My feelings about the Word forgiveness and trauma healing

My caveat: I understand that we all have our own histories and beliefs. These are my personal feelings about the word forgiveness. They are not meant to sway anyone’s way of dealing with their perpetrators or their belief system.

The conversation surrounding the word forgiveness came up again for me last week when I had a meeting with someone who was looking for ways to increase their client base, in an extremely crowded therapeutic community. It was going well until this person became adamant that the only way a client can heal is if they forgive their abusers. When I interjected that I believed that there may be other ways to look at forgiveness, the meeting went downhill and became uncomfortable for both of us. To be honest, I’m not sure how we went from talking marketing strategies to this topic, but it happened.

Forgiveness, what does that really mean in terms of healing? That word can be a hot-button for me and for many people I know that have been through trauma. There was a time I thought if I heard someone say “you can’t fully heal until you forgive your abusers” one more time, I would explode all over them. It sounded trite, and for me, increased the shame storm that was always brewing inside of me.

My perpetrators would never expect forgiveness. Why? They didn’t and still don’t think they did anything wrong. To them, I was an object, not a person.  Some abusers, torturers, and silent watchers do not deserve my forgiveness. In my situation, there is nothing that keeps them accountable. They don’t need or want forgiveness, as they move along to the next person, and their feeling of omnipotence grows. 

I came up with this thought: Forgiveness in healing does not have to be about forgiving my perpetrators. For my mental health and well-being, I changed the word forgiveness, to “understanding.”  The concept may be the same, but for me, it is emotionally less charged. I don’t forgive some of my sadistic perpetrators, but I do understand.

I understand what they did to me, and I understand it wasn’t about me personally. I could have been anyone, and in fact, I was one of many. I have learned to understand it is an absolute fact that I had no control over what happened. I’m learning to let go of the guilt, shame, humiliation, powerlessness, and the hopelessness.  

I have worked hard in therapy to understand that I didn’t do anything wrong and that I wasn’t to blame for what happened to me. Still, sometimes I  need to be reminded that it wasn’t my fault.

When I first started thinking and verbalizing that  I forgive myself for the grief, shame, or any other emotions, or feelings I had surrounding my past, I would get confused. Was I forgiving myself for being hurt? That didn’t make sense. 

That word, forgiveness was just too super-charged. The concept was getting mixed up with the definition of the word and it was becoming too convoluted in my head.  I needed to have a better understanding what I was forgiving myself for.

I learned to understand, that I forgive myself for believing the lies my abusers told my soul. That works for me! I believe that! Sometimes with a lot of reassurance, but, I believe that. Understanding that concept helped me take huge steps in the process of acceptance and healing. Forgiving myself for believing the lies my abusers told my soul is a simple concept for me to internalize and accept. 

I have healed enough and understand enough about my past that by now,  I don’t really think about my perpetrators as individual people. If I see them on the news, I hear their names, or someone brings them up, my mind creates more of a concept of who they are/were, not the ugliness of what they did to me.

My biggest coup was when I could let them go emotionally.  For some, that is what they would define as forgiveness. For me, that is what I define as my mental-health victory!

I understand that we all have our own paths to healing. Our belief systems play a large part in keeping us safe in our mind, body, spirit. I respect the language each person needs to use in coming to terms with their abusers. What matters most, is that survivors learn to accept their past, shed the shame and learn to live (and thrive) in their present.


84 thoughts on “My feelings about the Word forgiveness and trauma healing

  1. crazedladychronicles

    Thank you for sharing. I currently work in a PRTF with students receiving intensive inpatient treatment. Trauma is a very real part of their lives. I love your insights on forgiveness.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Its okay to forgive or not forgive your abusers. As long you forgive yourself for believing any lies they told your soul. At least that is what I have been taught, and it works for me. ❤️❤️


  3. This is so beautifully written. This paragraph…”Forgiving yourself by affirming that you’ve done nothing wrong. Forgive yourself for allowing the pain of your torment to haunt you. Forgive yourself for not, if possible, considering how something so ugly can be used to emphasize with other people.” Just stunning. It just landed so deeply when I read it. Thank You so much for sharing this. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  4. When I think of forgiveness, I immediately think about myself. Forgiving myself. I use to imagine how people assumed that forgiveness was about other people. I believe that some people give power to their abusers by believing that if their abusers admitted what they’d done that somehow they could move on.

