ok it doesnt make you bad its a normal response to pain. You dont forgive because you have to forgive to be a good person, you forgive because by letting go of the hate you heal and are able to find peace. Thats the process of letting go, moving on from anger and hatred to peace and freedom. Not to give them a free pass on the wrong they did, but to give you a free pass to live beyond it.

  • Carla V. R.

    August 27th, 2016 at 5:01 PM

    Hi Bonnie, I entirely agree with you, but I ask: How can we truly forgive? Is the reason: I don’t want to live with hate because it harms me and other REASONING enough for it to truly happen? Isn’t it rather necessary to understand the other – the perpetrator as I described in last comment?

  • LaRae

    September 7th, 2016 at 12:18 PM

    Why are bad feelings the enemy? You don’t stop living a good life because you are mad, even actively mad, at someone who hurt you. Even if the fire of anger burns all day, it does not have to ruin your life. In fact, it is absolutely necessary to experience a good life.

    When a victim avoids being angry at the person who hurt them, the burden of responsibility lands on the victim. It results in depression, or self loathing, or shame or thinking they deserve it. That happens because at some point, someone put the burden of the trauma on them or made them think they were worthless. They believed they were not allowed to be angry. This can be reinforced by “let it go” or “forgiveness” non-sense.

    Even if they experience depression about their trauma, that is reasonable. The reality is that we live in a society where victims are blamed. Their actual stock does go down in society. The Stanford rapist is still called the Standford Swimmer. The school changed their drinking policy – an act of blaming the victim for being drunk. Jada poses are a real thing. Stubenville’s victim was mercilessly attacked by the public. Most victims of any trauma are blamed for their trauma. A victim’s depression is a reflection of the way they are viewed in society. Learning to deal with those realities brings them out of depression – not telling them they are wrong for being depressed.

    People actually should have bad feelings about bad things. The forgiveness burden is so people around the victim feel better, not the victim. It is so friends don’t have to feel anger. It is so loved ones don’t have to be sensitive about speaking about issues. It is a demand that victims ignore reality so someone else feels better.

    No, forgiveness is not a gift one gives themselves because bad feelings are not life ruining. Stop making victims responsible for your feelings and responsible to ignore reality to make you feel better.

  • Eliz

    January 21st, 2016 at 9:16 PM

    As someone who is wrestling with the aftermath of prolonged torture at the hands of a family member starting at a young age, I find myself weeping out loud. I wish I had a trauma specialist like you near my village.

  • Nandakumar

    January 22nd, 2016 at 4:12 AM

    I read something about coming to terms with your abusers it said, “at worst pity them, at best feel compassion towards them” it resonated.

  • brandy

    January 22nd, 2016 at 4:57 PM

    The hurt and damage is so bad,I struggle with even the thought of forgiving. Causes so much anxiety and depression, thinking I’m supposed to forgive but can’t!!!!

  • Susan

    January 22nd, 2016 at 5:07 PM

    The ultimate healing in therapy that I have found is forgiving the people who hurt and/or traumatized me…they have no more control over me or my life. I have let it go!!! People need to understand what forgiveness is…it doesn’t mean you agree with the abuse, that you like the person/people, or that you want to be a part of their lives…forgiving someone no matter how bad the situation is something we do for ourselves, not the perpetrators!!!

  • Mike

    January 22nd, 2016 at 5:15 PM

    I suffered abuse as a very young child, and because of my inborn anxiety and other factors, I developed an enormous psychological wound, in particular ending up hating and blaming myself. I need to forgive myself (and have made progress doing so). To me, this means letting go of blame and anger that is directed toward myself. I do think the word “forgive” is appropriate. Like you write in this article, “forgive” is a loaded word because it carries some pretty big connotations, the idea of completely letting go of blame and anger toward someone who may have been very cruel and may still be unrepentant. Yet because I blamed myself so cruelly, it really is the right word. To let go of blame and anger toward myself is a giant step that has required much healing and maturity to reach. I am almost there. At the same time I am in the process of forgiving myself, I find myself forgiving my parents for the role they played in amplifying my trauma. I find that the act of letting go of blame is similar whether directed toward oneself or toward another. When the conditions are right for one, the conditions are right for the other. Please keep in mind this is my opinion and my experience only, and I know that some people don’t like the suggestion “they should forgive themselves” because an abuse survivor is obviously not at fault. I only know that at a very young age, I needed to hold myself at fault as a way of surviving, and that runs so deeply that it’s not a matter of rational reasoning to change my mind about it. It’s an emotional shift.

  • Jennifer

    January 23rd, 2016 at 7:35 AM

    I understand what you are saying about forgive ourselves. I see that it isn’t something that we have actually done that needs forgiving it is allowing the little girl in myself to truly know she never did anything wrong. She wasn’t the cause of it. Or at least for me that is what I needed to do.

  • LizzieLouThatsWho

    January 24th, 2016 at 4:43 PM

    Bravo! You got it!

  • Esther

    August 15th, 2016 at 10:48 PM

    I watched a great video on forgiveness from Paula White Cain On 14 August 2016, on her Facebook page. I have battled with it for years, fearing that to forgive meant I would allow myself to be abused all over again. (Mentally, spiritually, or physically). I was having ministry with some Christians, then on the day my step dad (one abuser) died, they told me my emotions were from the devil! Wow, that impacted me. I smoked for 6 months and went into denial again. Suppressing negative emotions, or demonising them, doesn’t help! It makes for an easier life for a tired listener perhaps! But the victim stays stuck. It’s great some of you understand forgiveness and have experienced it, but the problem for most of us is that we feel doubly condemned, wounded or shamed by the fact we struggle with it. This should not be. Please try and understand that for survivors to have self worth, and validate themselves, and not ignore how they feel, or bow down to denial, or suppression by others, is a remarkable feat. God came to love and not judge. Spouting that one must forgive from the rooftops sends a message of legalism to the sufferer. Even Corrie Ten Boom could only forgive with God’s help. I applaud anyone who has found a way to break free from allowing others to abuse them over and over. Family systems do not always help the victim. Learning that God doesn’t condemn you for where you’re at, is a good place to begin too. I like the word ‘uncoupling’.
    Grief and trauma should not be ignored or processed by a single formula. We are all individuals and should be respected individually! We all respond to what feels comfortable to us too. I get that. Love to all! :-)

  • Judy

    January 22nd, 2016 at 5:15 PM

    It depends on what “forgiveness” means to the ones who harmed you. If to them it means some sort of absolution and everything is okay–no way. We prefer the term– we are square now. Meaning we have not forgotten nor do we condone but we no longer pursue justice for the harm done. That is our limit

  • Carla

    January 22nd, 2016 at 5:47 PM

    i was only able to ‘forgive’ my father when i understood him and myself. Then, in fact, forgiveness wasn’t even a thought – totally unnecessary. Forgiveness is a tricky thing only because it is either false or unnecessary. It became unnecessary when i could see the bigger picture of my father and myself in other lifetimes, bound together by unforgiveness and revenge as much as by abuse. I acknowledged the perfect justice that occurs in the Universe. There is no greater relief than that, because acceptance clears the karma, in self-love and with compassion for all humans and experience on this planet.

  • louis

    January 22nd, 2016 at 7:14 PM

    I disagree! There can be no peace without forgiveness!

  • Julesopal

    August 22nd, 2016 at 8:40 AM

    Louis, There can be no forgiveness without Justice. There are more passages in the Bible about Justice than there are about forgiveness.

    Your process applies ONLY to you!!

