Taking back your life from those who sought to destroy it
To a trauma survivor, forgiveness can seem like a dirty word. Like something another person, maybe even their perpetrator, throws in their face to invalidate what they are experiencing. It is often used by well-meaning or ignorant people or churches, to “fix” the relationship instead of addressing the sin. It is often used by perpetrators to attempt to control their victims as well.
These immoral and traumatizing lies and behaviors from those who should know better, can create an intense resistance to forgiveness. Extending forgiveness to the people who have hurt us deeply is rarely something we want to do. There is a part of our minds that can convince us that forgiveness means that our pain will be forgotten. That if we forgive, we are letting those that hurt us “off the hook.” We can believe that if we choose to forgive, those that caused us pain won’t get what they deserve.
The sheer number of lies that are associated with the concept of forgiveness keeps many survivors in chains. I first want to address what forgiveness is NOT.
- Forgiveness is not a feeling. If you are waiting until you feel like forgiving someone, you will be waiting forever. Feelings are fleeting, unreliable, and are not facts. You can feel one way and think and respond in another. Our feelings can and will change in a moment, so relying on your emotions to tell you when you are “ready” to forgive someone, will keep you holding on to unforgiveness.
- Forgiveness is not excusing the perpetrator or relieving them of the responsibility and consequences for their behavior. There are always natural consequences for the things we choose to do or not do. Your decision to forgive someone that hurt you, does not mean they can or should escape the consequences of their behavior.
- Forgiveness does not mean you can or should trust the person again. Trust is something that is earned based on another’s ability to demonstrate that they are safe. You can forgive another completely and also never trust them again. You can forgive them completely and still withhold your trust until they have earned it again. Choosing to automatically trust someone that has hurt you, can also have very devastating consequences to you.
- Forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. Forgiving a person for causing you pain does not also require you to reconcile that relationship. In fact, believing that you have to stay in relationship with the person who has harmed you, can keep you from forgiving them. Toxic people, those who are unrepentant and continually dangerous for you, are not people you have to be around. You can forgive your parent and still not have to ever have contact with them again. You can forgive someone who hurt you and not also have to visit them in prison as they serve out one of their consequences. You can forgive your spouse and still choose to divorce them because that is the healthy and safe thing for you to do. You can forgive and not have anything to do with that person again.
- Forgiveness is not tolerating the behavior that caused the pain. You can forgive your abuser and also leave the relationship. You can forgive them and also set strict boundaries within that relationship that will have consequences should they violate those boundaries.
- Forgiveness does not mean you have to be ok. Is is possible to forgive someone and still struggle with the pain and trauma that they’ve caused. Forgiving does not mean you have to pretend that you are ok, that you are no longer bleeding from the wound they’ve caused, or that you have to be ok when they want you to be.
- Forgiveness does not mean that you or your pain are forgotten. It does not mean that your suffering, your pain, is not valid. You and the consequences in your life because of their actions, will not disappear or become meaningless because you choose to let them go.
Now I want to help you understand what forgiveness is. This is where you can find true healing. For me, I was not able to start healing from Columbine until I chose to forgive those people who created the pain. Today, choosing to forgive those who are hurting me, allows me to be who I need to be.
- Forgiveness is a choice you make every day to consciously let go of punishing those who have hurt you. When you are in the process of forgiving someone who has caused immeasurable pain and suffering in your life, this is something that you have to chose repeatedly until it no longer infiltrates your mind.
- Forgiveness is letting go of the person or persons who have hurt you. It is releasing them to God and allowing Him to deal with them. It is saying, I no longer choose to allow you to take up space in my mind, body, and soul.
- Forgiveness is freeing up space in your mind that those who have hurt you have been controlling since the trauma. I often think of it as evicting squatters. Evicting the people, thoughts, and behaviors that are involved in the trauma, so that you can have your whole self back again.
- Forgiveness is giving yourself permission to heal and leave them behind. It is saying that those people no longer get to have any part of your life, that they are not longer welcome in your existence.
- Forgiveness gives you peace, clarity, and hope. When you remove those people and the negative thoughts and beliefs they’ve forced on you, you are able to fully experience life again.
- Forgiveness is saying that you will no longer harbor bitterness and resentment towards that person or people. That you will no longer think of them, allow them to control you present. You are saying to yourself and to them, that they no longer matter to you and that you are going to live your life fully without the poison of their existence running through your veins.
- Forgiveness sets you free.
Living without the toxicity of bitterness
Holding on to unforgiveness, harboring anger, resentment, bitterness, and a desire for revenge, does nothing to your perpetrator. Let me say that again. Choosing not to forgive someone and holding onto the pain, does not hurt the ones who hurt you. The truth is that they rarely care about how you feel. It never crosses their minds. That is why they were able to cause so much pain in the first place. Thinking that if you just stay mad then they will see the damage they’ve done, is a lie. It does nothing for them.
The only one that is wounded when you hold on to unforgiveness, is you. You are allowing the poison from their actions to consume your life. You are living in the past, in the present. They will never feel your pain just because you keep living in that pain. Your anger and hurt is absolutely justified. However, choosing to stay there instead of moving forward in forgiveness and healing, will keep you bound to those people.
The unholy bondage of trauma
When someone perpetrates evil, a spiritual, emotional, and physical bond is created. Those who have caused harm have linked themselves to their victims in many ways. This is one of the reasons why people who have been hurt, continue to return to the person that hurt them, or why children do not tell someone what is happening. This bond is forged through the trauma and reinforced through the threats, lies, and relationship between the perpetrator and their victim.
Regardless of where the perpetrator is now, choosing to hold on to unforgiveness, reinforces the bondage, the chains, they forced on you. It keeps you silent. It makes you question your own memories of what happened. It makes you think you’re the crazy one, the one who is wrong. The more you choose to stay angry, hateful, bitter, and vengeful, the stronger you are making those chains.
If you truly want to break free, to remove them from your life, you have to choose forgiveness. Your life will continue regardless of what you choose, but your choice to forgive or not, will determine HOW your life moves forward. Those who have chosen not to forgive and let go, suffer more than they need to. They have chosen to allow the full impact of their trauma to dictate their life. They have chosen to remain stuck.
When you choose forgiveness, you are choosing to live. You are allowing the pain from your past to remain in your past. You are choosing daily to walk in your life without allowing those things to control your present or your future. Forgiving those who have hurt you, will let you breathe free for the first time since the trauma. It will allow you to embrace your life with the truth of your pain, the person you are now, without being overwhelmed by your past.
Forgiveness is a process that you move towards. It is a conscious decision to let go. One that you may have to make daily, sometimes hourly, when you first make that step towards freedom. You may not even feel like you want to let go, but choosing to forgive anyway, will sever the hold they have on you. Choosing freedom, choosing to permanently sever the trauma bonds that have been formed, will never make things worse than they have been.
If you want to forgive and be free, then begin to ask God to help you. Begin to speak out loud, “I don’t feel like forgiving (that person), but I am choosing to do so anyway.” The more you practice forgiving that person, the more you’ll realize that you are forgiving them. You are able to see what life can be like without them in your consciousness. When you can see what freedom looks like, then forgiveness becomes easier.
Choose freedom today. Let the past stay in the past. Take back your life and live in defiant abundance and freedom.