    Well, that’s not always the best approach. I think about the what-ifs. What if the abuser doesn’t remember? What if they don’t think they’ve done anything wrong?

    Forgiving yourself by affirming that you’ve done nothing wrong. Forgive yourself for allowing the pain of your torment to haunt you. Forgive yourself for not, if possible, considering how something so ugly can be used to emphasize with other people.

    You said so well, “What matters most, is that survivors learn to accept their past, shed the shame and learn to live (and thrive) in their present.”
    Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Pingback: When is it UNREASONABLE to expect forgiveness? – Tamara Kulish

  6. Wow, thank You so much Tamara. This really touches me. We have been connected here on WordPress for quite a while, and I appreciate these connections so, so much. I just feel so grateful that we can all support each other on our healing journeys. ❤️


  7. Tamara Kulish

    Alexis, I see by the comments that your journey has touched many people in profound ways! I too have been following your journey, and initially after reading I tried to comment here, but my phone wasn’t cooperating! I had copied my response to my note app, and then it sat while I continued to think more about what you had said.

    Today I’ve published an article, where I’ve quoted you and have given readers links to your article and to your books. If you wish to look at the article, here’s the link:

    Though I haven’t been through the horrors you have, my own healing journey had echoes in what you said. I wanted to share your wise words!

    Peace, Tamara

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks so much for your insight Marcos. I like that you are at the place that you don’t need to use that term any longer. It takes all the power out of the word. I will definitely check out that book. 😊


  9. Thanks so much for this post. I have struggled with the term “forgiveness.” I don’t anymore, because I don’t believe it needs to be used by us, who have suffered trauma at the hands of others. Many people expect us to forgive; and if we don’t, we’re the failure. A good book: “The Reproduction of Evil, a Clinical and Cultural Perspective,” in which Sue Grand, psychologist, spends a chapter on predators and “needing” to forgive them. To be expected to forgive simply puts us back in our horrors.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Thank You!! I really appreciate your feedback. Forgiveness can be a tricky and super sensitive area to talk about. There a lot of shoulds out there that people navigate. 💐


  11. Wonderful!

    Two quotes stand out for me:

    “There was a time I thought if I heard someone say “you can’t fully heal until you forgive your abusers” one more time, I would explode all over them. It sounded trite, and for me, increased the shame storm that was always brewing inside of me.”
    – and –
    “My biggest coup was when I could let them go emotionally. For some, that is what they would define as forgiveness. For me, that is what I define as my mental-health victory!”

    Your hard work in therapy and in life is very visible here!
    Inspirational. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is such a powerful well articulated post on such a complex subject Alexis. Sadly I missed it earlier due to the sheer volume of posts coming through currently I love what you write about understanding versus forgiveness that is so true. And this comes out of tough and very deep experiences as well as a long long journey to overcome. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  13. It took me about 9 months to figure it out! It is great because I can finish several posts and schedule them to be published about the same time each day! I like things to be consistent, so being able to schedule posts is great! I hope you have a fantastic day!!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Your beautiful words just made my day. Thank you so much for adding such magical drop of words in my jar of motivation.I feel blessed by your writing right now.
    I found delight love in what you just said in your post.
    Again such a beautiful write up on your blog.
    Keep the vibes on.

    Peace ✌and Love ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Pingback: Resolving Expectations of Compassion Toward Abuse Perpetrators – Goddessing From the Heart

  16. Wow Suzanne. This comment alone makes a great post. The insight, the honesty and the truth of it is so powerful. I actually sat with it before responding to you. Thank you so much for both reading and responding. If you should tuen this into a post, I look forward to reading it. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Suzanne

    This can be such a challenging topic for trauma survivors; you’ve done an excellent job of explaining the nuances of it and connecting it to your own experience. For me personally, my abusers have also never admitted to what they did, so there is nothing for which they are asking for forgiveness. I view it as a gift that needs a recipient before being offered.