  • Mamie

    January 22nd, 2016 at 7:54 PM

    Believe me when I say that I have come across the “forgiveness” issue many times. And I ALWAYS CHUCKED IT! It is NOT my job to forgive… that’s God’s department. It’s great to finally find at least one article that backs me up. Thank You!!! I love it when people use the Bible as a weapon, instead of a source of comfort, love and prayer. It shows you who they really are. In fact, I started saying that to them… “Thank You, , for telling me who you really are.” They blink. The Bible doesn’t offer forgiveness unless the one has REPENTED. Pedophiles are notorious for never repenting… they think they’re slick for getting by with it, and portraying the victims and victim’s loved ones as insane. Yeah, HaHa, I don’t worry about the ‘forgiveness thing.’ That’s between them and God. I have never felt ‘wrong’ for not addressing ‘forgiveness’ in our case. I’ve ALWAYS felt that that was between him and God. And I hear that God visits the prisons on a frequent basis. ANYONE trying to thump the Bible over anyone’s head to “do the right thing and forgive”, has not read the Bible truthfully. One must repent to be forgiven, and pedophiles notoriously do not repent. Then there’s the person who says, “Forgive… it’s the only way you’ll be free. Don’t let them have power over you.” Well, sister, the ONLY one who has power over me, is God and me. And forgiveness is God’s department. Anyone who says that crap about being set free, is either lieing to themselves or is delusional. Our monster stopped having power over me when I saw him in the courtroom receiving his life sentence. Buh-Bye!!!!

  • Julesopal

    August 22nd, 2016 at 8:45 AM

    Mamie, your comment is really brilliant and helped me so so much!!
    Thank you, Thank you!!!

  • Esther J

    August 22nd, 2016 at 3:14 PM

    i once got told that Jesus was doing the forgiving on my behalf, because He knew I struggled with it. That helped a lot, because It showed me that to religiously or mechanically ‘forgive’ was not the actual formula or path to God. He knew I couldn’t forgive and was telling me (through a Christian intercessor) that He understood, and was doing it for me. Hearing that changed my perspective and took a burden from me. In my mind I gravitated towards Him a bit more, thinking that He was defending me and understood where I was at, and wasn’t placing impossible expectations on me, or hurdles for me to jump over, in order to know Him (who is peace). I’m still on that journey of trusting Him (I hope).
    Some Christians don’t always get it right, or represent God well, I think.

  • Michelle

    January 22nd, 2016 at 10:07 PM

    Thank-you…….your words support a conclusion my Aunt and I came to, having suffered from extreme trauma (both of us) we both felt ” forgive & forget” just would never work for either of us. We agreed we could let go of what we could, and never forget what we learned through the process….

  • LizzieLouThatsWho

    January 24th, 2016 at 4:39 PM

    You will never forget, but forgiveness erases the pain associated with the trauma. Forgiveness is done as an act of the will and not by feelings. Nobody “feels” like forgiving a perpetrator. Forgiveness releases your tie to the perpetrator so you CAN move on.

  • Alexis

    January 22nd, 2016 at 11:01 PM

    Quite a few years ago, my mother in law made up horrible, vicious lies about me right before our wedding. Telling everyone that I cheated on my (then) fiancé, that I was a horrible, abusive mother to our baby, that I never let her hold him or I don’t want him spending time with her, that I was bipolar and was going to end up going to a state facility because I was so manic and crazy. She sent me into such a deep depression and I have 3 panic attacks in 2 weeks. It was horrible. I didn’t even want her at my wedding. Even after over 2 years, I find it so hard to forgive her. She doesn’t understand why I don’t like her, why I don’t trust her, and why I can’t stand to be around her. I’ve talked to my therapist who is very supportive about it. Just the last session I told her “I like to think I’ve forgiven my mother in law, but I don’t think that I have fully forgiven her. I don’t know how.” Because I still hold so much resentment towards her. I want to forgive her, but how do you forgive someone that has sent you into such a deep depression, not once, but twice?

  • LizzieLouThatsWho

    January 24th, 2016 at 3:05 PM

    Your negative thoughts are holding you captive. Admit she hurt your feelings but choose to forgive her. You forgive as an act of the will (not feelings) and anytime negative thoughts come to mind to counter them with, “I’ve already forgiven her. It’s over now.” Then pray for her all good things you can think of. Your attitude will change toward her and you will then feel love toward her.

  • Nicky

    June 19th, 2016 at 2:56 AM

    I had a very similar problem with my mother in law and she constantly belittled and undermined me over the years. It was awful and unfortunately I had a double whammy because my step mother did the same thing. How I deal with the hurt and pain they both caused me changes depending on my mood and whether I think about it. Sometimes I think about it and it is very painful but the best antidote for me is to spend my time with happy positive people and people who care about me. I know that both of those women were unwell themselves and didn’t know happiness or how to spread it. I feel really lucky that I am not like that. People always try and diminish what they feel threatened by so I know that the problem is them not me but it still hurts. I think the only thing that really helps is the acceptance that sometimes it will hurt but more often I am free. Much love to you. Nicky.

  • jeannette

    January 22nd, 2016 at 11:08 PM

    One of the best concepts of forgiveness that I have come across is that “forgiveness is letting go of the power and control your memories have over you”. Its finding that peaceful place so that you can move on. Its not about ever forgetting what happened, that we get to keep, like it or not. But those memories can be best served as wisdom and the development of strength, rather than holding you hostage.

  • LizzieLouThatsWho

    January 24th, 2016 at 2:58 PM

    The whole purpose for forgiving another is so you can connect with God. God is a God of forgiveness. He forgave all of mankind for their sin and because of His mercy & grace towards us, commands us to forgive as we have been forgiven.
    That means unconditional and totally. There is no other way. It may seem you can sidestep forgiveness but it only puts a wedge between you & God. Another term for this is a hardened heart.

  • Wes

    January 23rd, 2016 at 12:26 AM

    “I thought I deserved the abuse”.
    That’s why trying to forgive my abusers doesn’t help. Because family, friends, teachers, and Church all told me I get what deserve; that what they’re doing hurts them more than it hurts me; and that if I did better, they wouldn’t have to do those things.
    They kept telling me the horrible things they did to me wasn’t wrong. That if I chose to let it hurt me, that was my fault, not theirs.
    And no matter how hard I tried or how much I did for them, they always found a reason to hurt me and a way to blame me for it. I found comfort and safety only in solitude. Only when I was alone was I safe from people who seemed to need to torment me.

  • Kelly

    November 18th, 2016 at 3:26 AM

    That is so horrible Wes. My heart goes out to you! Why on earth people do not focus on the victims of abuse instead of preaching forgiveness is beyond me. They are siding with the aggressor. If they cared about the victim’s pain, they would listen to us and comfort us and console us. Instead, you’ve hardly described what the horrific pain is that was inflicted on you, and the therapist asked ‘are you ready to forgive your mother?’ WTH?? I should have said, “ARE YOU READY TO LISTEN TO MY PAIN?” or ‘HAND IN YOUR RESIGNATION.’ My family has always said that I deserved all my abuse too, and to this day, I cannot tell you what I suffer. When your therapist/friend/priest sounds like your family, you know you are with the enemy!
    Wes, I am with you in solidarity. Shut out people who give you poison. And keep searching for a decent human being who will give you love and heal you. That is what I am doing. I don’t know if I will find anyone, ever. But at this point, the search gives me hope.

  • Karen

    January 23rd, 2016 at 5:34 AM

    Excellent insight and advice Bloom, you sound associated with the industry with your knowledge? Forgiveness is for the victim I believe not the perps. Personally this discovery for myself years down the track helped me to feel numb/neutral about my story. I do not think about it much any more or if I do i can run the story from beginning to end and not have a rise in emotions anymore. Happy healthy life to you to 😀

  • Emily

    January 23rd, 2016 at 7:59 AM

    To me, forgiveness simply means letting go of seeking revenge. It’s not worth it because my energy can be better spent elsewhere. It doesn’t mean you’re now going to try and make things nice so you can forget the past.

    Yes, I’m still angry. No, I do not want to repair the relationship. If they have a conscience, they are hurt. If they don’t, they’re not (hurt). Either way, I don’t care. To me, their lives suck because that’s what they did to themselves. I have no control over that. Honestly, I’m tired of feeling “sorry” for them, and maybe that really means that I’ve truly moved on – because not even guilt can control me now! I don’t care what happens to them now. People pay the consequences of their actions, and sometimes you lose people over what you do. That’s just the reality of what the perps did.

