The Tricky Thing about Forgiveness

For a long time healing from trauma and traumatic events included telling victims/survivors to forgive the perpetrator. Forgive what happened, let it go, and move on.  Every time I heard this advice I wanted to scream, how dare someone tell me that I need to forgive what someone did, especially if they have faced no repercussions or consequences for their actions.  In these situations it feels like my anger is the only thing holding them accountable, it is the only thing in the world saying they are guilty.  Especially in a culture where we don’t believe victims, blame them, and tell perpetrators they can get away with it because of their “potential” (HELLO BROCK TURNER).  In these situations, in this current cultural time, it does feel like my anger is the only thing that speaks truth to the idea that the person who hurt me should be punished in some way.  It took me an incredibly long time and a lot of therapy before I realized that forgiveness isn’t the point of this sentiment.

Holding onto that trauma, letting it intertwine through everything inside of me, hurts me far more than it punishes anyone.  Honestly a lot of the men who hurt me will never face any consequences for their actions, they might even post an article talking about the misogyny of the Trump political campaign on facebook and be touted as a great male role model (I see you and I still know what you did).  I am under no obligation to let go of that anger, that “fuck you” to the person who hurt me, even if I am the only one who ever knows (and my therapist, she knows everything).  But letting go of that trauma’s hold on me, that anger’s desire to wrap its way into all of my interactions is important.  Not addressing trauma left me bitter and reactionary to everyone, my family, my friends, my job.  One of the reasons I needed to stop drinking was because my anger had gotten so out of control I started a fight with someone I loved every time I had a few drinks.  Letting go of this anger, forgiving this piece of my hurt, is what is actually important.

The tricky part is how to form a sense of forgiveness and while not feeling like passively letting something go.  Radical acceptance is a concept in DBT that simply states, things happen and we have to accept them as they are, this does not mean condoning the situation or saying it was ok, but accepting that it happened and is over.  We cannot change the hand we are dealt, we just have to play it.  Now learning how to do this fucking sucked was rough so I needed to start in small steps.  For example when you get stuck in traffic or your commute gets delayed, its accepting that there is nothing you can do about this right now,  just take a deep breath and accept it is not what you wanted but it is what you have.  It takes a surprisingly large weight off your shoulders even in these small situations.  Instead of getting worked up and increasingly frustrated you just accept your current spot.  Working up from there to radically accepting trauma is tough and can change day by day.  What happened has already passed, it was not ok, it will never be ok, but it is over and I have the power to move on and let go.  I can radically accept these things have happened and know that I am still whole, my life is still amazing and getting better, and that trauma does not have to define me or how I interact with the people I love forever.  Radical acceptance gives you the benefit of forgiveness without the connotation that you are condoning the action of  the person. It gives you space to let go, breath and move forward without letting that anger fester inside of you.

I wish you so much luck in working on radical acceptance, let me know how you are making it work even in small steps!

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