    The comment above by mariner2mother though has given me a new insight–perhaps what is often implied when the word forgiveness (in the context of abuse) is mentioned is that we are expected to feel compassion for those who harmed us. I think this is a tremendous burden to place on anyone and is something to which a person may or may come eventually.

    What is bizarre to me as I sit with it is that an expectation of understanding and compassion of the abuser is often what those who are “helping” the abuse victim go to first, as if it could short-circuit the entire healing and recovery process. If anything, I think having compassion for the most vile among us is one thing to ask of those who have not been personally wronged, and another measure entirely when we ourselves have been the target. This has given me a lot to think about; I’ll have to follow it up with a post of my own at some point. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. “… It’s about healing our heart.” Wow, Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful insight. I just love how you found a number of modalities to help you heal. It’s just so important to understand there are so many paths to health. Thank you for your words of support and for others who may read your comment, it certainly gives hope to be open to the teachers and healers that help us find the peace we need to heal our pain. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  19. My healing path has had very little to do with the people who abused me and everything to do with healing my own emotional pain and reactivity. For me, talk therapy helped some. But when I discovered the world of energy healing, intuitives, and regression hypnotherapy, things really started to change for the better. Intuitives helped give me a deeper understanding of my pain, and regression work made it disappear bit by bit. Forgiveness is such a loaded and misunderstood word. You can’t even begin to forgive a soulless rapist until your own pain has healed enough that you understand and can have compassion for someone so completely broken, disconnected, and disempowered. I couldn’t get there until I first healed all those things in me – and quite honestly, there have been a few miracles along the way.

    Brilliant article. Forgiveness doesn’t have to have anything to do with the abusers. It’s not about letting them off the hook. It’s about healing our heart.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. The different paths to healing fascinate me, and yes, I do find myself free from carrying past baggage these days. It has required a lot of change and letting go. Family and religion is no longer in the picture.

    I’m not sure why I feel compelled to mention this, but the one overarching element that has caused this freedom is the power of Yahweh coursing through me. I seriously feel like I can, and I have, overcome everything that has been thrown at me.

    To be honest, I’m still fighting one oppressor, though I’m not exactly in contact, the one that wanted me dead the minute I exited the womb. That is the Roman Catholic Church. They always take one born into these family lines in order to assert their authority over the powers of this earth. Too bad RCC, I’m not dead, and I didn’t die the last time you had me run over.

    This one also is failing in her mission, is faltering already, and will fall. Can’t wait until she is exposed for what she really is: a blood -sucking whore who serves only one master: Satan. All who worship her or worship within her are nothing but a huge sacrifice. She hides this fact, but sooner or later it will come out into the open.

    I’ve always treated her well, because through her unfairness it allows Yahweh to work. I can see she is weakening, as the more she attacks, the more she is whittled down to size. The attacks have lessened as of late. I can’t wait for the day when Yahweh fully takes her out. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Thank you so much for sharing this Barbara. I think you said it perfectly that you came to a point where you felt no ill will towards them. I feel like when that happens for us we can take back our power and our life. We are all a work in progress aren’t we. I go in and out of levels of acceptance all the time. I think when Im triggered and feel vulnerable I can get angry at myself for having to deal with triggers instead of just accepting it and using what I need to do to work through it. What an interesting journey we’re on. 💐

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Thank you for writing this. So many trauma survivors believe that forgiving their perpetrators means condoning what they did. For my healing to take place, I needed to “forgive” those who hurt me, meaning that I came to a point in my process where I no longer held any ill will toward them. I was so full of hate. I needed to find a way to let that go, though I still repress some deeply buried rage. My forgiveness was not about them, it was about me, and what I needed to do to take care of myself. Understanding and acceptance was the key. Once I was able to let go of the hate, I felt lighter and freer than I had been. I’m still a work in progress as far as bringing the rage to the surface so that it can be released. I look forward to the day when I can do this.

    Liked by 3 people

  23. It warms my heart to hear how you’ve moved through your healing journey.

    However we get there, whatever brings that internal contentment is so individualized.