    Their greatest gift to me is showing me what NOT to be, and I seriously think I am a better person because of it. That includes not letting people manipulate me in any way. My world is amazingly beautiful because I’ve stayed away from ugliness.

    How do i use the anger energy that’s still present? I pound the dirt when I garden. I run hard while listening to aggressive music. I throw weighted balls to the floor at the gym. I imagine punching and kicking the perps during my heart-pounding Kickbox class. And most important of all, when I get angry at home, I have an honest conversation with myself; I ask myself what I’m really angry at – the perps, or the people I love. It’s usually the perps. Things that make me really angry are almost always tied to the perps. So I apologize and make things right.

    I think the flame is starting to burn itself out…….. and I have no regrets in staying away from the people who almost ruined me. Having them around would only taint the beauty that I have created for myself. That is one risk I am not willing to take.

    Moving on does not mean having to live your life “with” the people who hurt you. It’s acknowledging the past (not reliving it), learning from it, and upgrading your present. It’s living exactly how you want to live your life, on your own terms. If you thought something was terribly wrong in the past, don’t repeat it. If you can do this, you are succeeding.

  • net

    January 23rd, 2016 at 8:29 AM

    I believe that people have to go through the process of each of the emotions discussed in the article, before they can get to the point to where they can forgive (if that ever happens)

  • Jill D

    January 23rd, 2016 at 8:33 AM

    Forgiveness suggests that recovery involves the perpetrator of the abuse. Recovery is not about them. It is for perpetrators to come to terms with their actions, not their victims. By letting go of any shame around the trauma, the sufferer gives back responsibility for the abuse to the perpetrator. This is where the it belongs, and is then the abuser’s to carry, not their victim. Forgiveness for the abuser, in my humble opinion, is entirely arbitrary. After all, we all react differently to grief, loss, etc, and trauma is no exception.

  • LynnM

    January 23rd, 2016 at 9:28 AM

    Incest, the act of betraying a young family member, to me, is unforgivable. I can let go of the power the crime has over me. And still get mad from time to time as I deal with the consequences of the abuse. But I believe forgiveness is a matter between the perpetrator and God.

  • Sharon

    January 23rd, 2016 at 9:52 AM

    Thank you for your article. The comments have also been wonderful.
    I work in much the same manner. As I specialize in Anxiety disorders I also work with a lot of trauma. The idea that one must forgive in order to move on comes up frequently. I help clients to understand that recovery does not necessitate forgiveness and that they can recover wether they chose to forgive or not. It is a personal decision that I believe comes after the resolution of the trauma. I describe forgiveness as a developmental term, one that comes in the course of healing with depth of understanding. Some clients will chose to forgive and others will not -it is a personal decision of the client and not the therapist. Often the need to forgive before the difficult work of recovery can stop recovery. One of my clients, a very religious woman, informed me she would not be able to continue treatment until she could first forgive her perpetrator- that forgiveness was a basic tenant of Christianity. I asked if Jesus had a time frame when he spoke of forgiveness-she said that was not discussed. In this way she was able to put this aside and agree to look at forgiveness when she was closer to completing her own work.

  • Jules

    January 23rd, 2016 at 10:27 AM

    My daughters father attempted to kill me then I found he had also sexually abused our daughter. I was separated from him at the time to he had access to our daughter after convincing social services he was a changed man with a new family and he now a loving father to his new partner and baby son. I can never forgive him for what he did. He tried to kill me and took my daughter’s childhood innocence from her too soon. I would never ask my daughter to forgive him for what he did. But to move on a had to let the hatred subside so today I prefer to see him as sick and miswired. This does not accuse what he did but prevents hatred and guilt consuming me. Stephanie says her father just no longer exists for her. That man is not her father. She has destroyed every photo of him. That is how she copes. It seems to work for her

  • Crystal

    January 23rd, 2016 at 10:46 AM

    I’m so happy to see a therapist saying this. I had some horrific things happen to me. For YEARS I’ve said I’ll never forgive the perpetrator. I have moved on. Fantastically so. I have a good life now, and I’m happy. I’ve moved on. But that scum does not deserve my, or anyone else’s, forgiveness.

  • Growthpointe

    January 23rd, 2016 at 10:57 AM

    It’s about letting go so that you can truly heal and move on. It’s about NOT allowing the perpetrator to take anymore than he/she already has by reclaiming one’s life. It’s about moving from victim to survivor. Forgiving the perpetrator is not necessary. If one chooses understanding, compassion, forgiveness towards the perpetrator, that can be helpful. It is important to note, reconciliation is a totally different thing. It requires regret/remorse, taking responsibility, the making an effort to repair where possible(amends), and committing not to repeat the offense(s) again on the part of the perpetrator.

  • Laura

    January 23rd, 2016 at 11:03 AM

    It seems that the title is “click bait”. No, we should not force an agenda on anyone but that is best practice to be sure. Understanding the role of emotions (indicators not guides) is imperative in healing from trauma. Forgiveness, feeing, closure, or whatever term a client embraces is key to finding freedom.

  • Catherine

    January 24th, 2016 at 1:21 AM

    Well said.

    It is the #1 question I get.

    How did I get to forgiveness?

    I remember wondering how I would get there, knowing it would give me peace, but that seemed like such an unfair exchanged for the price I had to pay.

    The moment I let go and stopped focus g on the injustice of it all, was the moment I took my life back.

    It was on the 7 mile bridge after riding 5390 miles across the United States on a tricycle after two serious brain injuries.

    I choose every day when my feet hit the floor to have gratitude in my heart for the freedom an opportunity I have been given and the second chance to look at life differently.

    When I started telling my story others started telling me theirs then I realized I wasnt alone.

    Some told me, you are not disabled, someone who cannot walk is disabled. In that moment, I realized they could not “see” me.

    I found my voice and realized I not only had a voice but a responsibility to give a voice to brain injury survivors.

    I found my freedom through adaptive cycling. I walked into the bike shop with a walker.

    My focus changed from fear, deep grief and isolation to hope and giving hope to others and for me, that’s been my journey of forgiveness. I choose it every day. It became my purpose in life to give hope to others and in turn I realized I still mattered; a far cry from being a shut-in just 5 months prior to hitting the beautiful shores of Key West.

    Hopefortrauma.org

  • Arrow M.

    January 23rd, 2016 at 11:33 AM

    I counseled women who were experiencing Domestic Violence, every Tuesday and Thursday night for 12 years . Many had been counseled by religious leaders or others and told they must forgive to move on or to stay in the relationship . This was quite detrimental, as it signified to them, the victims,that it was their fault in some way or they were not truly spiritual beings if they didn’t forgive the perpetrator . I find this very wounding to the victims and would encourage them in the idea that forgiveness was not required to heal themselves and in fact could encourage them to return to an abusive life for themselves and their children . However, I do believe in forgiveness when it is true and not forced, it took me 27 years to truly forgive my mother for the abuse of my sisters, even though she had been dead for those 27 years. I am now approaching the 40th year anniversary of leaving an extremely abusive relationship and I’m finally coming to the light of forgiveness. There is forced forgiveness and there’s true forgiveness. My angry feelings and disgust with the perpetrator diminished over time but kept me strong and caring about myself and kept me out of abuse for the rest of my life. Authenticity is my guide!

  • Felicia

    January 24th, 2016 at 5:18 AM

    I’m super relieved to see this article I wish everyone could! I struggled with holding grudges for s long time, I tried religion and it didn’t work. Once I stopped people from
    forcing me to forgive and allowed myself to process my feelings the way I need to
    I was able to let go.

  • Emily

    January 23rd, 2016 at 11:36 AM

    “By letting go of any shame around the trauma, the sufferer gives back responsibility for the abuse to the perpetrator. This is where the it belongs, and is then the abuser’s to carry, not their victim.”
    Well said, Jill D! Thank You!

  • Holly

    January 23rd, 2016 at 12:36 PM

    Thank you for this article. A trauma victim has been forced to endure their situation. Giving him or her the power back means that they have choices now. Some people find that choosing forgiveness is their best option, some will not or can not forgive their perpetrator, and others would prefer to let their higher power make that decision. Each victim needs to process and hold the power again.

