Forgiveness in Trauma Recovery

Forgiveness is the domain of priests.   It’s also centered in the common language of abusers and their apologists.  When it comes to trauma, we don’t come to the idea of forgiveness untarnished.  There’s absolutely nothing new in the suggestion to forgive, save another opportunity for us to own more deeply what was done to us.  We’ve heard it before through a thousand forms of feedback–given out of love or exasperation–that all boil down to a single simple ultimatum: let it go, just let it go.  We’ve tried that.  But, trauma is tarry and clings to the inside of things and will not just let go.

Something similar to forgiveness might come as a byproduct of deep healing.  When it comes, it comes to you.  There is nothing that you can do to hasten it, other than to find ways to start reprocessing your trauma sooner.  In my EMDR work with clients, I have seen it come to clients after many reprocessing sessions wrapped inside a new perspective like when a client says: “As I play that memory now, I’m noticing how young my mother looks in it.  I’m seeing that she’s just a kid… kind of like I am at that time… of course she didn’t know how to take care of me.  How could she?”  Such revelations are often interesting to clients.  But, they’re not particularly common, nor are they necessary.

So much of trauma therapy and recovery involves attaching blame and shame where they belong.  We spend a lot of time helping clients process emotions and sensations that are the opposite of forgiveness–hard and difficult things that are often essential parts of the unburdening process.  In EMDR, we never use interweaves like: “just let that go,” “imagine forgiving him,” or “can you see it from his perspective?”  Never.  EMDR does not require forgiveness in order for deep healing to occur.  If anything, it’s skeptical of it if it comes too early, too strongly, or too overtly.

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