Forgiveness is a word that we hear thrown around a lot, but what does it really mean and how important is it in the context of trauma?
Typically, the word “forgiveness” is used to describe the arrival at a state of peace, that involves a letting go of anger and resentment towards someone who has harmed us. In the context of trauma, we tend to think of an abuser, perpetrator, or even an event. We also tend to talk about forgiving ourselves.
All of these ways of talking about trauma seem to elude to a particular trajectory with an endpoint where we are healed, calm and wise. Now I don’t doubt that this is possible, but I don’t think that forgiveness is an endpoint, a necessity or a feeling state that is static.
As humans we are fluid, dynamic beings who are in flux. We can feel many conflicting emotions at any given time, or alternating feelings from minute to minute. Our emotions cannot be tidily stored in a box or arrive at a finish line. Today we may forgive someone who has harmed us, tomorrow our rage may arise again. For years we may feel a sense of relief and of having moved on, and then suddenly another layer of our trauma is peeled back and we feel mired in darkness and uncertainty again. We may have a sense of compassion for a perpetrator and simultaneously feel anger towards them.
There seems to be a purity model that is associated with healing and moving forward. Society gives us the sense that we must cleanse ourselves of certain emotions or feeling states such as rage, animosity, or a desire for revenge.
Despite our society ascribing to very linear models of healing and growth, the reality is much messier. We create words to make sense of things, to ease our fear and our suffering, but at the end of the day these concepts cannot capture our inner process and the complexity of being human.