  • Michael Drouilhet, LCSW

    January 23rd, 2016 at 12:49 PM

    Thanks for a very timely topic. I work with couples and individuals trying to force themselves to forgive. I tell them that forgiveness is something that happens within us and that we cannot force it. The way it occurs within us is when we can work on learning to accept ourselves and our past, learning that whatever we did in the past, whatever decisions we made in our life, was the best decision we could make at the time, based on what we knew and where we were at emotionally. Our decisions/behaviors had consequences which we are accountable for, but it is critical to learn to accept how we were back then and also accept how our decisions turned out. If we can ACCEPT who we were and the decisions we made, then we may become able to see that others in our lives (parents, siblings, friends, lovers, ex-spouses and so on) also made the best decisions they could make at the time, and we might learn to forgive them as we have learn to forgive ourselves. Forcing ourselves to forgive is not true forgiveness but the avoidance of the path to true forgiveness, which is the difficult path to self acceptance. I can’t see it working any other way. I believe the Christian dictum to “forgive others as our heavenly father forgives us” is illusory and even toxic, as it allows us to bypass the only real path to forgiveness, which is through self forgiveness which is self acceptance. A difficult path, but the only one that leads to the truth.

  • Mel (Hippo256)

    January 23rd, 2016 at 2:01 PM

    Thank you for this post. I was recently struggling with this topic again, since the perp doesn’t deserve forgiveness but some people were forcing it on me. As if I couldn’t accept/move on without it and this would make me weak, or worse, deserving it or being a bad person too. There are people and actions I can forgive (which might take some time) and some not but they don’t seem to have earned that or deserve that either. Of course I should ‘forgive’ myself that it happened to me, but that is something entirely different. Striving for unburdening suits me a lot better. Thanks again for showing me that not forgiving the perp doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

  • Janice

    August 25th, 2016 at 3:52 PM

    I like what Alice Miller said about forgiveness. I’m paraphrasing but I believe her outlook was that it is not only irrelevant for healing but that it is also potentially dangerous, because it fosters denial about the ongoing issues that stem from the trauma.

  • Mamie

    January 23rd, 2016 at 8:12 PM

    While I disagree with one, or two, or three… these are EXCELLENT comments! I’m part of a support group for (mostly) mothers of sexually abused children, and I shared this article with them. It really brought a sense of comfort to them. Again, thank you for writing this article!

  • Maddog

    January 26th, 2016 at 6:56 PM

    Mamie: Could you send me a link to your support group of there is one. Could use one!!

  • Emily

    January 23rd, 2016 at 10:49 PM

    Michael Drouilhet, I agree with most of what you say, except not quite. You assume that people who are grieving have regrets in their lives and somehow can’t accept themselves. Not true for everyone.

  • nessa3

    January 24th, 2016 at 12:31 PM

    I started getting counselling from a church. And had to leave and find help else where. They insisted because I kept having triggers and night mares that it was do to my not forgiving my abusers…thus heaped shame on me and left me feeling there was something really wrong with me because I couldnt just simply move on.

  • dear X,

    January 25th, 2016 at 2:09 AM

    I absolutely support your call. Emotions cannot be forced!

  • Danielle n

    January 24th, 2016 at 5:21 PM

    I fully understand not being able to use the word forgiveness for an abuser but some of us can’t unburden ourselves from the trauma. You can try to move on and for a little while it may work but then what do you do when the abuser finds a way to contact you and you get all those feelings rushing back at you at one time? My abuser is in prison and in 3 years I will have to face him again at his parole hearing, if not sooner. That will be in the back of my mind everyday. How do you just move on from that?

  • Melissa

    January 25th, 2016 at 4:12 AM

    I am a Christian and it was by the grace of God that I could forgive my brother who molested me as a child. I AM NO LONGER A VICTIM. I hate defining myself as such. If you are not a Christian, I wouldn’t expect you on your own to be able to forgive. I tried that and failed miserably. When I let go, let God work, and obeyed Him, He moved so powerfully that my relationship with my brother is gradually being restored. Again, there’s nothing of my own power. I say all this because, the only true way to be restored is through Christ. You can unburden yourself and it will probably work that you can move on with life and be successful, but I assure you, there will likely be something in your life that feels tight and undone. I unburdened myself for years (didn’t call it that, but pretty much the same thing) and still came back to feeling like a victim. It was because I lived in fear of “what if I see him or what if he hasn’t paid for what he’d done?” Now it’s not for me to care about. Was my brother wrong? Absolutely! And it’s not for me to punish him or make him feel bad… The Holy Spirit works in whatever ways glorify God! Please consider foregiveness… It’s not easy to do, but so worth it. And please consider Christ to be your power, it’s the only way! Oh and by the way, there was some pretty hard work that took place with my own counselor that brought me to this place!

  • Kristen

    January 25th, 2016 at 9:06 PM

    Thank you for this. I too am a Christian and want to obey in my willingness to forgive, but my heart is not there. I know only by God will He change my heart. Please pray I get there. I read this and thought “Oooh, a way to get off the hook for forgiveness.” But then that Holy Spirit nudges me as I read & feel that isn’t what God wants for me. It’s such a tug of war. I hate my abusers but yet I have a heart for them. I learned about trauma bonding, but I don’t understand it. Please pray I can forgive someday too. I’m not there yet.

  • Emily

    January 25th, 2016 at 7:24 AM

    Nessa3: I agree, church is not helpful at all. Try Buddhism, or read At Home In the Muddy Water by Ezra Bayda. He advises you to stay true to yourself and be genuine, to trust yourself. You are not broken, you just have to unlearn certain thinking and behaviors (which were defensive behaviors). They served you well in the past to help you survive, but they may no longer be doing so because your present situation is different. Therefore, you need to adjust, and you can’t do that if you aren’t real with yourself.

  • Emily

    January 25th, 2016 at 7:26 AM

    Danielle n: I hope someday you can find a way to say, “Enough, this person is not going to control me anymore by making me feel afraid, angry or guilty. I survived the abuse, which is no longer happening, and I can do it again because I was, I am, strong and wise. Only I know what is best for me, and I will let my courage and instinct guide me. In the end, I truly am my own best friend and advocate.”

  • Robert

    January 25th, 2016 at 8:26 AM

    I agree that the concept of forgiveness within trauma therapy is very difficult, and can lead to more pain and confusion if not handled properly. however, I do not steer away from discussing forgiveness with clients I have worked with in the past. Instead, I tend to direct this concept more inward. Outside a more religious context and setting, the majority of the time a client will neither want to, nor need to, forgive the perpetrator. However forgiveness is still an essential part of most trauma work in the sense that the victim needs to be able to forgive themselves. I’ve seen this time and time again with young victims of sexual and physical abuse trauma, where they hold themselves at fault. Real healing cannot take place unless appropriate burden of responsibility for the perpetrator’s actions are placed on the perpetrator and not on the victim. After this reframing, then you are able to address the fact that, often times, there is no need to forgive themselves because there is nothing they are guilty of in being victimized.

  • Emily

    January 25th, 2016 at 1:13 PM

    Have you heard of parents refusing to get medical treatment for their child(ren) because they truly believe that God will save them? It’s essentially neglect, and that is what happened to me, except I needed psychological help, not medical.

    Children need protection – they need to know there are people – adults – who will protect them. And when they see that they are sufficiently protected, they feel safe and they can trust those who protect them. I didn’t have that, and that is the biggest issue I have. One of the perps was the abuser, the other “allowed” it….. for 19 years, she waited and waited for God to do his thing. Imagine a child going through 19 years of not being heard, understood, and advocated for. It is sustained trauma and it is a big deal.

    In other words, RELIGION was a huge part of the PROBLEM in my case. That is why I stay away from it, and I strongly feel it has no place in therapy. If I wanted Christian advice, I’d be at church, not here. I’m sorry if all you Christians are offended, but I do prefer logic over Christianity. Please keep your religion to yourself. It’s great that it helps you, but it’s not for everyone.