    Clearly, from your writings you found peace. I think that Acceptance of what happened and release of the belief that we were somehow to blame are the key to a life without our abusers hanging on to our coat-tails.

    From your curiosity of universal possibilities it is clear to me that you are free and have totally taken your life back. That makes me so happy!! ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I remember doing just about the opposite of what you’ve described here. It’s okay. We are all different. I forgave all my abusers that had wronged me and instilled lies in me that I’d lived. One by one I forgave them. Then I took all that baggage I once carried and gave it to Christ. “Here, deal with this pile of lies as you wish.”

    I felt free then to take my own life back and do with it as I saw fit. It’s greatly improved. I will admit.

    But I never thought about forgiving myself for the lies I’d once believed. I can see how this could be very powerful as well. It’s another stage of release. Letting go and getting going are associated.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Thank You so much for sharing this Alyssa and bringing up the hurt feelings. I have been known to forgive, forgive, forgive because it was expected and it made things easier for the other person. Like you said, it became a habit and I just bury the hurt. I didnt really think about that until now. Hmmmm! Abusers do steal so much. Thank you for being you. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  26. I believe you are absolutely right about the anger piece. I think its hard to fully heal with the anger continues to get reignited. Sometimes I think when therapists are unbendable in their therapy models, its more about them and their unresolved issues and less about their clients. The nice thing is that hopefully we exercise our choices and find a therapist thats a good fit. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. 🙏🏼💕


  27. I know that forgiveness is important for us to heal, but my goodness it is SO hard! I have had to forgive family more times than I can count and now I just forgive out of habit. But that really is not forgiving because the hurt is still there. There is one person that was in my life I will NEVER forgive, but he is not alive anymore!! I will also say that abuser steal so much for us and we are left with the pain that was inflicted. I do not see how it is possible to forgive people like that. Thank you for sharing this post, it really was incredible!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  28. We all heal differently and if this is how your mind & soul heal that’s it. Words are just ways to describe it, and it should be extra important to allow someone who has undergone horrendous trauma to view it in the healthiest and most productive way for them. I think as long as the anger has subsided so you can be free, that is the most critical step to healing. Some therapists need to realize they did not suffer your/their client’s realities and should be able to understand each person heals in their own unique way. Some things just can’t be forgiven and don’t deserve to be. I think some people just say they’ve forgiven someone to satisfy this assumption that this is the only way to heal, but as you’ve pointed out; there are other ways.💕🌻☯️

    Liked by 2 people

  29. This is great Janna. I love to read too. I haven’t read The Book of Forgiving, but I recently read The Book of Joy.
    I think you’ve written it very well. It has nothing to do with the other people. When I can to that place of understanding why they did what they did, I was no longer giving them any power. Sending you love and peace ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  30. I agree with you, Alexis. Though i’d rather use the word acceptance. I accept what happened, but i don’t forgive the people who caused it… but you did say understanding helped you accept, so i guess we’re on the same page.

    Liked by 3 people

  31. However we come to peace is the path. I come to forgiveness through understanding which is from books on brain science, attachment, psychology, health, Buddhism … Let’s just say I read a lot of books. ; ) One of the very best books I have found on forgiveness is The Book of Forgiving by Desmond Tutu. It is excellent. Forgiveness really has nothing to do with the other people. For me, it is understanding why people do what they do AND that it really didn’t have anything to do with me. Sending you love on your journey…

    Liked by 4 people

  32. Forgiveness is about giving up anger and hatred toward someone. Forgiveness in no way condones their actions; rather, forgiveness rises above their actions. Understanding is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and is a big part of forgiveness.

    Liked by 2 people

  33. Forgiveness is a struggle that most do not manage to overcomre. The journey being even more traumatic than the event I am glad you have found your way and that you can now be at peace.
    Sending you heartfelt hug s and best wishes on your victory. xx

    Liked by 3 people

  34. I think your point about letting go emotionally is really important, and it can take a lot of internal work to realize that’s just as valid a form of forgiveness as the definition that people more typically associate with the word.

    Liked by 3 people

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