For many survivors, forgiveness is a difficult, if not impossible concept to grasp or to even acknowledge as being part of healing. That may be because forgiving others who have harmed them and robbed them of their childhood and the peace they should feel as adults seem too hard and undesirable.
Perhaps it is time to drag the skeleton from the closet and explain what forgiveness and letting go are because the latter is much more comfortable a concept to swallow and much more appealing.
This article will explore forgiveness and letting go to help survivors understand how their health and wellbeing may very well be tied up in accomplishing either.
The Definition of Forgiveness
According to Greater Good Magazine, UC Berkley, forgiveness has the following definition:
“Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.”
While these words might make sense and ring true for many people, most survivors have a lot to be resentful and vengeful against those who hurt them. Their lives were altered in a myriad of ways, from failed relationships to physical health problems that all stem from the crimes perpetrated against them as children who they should have been able to trust and rely on.
Letting themselves forgive down deep inside where the pain resides the actions and beliefs of their abusers is beyond the scope of ability of most survivors and maybe rightfully so.
What Forgiveness is Not
Forgiveness isn’t something survivors choose to do for their abusers; rather, it is something they do for themselves. However, forgiving someone does not mean one needs to spend time with their abuser, forget about what happened, or pretend they are doing well when they are not. All of the above things are both counterintuitive and harmful.
Instead, it is vital for survivors to turn to their own needs and to satisfy them as much as possible. If being in the presence of a person who harmed them as children is too painful, then, by all means, remain isolated from the venom of that person.
If someone suggests they forgive and forget, they need to remind that person and themselves that doing so is humanly impossible. Trauma from childhood or anytime is deeply embedded in the consciousness of the person experiencing it and will never become erased.
Pretending that nothing happened and attempting to have a good relationship with the person who harmed them by hiding their true feelings of resentment will only cause a survivor to become mentally ill.
No, forgiveness is not forgetting, insulating, or giving excuses for horrid behavior; it is a process of letting go.
Letting go is not easy either, but it is a much more palatable alternative to attempting to forgive someone who has harmed adult survivors than forgiveness. Although forgiveness and letting go are in the same spectrum, they differ in some crucial ways.
Letting go means to allow oneself to release the harm caused them into the past where it belongs so that it no longer haunts the survivor’s present. It means deciding consciously not to live steeped in the trauma/drama that comes with realizing one has been abused and working through the horrors of the past.
Letting go may at first sound suspiciously like forgetting, but they are not the same thing. One can never forget what happened in childhood once one has begun the healing process. There is simply no going back because once the memories are in the consciousness, there is no putting them back again.
Letting go means one releases into the atmosphere or gives to God, or whatever the survivor’s preference all the pain and suffering without forgetting, ignoring, or belittling it. It means owning all the emotions that happened back then as a result of the trauma but deciding not to live engulfed there any longer.
How to Let Go
The process of letting go isn’t instantaneous and doesn’t happen after only a few weeks in therapy. Letting go may take many years, depending on the survivor’s tolerances and ability to comprehend what they must do to retain and gain their sanity.
Letting go begins with acknowledging and owning what happened so many years ago. It means going into one’s mind and gaining a deeper understanding of who survivors are as a people and building on the good qualities they find there.
Letting go isn’t a painless process; rather, it is excruciating at times. However, when one considers the alternative of living life filled with anger and vengeance that can never be expressed appropriately, letting go looks better.
There are no steps to follow, no manuals or workbooks to read because letting go is a very personal venture that only the survivor may walk. Even though they see a therapist, that therapist isn’t able to tell them how to find their way out of the maze of guilt, shame, hatred, and anger that is entirely up to the survivor alone.
“The truth is unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.” ~ Steve Maraboli
“Letting go means to come to the realization that some people are a part of your history, but not a part of your destiny.” ~ Steve Maraboli
“Accept yourself, love yourself, and keep moving forward. If you want to fly, you have to give up what weighs you down.”
― Roy T. Bennett