  • LilyO

    August 26th, 2016 at 8:09 AM

    I agree. I was raised in a very strict patriarchal religion by devout parents and it was hugely destructive psychologically and enabled, if not encouraged, my narcissistic mother and authoritarian father in all their abuses.
    The word ‘forgiveness’ will always be a dog whistle term for me that brings up feelings of inadiquacy, shame, and self blame. Those that forgive in religious culture are held up as examples of righteousness and those that don’t forgive are just hard hearted or bitter.
    It’s all in the lexicon and it is insidious.
    So no, I don’t forgive those that hurt me and I don’t have to have a relationship with them. Staying far away from my family and thinking of them as little as possible is how I move on. I surround myself with people I love and like and only those closest to me would ever know about my awful, abusive upbringing because kindness and being a loving mom are choices I get to make.

  • EH

    August 27th, 2016 at 7:57 PM

    LilyO, I totally get what you’re saying. Peace.

  • brandy

    January 25th, 2016 at 5:15 PM

    The church backed the pedophile,in my case,I’ve never went again. Can’t forgive them either!

  • Willderness Hermit Charlie

    January 25th, 2016 at 6:01 PM

    I refer the term unburdening.
    igotbetter.org/campaign/i-got-better/stories/chughes

  • Kerry

    January 26th, 2016 at 8:22 AM

    I agree that forgiveness is always a choice and should never be forced on anyone. However, I recommend you read forgiveness literature by researchers such as Worthington or Enright. Forgiveness does not include condoning or excusing the behavior of the perpetrator. It is basically for the one who has been hurt to receive healing and be able to move on, which sounds like a goal you hold for your clients.

  • Dianne

    January 26th, 2016 at 11:17 AM

    I really think your definition of the word ‘unburdening’ is exactly the same as ‘forgiveness.” But forgiveness has taken on such a religious tone of ‘everything’s okay’ that it has been terribly misunderstood. Everything is NOT okay but I can’t change what happened (I’m a victim of rape). The only way I can let it go is forgive, or unburden. I think the holdup for many is the confusion between the words ‘forgive’ and ‘reconcile.’ They are not the same – forgiveness frees to move on; reconciliation is reconnecting. Then absolutely there must be repentance on the perpetrator’s part. We may not can ever reconcile a relationship and may not need to — it can be setting oneself up for abuse all over again. I was able to forgive my perpetrator but not because it was okay, or I deserved it, or ‘just forget it.’ It was simply the key that finally unlocked my heart and soul to move forward. I was unburdened!! Good article!

  • Emily

    January 26th, 2016 at 2:04 PM

    Dianne, Please describe what it’s like to be unburdened. I want to know if I’m there too. Does it mean you’re no longer angry?

  • julie

    January 26th, 2016 at 3:36 PM

    definitely some other concepts out there that will probably work better

  • Tom Dorrance LICSW

    January 27th, 2016 at 8:45 AM

    I share Kerry’s comments 1/26. I want to add Lewis B. Smedes to this discussion. His book, “The Art of Forgiving – When You Need To Forgive and Don’t Know How” addresses many of the issues in this discussion. He writes about what forgiveness is not, such as reunion, restoring, condoning or excusing. He writes about forgiveness with enormous compassion and intelligence.

  • Nicole Urdang

    January 28th, 2016 at 5:32 AM

    I have been working with survivors of trauma for 40 years and have said similar things, even though I know they are not currently mainstream ideas. Kudos to you for having the guts to write this. Clearly, it has resonated with thousands of people.

  • Sara

    February 1st, 2016 at 8:30 AM

    THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! Aha and BOOM! Talk about a weight being lifted! I can accept facts that things happen. I cannot accept that I need to forgive. I can move on, get past, but certain people are no longer welcome nor deserve to be part of my life. They no longer exist to me and therefore have NO control. Out of sight, out of mind. There are too many other things/people to give my time and love to. There is so much more out there to smile about.

  • Emily

    February 1st, 2016 at 1:33 PM

    Sara, I totally get you. I think I am exactly where you are at. However, I do try to be mindful that i am not avoiding. If there is still an issue, I honestly do want to tackle it. So I don’t agree with “out of sight, out of mind.” I guess that is what I am working on now; I realize that no matter how far and how long I’ve tried to get away, the memories have always affect me. What I want is to be able to face the memories and not be affected emotionally. No anger. No sadness. No guilt. Absolutely NO emotional response. Only then will I know that I have truly moved on… because I am no longer emotionally attached.

  • Hypnohotshot

    March 18th, 2016 at 5:34 PM

    Hi. Here is the introduction of a hypnosis suggestion script I recently wrote on this topic :-
    ” People.. are often confused.. by the notion.. of forgiveness.. which could create.. barriers.. to forgiving. Forgiveness.. does not mean.. you approve of.. or condone.. the harmful.. or hurtful actions.. that are.. as yet.. unforgiven. It means.. letting go.. of the held anger .. resentment.. bitterness.. fear or even sadness.. about the past. These.. negative emotions.. attach us.. to the past .. draining .. our energy.. and blocking.. full progress.. to a more joyous.. way of living. So.. by finding out.. how to be.. finding forgiveness.. for yourself.. and others.. is above all.. about.. giving yourself.. a gift. The more.. you begin.. realizing.. your need to be.. finding the forgiveness.. you need.. for yourself.. and others.. the more comfortable.. you become.. in your mind.. and body.. with these ideas. as.. they are becoming.. more important.. to you.”
    Of course, anger and self blame, especially for serious trauma, may need processing first, but the truth is that forgiving (AKA letting go) is of primary benefit for the forgiver, not the forgivee, ie, not to be some abstract definition of a “good person”. As Nelson Mandela said, “Keeping resentment is like swallowing poison and expecting your enemy to die.” The person forgiven for their act may still be rejected as a person, just as we have the right, (or even duty to ourselves) to reject anyone (including family members) we find displeasing, unpleasant, obnoxious, toxic or injurious in the present. Best, Brian.

  • CC

    September 18th, 2016 at 2:37 PM

    I appreciate you are trying to be helpful with your “hypnosis script” but perhaps this forum is not the place. As I read down the comments and naturally came to yours and continued to read, I found it very triggering. Not the words but the syntax, the pausing. Obviously through no intention of your own you may not be aware ritual abuse survivors can be highly triggered by certain hypnotic phrasing or rhythms. I started to feel like I was going to pass out and had to shut down my computer immediately. I only say this not as a way to say it might not help others, or that you don’t have 100% right to offer it as a suggestion, but just to make you aware that such examples when offered on sites made for sexual abusers to read and not specifically for those who might choose hypnosis as a safe alternative, it can be highly triggering and even dangerous. Chanting and repetitive speech were a part of the terror tactics used to keep me at 3 and 4 so bound to silence over the atrocities that were occurring that even today at 46 and just newly recalling this abuse in the last two years, if I see something with the similar rhythmic pausing or chant-effect, I feel the terror of “they can get me anywhere and everywhere. They will come through the walls and kill me for telling/remembering”. As an incest survivor with at least one of the ritual abusers as my family, it is essential I have the power and choice as to when I see what safe therapeutic alternatives might work and when. I suspect others reading this posting might be experiencing a similar reaction.

  • Jana

    May 9th, 2016 at 7:24 AM

    Forgiving one self as they could not do any different at that time. Fear may have stopped them. So they were protecting the self from further abuse. Forgiving oneself for not knowing to do different because of this.

