We all have issues from our past that still cause unwanted pain and suffering. These unresolved feelings are often manifested in various ways. Some people become angry, resentful and bitter and others become withdrawn, hopeless and helpless. Ultimately, we end up hurting ourselves by how we cope with these unresolved feelings, such as addiction, turning to or away from food, self-injury or isolating from others. Holding onto past hurts can cause tremendous anxiety and depression that come from feelings of hurt, shame and sometimes self-loathing. In working with individuals that have difficulty letting go, I have found that lack of forgiveness can cause a tremendous barrier to healing and recovery.
Forgiveness can mean different things for many of us. People automatically assume that forgiveness is about another person, that it is necessary so that they, the person that wronged you, can move on, feel better and forget about what happened. For others, forgiveness is about finding compassion for yourself. Most people spend their lives blaming, shaming and bullying themselves for things they have done or did not do in their lives.
So, the difficult question is often “to forgive or not to forgive”? When working with people in therapy, it can be helpful to weigh the pros and cons of this concept. If someone has hurt you, betrayed you, or wronged you in any way that you have found unforgivable, sometimes these questions are important to answer if true healing, and thus recovery, can happen. What do you think the effect of your not forgiving this person, or yourself, is costing you?
As mentioned earlier, holding onto past hurts can cause sadness, excessive ruminating about the past and also extreme anger and bitterness. People who have difficulty getting beyond these barriers to recovery, it is important to explore what forgiveness is and what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not forgetting what happened. It is not attempting to undo the past or denying your feelings about what happened, nor is it condoning or excusing what another person did to you. Forgiveness does not let the other person get away with what they’ve done and it doesn’t mean you have to have a relationship with the person that hurt you. Letting go of past hurts does not mean your hurt will automatically go away.
Most importantly, forgiveness is a process that must come authentically when you are ready. Forgiveness promotes well-being, feelings of tranquility and for some, compassion for yourself and others. So how does one do it? How do we find it in our hearts to just let it go? With this comes and understanding of what forgiveness is: it is something that you do for yourself, a choice and a necessary step in the process of healing. Accepting that the past cannot be changed and acknowledging your feelings, while finding self-compassion. Choosing forgiveness requires finding a place for willingness. Willingness is key in making room for forgiveness. Sometimes when we embrace our pain like we would embrace a child, we are able to find true compassion for ourselves and others. Willingness requires acceptance, which can be tremendously difficult. We do not always want to accept what is happened to us in the past because it is so painful. Willingness and acceptance is not always something that our minds control or fully under understands but the tremendous relief that forgiveness provides, can have profound and rippling affects.
Individuals, who have suffered extreme trauma, obviously will have a lot of emotional work to uncover. It is important to do so with a trained professional when the time is right. Simply saying that forgiveness will end pain and suffering would be minimizing, to say the least. It is important to have support when working through trauma. Through trauma work, individuals are able to find meaning in their story, while also finding forgiveness. When people realize that they are “not their story” and that the past is truly in the past, true compassion and healing can take place.
I have found both personally and professionally, that through compassion and forgiveness that gratitude can be activated. When we are able to find gratitude in the many little things in our lives, it is difficult to continue to hold on to anger and hurt. It is difficult to be angry and grateful simultaneously and it helps to reframe the way we look at things. When experiencing the calmness that comes from forgiveness, you may be able to find peace, joy, new insights, freedom and love. Having support is important when considering forgiveness and exploring the hurts of the past. Inner Door Center has many psychotherapists that are clinically trained in trauma work, substance abuse, depression, anxiety, mood and eating disorders.
So, have you made up your mind? Is forgiving yourself, or someone else, something you might want to do for yourself? If the answer is yes, remember forgiveness is a process and it does not happen overnight. Above all, forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself, not to someone else. What are you the steps that you need to take in order to forgive?
Inner Door Center is a JCAHO accredited eating disorder treatment center that offers multiple levels of care to fit your specific needs. If you, a loved one, or someone you know are suffering from an eating disorder, or any other mental health concern, please contact Inner Door Center at (248) 336-2868.
Written by Abby Kercorian, LMSW