  • Jaimie

    May 14th, 2016 at 9:04 AM

    Having also worked with rape survivors, people who have experienced significant physical, serial and/or emotional traumas, I strongly believe in the power of forgiveness.
    What most people don’t understand is that true forgiveness does not excuse the perpetrator(s) or the act, nor does it let anyone “off the hook”. What it does is allow the survivor to make a conscious decision to no longer let the emotions surrounding the events control their lives. It doesn’t mean that the survivor will forget, our brains are simply not wired that way. True forgiveness allows the survivor to break the emotional bond that the person/events have held over them. The survivor then begins to start the healing process and learns to make decisions based on today, not yesterday’s trauma. True forgiveness has nothing to do with confrontation, it is solely for the survivor. Because we all know that many perpetrators will never admit their role or that a wrong has been done. Forgiveness is also a process, we forgive as many times as it takes. Anger+Forgiveness=Peace

  • Annie

    June 18th, 2016 at 6:09 AM

    I forgave my abusers (multiple in 25 years of ritual abuse horror) by saying I don’t condone what they did but I forgive them, then cutting any emotional or spiritual tie symbolically thereby releasing them from me. That way I don’t give them the benefit of me wasting my time and emotions on holding on to the feelings. Everything was getting stuck and the memory of them started causing me more pain. I believe it’s our right to forgive because we are taking the higher road and leaving the rest up to God to deal out the justice. And I’m gonna say something really weird. I don’t think any child has aspirations to be an abuser when they grow up. I say that for my freedom, not theirs. They took enough from me. I had to find a way to be able to process such horror and I’ve come leaps and bounds and at present am so very proud of who I have become and I’m no longer bitter and twisted. They need to pay for their crimes however!

  • Katrina

    June 18th, 2016 at 7:10 AM

    Thank you for writing this. The word “forgive” contains the word “give” and the very idea, the very thought of “giving” one more unit of energy, one more tear, one more ounce of adrenaline, one more effort for the sake of an abuser completely exhausts me, I am sooo done with “giving.” So, I heard I had to get to “forgiveness” by more than one person, and I’d have to say, I have no idea what that word means because it sounds like something the abuser wants me to do and I’m done. Fortunately, found Alice Miller’s work, got angry, let it flow in my body, abandoned the idea of forgiveness, looked for a different word to use to describe my emotional flow to wellness, and have left the word “forgiveness” behind. It also smacks of abuser-cloaked-as-Christian rationale. So, leave it all behind, find a new word, keep going, you have to go in to get out, and best wishes to all of us on this journey of healing.

  • Mary

    June 23rd, 2016 at 4:40 PM

    I am a Christian and i find it important to forgive the psychiatrists who reduced me to a vegetable using ect and modified narcosis to ensure memory loss of whatever incident caused me a blackout so frightening that is felt compelled to sign myself into a hospital where all suspicion was on me and none on the individuals who orchestrated my hospitalisation. For me, forgiveness feels like a most inappropriate response to the behaviour of people who deliberately tried to destroy me. 40 years later, i still feel the same anger, hate, rage and resentment. I only WISH i could find a therapist who could appreciate where I’m coming from without trying to get me to “drop the baggage”, “build a bridge and get over it”, “put it behind you…. forget the past… move on… think different thousands… For God’s sake! Jesus Christ sweated BLOOD at the prospect of being tortured and put to death by people HE loved but knew would never love Him and would NEVER apologise nor ever see the need to. As a victim, i am only deluding myself if I “forgive” my attackers. Because they are not one bit sorry for what they did. Of course they would be delighted if i forgave them – it would mean they got away with it. I don’t think thats right or just and is a PERVERSION of what forgiveness should be about. It’s putting the cart before the horse. From the cross on which he was crucified, Jesus did ask His Father to forgive His torturers, “because they know not what they do”. I think it is significant that Jesus asked His Father to forgive them – not because HE (Jesus) forgave them but because there was no sense to what His torturers did. He advocated for them because He wanted to save them from hell, it was people like them He came to save, but I can’t see that He FORGAVE them for killing Him. He wanted them to have every chance to regret what they did. Yes, some wrong-doers will get to say “sorry “, most never do. But “forgiveness” is the victims ‘ prerogative. No one can “tell” you to forgive someone who has wronged you. Even if you can understand why the wrong-doers did what they did, if you cannot forgive them, it is much better to be honest and treat it like a stumbling block.

  • Mary

    June 23rd, 2016 at 4:44 PM

    I am a Christian and i find it impossible to forgive the psychiatrists who reduced me to a vegetable using ect and modified narcosis to ensure memory loss of whatever incident caused me a blackout so frightening that is felt compelled to sign myself into a hospital where all suspicion was on me and none on the individuals who orchestrated my hospitalisation. For me, forgiveness feels like a most inappropriate response to the behaviour of people who deliberately tried to destroy me. 40 years later, i still feel the same anger, hate, rage and resentment. I only WISH i could find a therapist who could appreciate where I’m coming from without trying to get me to “drop the baggage”, “build a bridge and get over it”, “put it behind you…. forget the past… move on… think different thousands… For God’s sake! Jesus Christ sweated BLOOD at the prospect of being tortured and put to death by people HE loved but knew would never love Him and would NEVER apologise nor ever see the need to. As a victim, i am only deluding myself if I “forgive” my attackers. Because they are not one bit sorry for what they did. Of course they would be delighted if i forgave them – it would mean they got away with it. I don’t think thats right or just and is a PERVERSION of what forgiveness should be about. It’s putting the cart before the horse. From the cross on which he was crucified, Jesus did ask His Father to forgive His torturers, “because they know not what they do”. I think it is significant that Jesus asked His Father to forgive them – not because HE (Jesus) forgave them but because there was no sense to what His torturers did. He advocated for them because He wanted to save them from hell, it was people like them He came to save, but I can’t see that He FORGAVE them for killing Him. He wanted them to have every chance to regret what they did. Yes, some wrong-doers will get to say “sorry “, most never do. But “forgiveness” is the victims ‘ prerogative. No one can “tell” you to forgive someone who has wronged you. Even if you can understand why the wrong-doers did what they did, if you cannot forgive them, it is much better to be honest and treat it like a stumbling block.

  • Ursula p.

    June 18th, 2016 at 11:09 PM

    If you love someone forgiveness is good. But if you don’t. Shake the dust from your sandals and exit.

  • Lea T.

    June 26th, 2016 at 7:46 AM

    I am a counselor and work with a special population that deals with not only severe mental illnesses but also several types of traumas. I really like the unburdening concept. I use forgiveness although I work with my clients on the other side of what this means. I never ask them or tell them they have to forgive anyone or anything that has happened. We work on self-forgiveness and how holding onto those powerful emotional attachments affects their current quality of life. When we are working on forgiveness we are allowing ourselves to move forward and not minimizing our own power gained from an event by our ability to persevere. When individuals are able to put that memory of the trauma where it belongs and not in the fore-front of their life they are able to make much healthier choices. So for me, the way I work on forgiving is similar to unburdening. It is a flexible concept, it does not say anything is or was ever okay, it does not mean you forget, and it is based on my clients needs at that time. Forgiveness is saying that I am no longer allowing this or them to have power over me in any way and I choose to no longer carry the emotion or event into other areas of my life.

  • Mary P

    June 28th, 2016 at 9:55 AM

    What those psychiatrists did to me totally changed my life and it is not possible for me to “fence off” what they did into a corner of my mind and pretend it doesn’t affect any other part of my life. Because they destroyed who i was. And the person I am now sees that point in time as THE big turning point in my life. I do not forgive them, it is not in me to forgive them, they changed me… some family members actually thought the change was for the better, that i had “too much brains” (!?) that I had “notions”.. :-( well, i don’t have “too much brains” now!

  • Bev

    July 10th, 2016 at 7:13 PM

    Great article, acceptance it had happened and was robbing me of my daily peace, along with forgiveness of self had nothing to do with the perpetrators. Taking off the victim cap and moving from reactive survivor “how could they” to proactive mindset “I survived, do what you can so it doesn’t happen to another” was huge in recovering my personal peace. Really embracing forgiveness of self for not having the skills to avoid the trauma, brought simple empowerment to be proactive rather than reactive. A huge step as the reactive state only brought further headaches when “address your anger” was added to the “forgive them” or whichever version that particular person used to invalidate my worth even further. Inexperience in suffering and topical ignorance can only be improved and this is a great resource to assist in opening the healing dialogue rather than shutting it down, thanks!

    Anyone reading who has clients affected by adoption do your research, put aside your moral and societally influenced ideas, take a moment to at the very least consider the wound to the psyche that arises when you are deemed by friends, family and society less worthy to parent your own child than someone else or not good enough to be raised by the person who created you… There is much more than grief, loss, abandonment and betrayal involved…

  • Jewell

    August 25th, 2016 at 7:47 PM

    I forgive as Jesus Christmas has

  • Jewell

    August 25th, 2016 at 7:48 PM

    I forgive as Jesus Christ has

  • Peacerunner

    August 26th, 2016 at 2:15 AM

    Feeling grateful that finally people are speaking out about the fallacy of “forgiveness sets you free.” In my experience that was a Christian value I was taught but was extremely un-helpful in letting me move past trauma. With the help of my therapist and some Buddhist mindfulness work I have allowed myself to say I will never forgive — but also to feel the pain and injustice of it all deeply and in a way that I have become less stuck, less attached to it and gradually free. But this only came when I read a really good blog “Forgivenss is Bullshit” and finally broke away from that old dogma that was messing with my right to be angry/sad. This article is brilliant and I hope more is written about this. Somebody needs to do a TEDTalk about this.

  • Janice

    August 26th, 2016 at 12:54 PM

    Thank you!

  • Mary

    September 7th, 2016 at 4:54 PM

    My main problem with “forgiveness” is this. (And by the way, i AM a Christian. Or claim to be.) True, it is the victim’s privilege to forgive the person who has wronged them. There is no obligation on the victim to forgive – you cannot coerce or force forgiveness from a person who is not ready/ not able/ not willing to forgive. Jesus asked His Father to forgive His killers – “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do…” So Jesus “forgiveness” didn’t come directly from HIM but from God – and only at Jesus’ request/ advocacy. That is the only way I can fathom the idea of forgiving one’s killers/ abusers – because these soldiers did not apologize or ASK for forgiveness. Simply because they were not one bit sorry for what they did; it was something they were well-used to doing; they did it without a second thought.
    I may be a Christian but i am not God. And i cannot fathom the idea of granting the privilege of forgiveness to someone who has never (and never will) apologize. I see all the benefits of forgiveness as going to the one who is forgiven. The “slate is wiped clean”, their sins “are made as white as snow”, the burden of guilt is lifted from them; they can start afresh, as though their previous wrongdoing never happened. This is a privilege that has to be sought-out by the wrongdoer. It shouldn’t be handed to them on a plate. Because – unless the wrongdoer sincerely regrets what they did – forgiving them without first hearing their apology is nothing but a form of CONTEMPT. Contempt for one’s self and contempt for other victims. And contempt is diametrically opposed to COMPASSION.
    In my own case, my mother was very neglectful, emotionally and totally unapproachable, even for a hug. But i don’t feel the need to FORGIVE her because i realize where she came from and (at least nowadays) i don’t BLAME her for things she did and didn’t do. So there is nothing to forgive – but much regret that we could not express our affection for each other while she was alive (and i KNOW she loved me) . As it was, the best way for me to show my love for her was to “back off” and not put her under pressure to give me that which she herself had never received, as a child. So we never really hugged. Or made eye contact. EXCEPT after she developed Alzheimars’s. By then, it was like “the lights are on but no-one’s at home.” When i looked into her eyes, i could see she had already forgotten whatever it was that prevented her from making eye contact when she was in good health. But when i visit her grave, i get that sense of peace one gets knowing that THIS loved one is in a happy place. No voices, no visions, no tears. Just a sense of happiness and relief. R.I.P. Mammy xx mol

  • Stephanie

    October 19th, 2016 at 11:10 AM

    Mary. I hear ya. Great comment! ❤️ As a traumatized Christian, I dug deep to find what I was really supposed to do with this thing they call “forgiveness.” I found two scriptures that totally resonated with me. Or maybe three. The third being that it is the TRUTH that sets people free–not forgiveness. Right there in black and white. I suppose scriptural truth, but also the truth in our individual lives as well. Forgiveness is part of mercy IMO for the benefit of the wrongdoer. The other scripture is the one where Jesus Himself says “If your brother offends you, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him. To me that’s pretty black and white. A simple four step process with equal give and take. Totally taking into account our right to first be offended at a wrongdoing. Secondly, our right to tell them so and not letting them off the hook about it without them having to acknowledge their wrongdoing toward us. Is that not the very definition of self respect? Step three–they are to repent. Well, many folks act like we need to bypass this step and go right to step four–forgive. Well, it doesn’t work like that. Step three needs to happen before step four can occur. And many of them and us will likely die before they do their bit–step three.

    The last scripture really is many scriptures. It has more to do with the entire backbone that Christianity is based on and how God set things up. If we think about what scripture says, regardless if one believes or is a Christian or not, we see that if we are to become Christians–followers of Christ–if that is what we so desire–then the very first step is our step. We have to repent, which simply means turn around and go another direction from the one we were headed in. No longer following our desires but following God’s desires. So in exchange for doing this, we get the free gifts of a new nature, forgiveness, mercy, adoption, etc. But my point is really, that if the Almighty requires this of everyone, (before they get all these free gifts), then how is it that we are more capable or what have you than God Himself? Truth is tho, we are not. If God requires it of all creation, then it logically follows that we should require it of each other IMO. It’s like provisions are there for every person on the planet, but it isn’t going to happen unless we make that move first. As if it is on reserve. Waiting in the wings when repentance occurs. If you liken it to something like a chess game, it’s simply only appropriate to move when it’s actually our turn on the board. So then, how are we to even play the game if the other player refuses to take their turn? The game can’t be finished. It’s just that simple to me.

  • Stephanie

    October 19th, 2016 at 11:46 AM

    I guess if I were going to sum it up more succinctly–I am ready to forgive–but my hands are tied because they are not ready to repent. And where is the fine line between respect for ourselves and respect for others? Doing right by ourselves v. doing right by others? Can we ever expect to be able to do right by others if we cannot do right by ourselves? How do we properly love others if we do not love ourselves enough to not allow ourselves to be trampled on? Then another scripture comes to mind. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Well, I’m willing to take a rebuke and make adjustments if I am the one in the wrong. And if I stubbornly refuse, it’s on me, and the other person is totally within their rights to terminate the relationship or what have you. And I also have this right when the tables are turned in the other direction. And so on.

    But also, many people have misdefined and also misapplied what forgiveness really and truly is. They make blanket assumptions and don’t even know what they are doing or asking others to do–many times substituting the word “forgiveness” for just condoning something and it’s not good for the victim nor the perpetrator. Everyone will have to do their own push ups if they want to have strong arms. Misapplied forgiveness is really just a mockery of justice and serves no one. Even if the wrongdoer “gets off” they are worse off because they are not required to improve and will wind up even more lost. And it sucks for the victims also, because they get no vindication and even more people will be hurt in the future as well, because they have not learned the error of their ways. Well, so much for succinct. Not my particular talent. Lol.

  • Carla V.R.

    August 26th, 2016 at 4:54 PM

    I want to add to my previous comment and to the torrent of comments re forgiveness. In my own experience, when there is close-up understanding of the perpetrator: the terrible pain that drove him, his confusion, his convoluted brain, his abusive childhood that formulated all this – this understanding catapulted me into compassion. Compassion goes way beyond forgiveness. It almost makes it obsolete. I still maintain that if the perpetrator is not ‘repentant,’ then forgiveness given to him or her is just not appropriate because they haven’t earned it as yet. It would mean nothing to the part of them that clearly knows it is necessary to right was has been wronged. It could even be used to cynically use this forgiveness for the benefit of the worst side in them: the side that denies having done anything harmful anyway. Compassion, however, set me free. In a strange but powerful way it gave me to understand also, that at his core, my father was an innocent child. Who needs to forgive an innocent child, I ask? That is what they have lost contact with, for sure, but at core that is still who and what they are. May they one day realise this and reclaim it.

  • Esther

    August 27th, 2016 at 10:05 PM

    Really like your comment Bonnie. I totally get where you’re coming from LaRae, victims need to be protected, not shamed, judged or pressured to forgive. Healing is unique to all and no one can force their own experience onto another, that can trigger memories of abuse and loss all over again. Exceptional care must be given to anyone who has been overwhelmed by someone else, or something else’s actions. Love to all.

  • Sue

    September 18th, 2016 at 1:06 AM

    FORGIVE!!!! I really dont like that word. I must have had 12 counsellors tell me I would never heal until I forgave the man who started abusing me at the age of a gorgeous innocent 5!!!! I threw a cup of water at one of them because we had such a heated argument. It became my first question when approaching any therapist. Forgiveness is a lovely word and a generous gesture if someone has done wrong and you would like to forgive them but when it comes to situations such as sexual abuse…. the abusers behaviour is not worthy of forgiveness…why should they be forgiven they are monsters! I have started to heal beautifully without forgiving him and I never will, why should I? Its so refreshing to read this article x

  • Stephanie

    October 19th, 2016 at 12:31 PM

    I suppose what I am thinking now–Besides the comments I replied to on Mary’s post. Awesome post btw. Lol. Kudos to Mary. What I’m thinking now, is that a whole slew of people are running with this whole “forgiveness” thing out of guilt IMO. False guilt. As a Christian, I understand that I am not called to live my life under such a burden. It’s like the masses are conforming to this idea, out of some sort of pressure to be found “worthy” in God’s eyes or something, but they aren’t truly searching out scriptures for themselves. Nor are they being diligent in having a strong desire to know the actual truth about it and dig for it. They are not really listening to the God that supposedly lives in their hearts. But I decided to do both, because I found all this nonsense to just not ring true and also felt like I was betraying myself. And I had no joy or peace about it for a very long time. I couldn’t live with it, so I asked many questions (I asked both myself and God), and dug and dug and pored over many details. First of all, we are already declared “worthy” based on nothing we have or haven’t done. It’s just not about us and our good deeds. If you get caught up in that, you will just never be good enough anyways, no matter how hard you try. Futile, IMO. It’s more about accepting that you start off new and without blame. Then it’s really more about love than anything else. But you can’t really love others until you know how to properly love yourself. It’s like, if we listen to our hearts, where God resides, He shows us how to do both with accuracy and precision and balance. You find the road where justice meets mercy and you learn what is appropriate and beneficial, and what is not, and when. It’s more like a journey, rather than a sick, guilt ridden compulsion (as in just being told to forgive and case closed). This is where religion v. Relationship come into play. I guess the one thing I would say, if I were only allowed to say one thing, is that we need to earnestly search it out for ourselves and not take anyone’s word for it. I did that, even willing to leave Christianity at one point because of it. But when I dug deep, I found myself liberated and also amazed by what I found and also not having to give up my “faith,” tho I had to drop some false ideas and there are now a lot of Christians I don’t agree with on many points when it comes to “forgiveness.”

  • Esther

    October 19th, 2016 at 11:07 PM

    Great post Stephanie, it really encouraged me, I enjoyed reading. :)

  • karen

    December 28th, 2016 at 10:02 AM

    people don’t seem to get that forgiveness is not forgiving the abuser or the act its about forgiving yourself for ever letting someone treat you so badly. most people I know who wont forgive are angry and bitter and they carry that garbage with them the rest of their life. I’m sorry but I think forgiveness is imperative to healing. and yes ive been through horrible trauma and abuse in my life. but not anymore now that I know what boundaries are and I refuse to ever let someone treat me like crap again. its a choice. all forgiveness is indifference.

  • Sarah

    December 28th, 2016 at 10:42 AM

    The definition of Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim (survivor) undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense; let’s go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well. Forgiveness is different from condoning (failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness), excusing (not holding the offender as responsible for the action), forgetting (removing awareness of the offense from consciousness), pardoning (granted for an acknowledged offense by a representative of society, such as a judge), and reconciliation (restoration of a relationship). Once I realized that I didn’t have to reconcile with someone but could forgive them and move on, it really allowed me to heal. I could forgive and not be their friend; I could forgive and not condone what had been done. I could also still remember what happened and know that the boundaries I had set for myself in those relationships were for my good. Forgiveness wasn’t about forgetting or reconciling it was about not holding bitterness in my heart toward another person. This gave me freedom and allowed me to heal, which is what I needed.

  • Janice Rick, SEP

    December 29th, 2016 at 12:42 PM

    In my practice, I would be guided by a client’s authentic desire. In my own life, I see no need to put any energy on developing warm wishes for those that have done me harm. It’s been irrelevant to my healing.

  • Mary P.

    December 29th, 2016 at 2:56 PM

    Maybe i’m missing something but to me it feels like Sarah’s definition of forgiveness is very complex and a bit of a minefield? I can understand forgiveness that is limited to forgiving one’s self (for having been unable to avoid or prevent abuse) and that sort of self-forgiveness may well require a change of attitude towards one’s self. But i cannot get my head round the idea of forgiving my abuser(s) without also being somehow reconciled with them? The whole exercise seems pointless and unnecessary. The more i discover (through personal research and investigation) re the psychiatrists (and others) that abused me, the more angry and full of hate i become. But the main obstacle to my forgiving them is – they never apologized. They did not ask me to forgive them. They refuse to accept or acknowledge the harm they did. And the harm persists and will continue to eat me up until some one of them, sometime, has the guts to say “sorry, we should not have done that to you, we recognize the enormous suffering we have caused you and how we ruined your health.” Now, as such a statement is most unlikely to ever be uttered by a psychiatrist to their patient/ victim, i feel it is intrinsically wrong for anyone (family, friend or therapist) to expect me to even consider what benefits there might be for ME in granting forgiveness to those who don’t deserve it. Maybe i will pray that God may forgive them? But, as a Christian, i realize God’s forgiveness of their gratuitous violence depends (at least in part) on my forgiving them what they did. And i’m sorry, God, but i don’t forgive them. I cannot find it in me to forgive them. And so the harm continues. Yes, i can see why therapists urge their clients to forgive. But forgiveness in the absence of apology is only self-deception. And as victims we deserve something better than that. Vindication. Acknowledgement. At least these would go some way towards restoring our dignity and credibility. Self-deception does nothing for anyone but perpetuates inequality and enables abuse to continue.

  • Richard Jones

    December 30th, 2016 at 1:28 PM

    Bass and Davis have written about this in their book, “The Courage to Heal.” I fully agree with not having to forgive in order to heal.

  • Mary P

    December 30th, 2016 at 4:43 PM

    Healing is very hard and i don’t really know if it is possible or how / where to start. Leaving aside the minefield that is forgiveness, it is far easier to remain ill, un-healed – not only because that is familiar territory and my loved ones are happy to let me wallow in my pain, if that is what i want to do – truth is: there is no road map out of here. Inside these 4 walls of this house i call home, are some of the happiest memories of my life. Along with some of the saddest.. But this is where i feel safe. And lately, i am becoming increasingly reluctant to leave it, even for a moment. Days go by and the only person i see is my husband. He is now my carer as rapid-cycling depression has rendered me virtually useless, undependable and unable to plan anything or complete any task even when i do bother to plan it. So i am fading into the background, a sort of living ghost.. I don’t want to be like this but just don’t know where to start to get out of this terrible rut i’ve fallen into. I sense, strongly, that my children resent and despise me for what i have become. And i don’t blame them. I have far more important things to be thinking about than agonising over why i cannot forgive sadistic psychiatrists who reduced me to a virtual vegetable because they could not tolerate me crying at what was happening to me. They deserve a prize alright – i believe there is a hot place waiting for them and it is only what they deserve. As for me, i am tryna stay alive and avoid suicidal thoughts. Because i do NOT wish to give those ‘guys’ (sometimes called doctors) the satisfaction of seeing their “dire prognosis indeed” and self-fulfilling prophecies come true!

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  • The GoodTherapy.org Team: Hi Lillian, Thank you for your comment. We wanted to provide you with links to some resources that may be helpful to you....
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