PTSD Recovery and Forgiveness: Release Your Vendetta
During my PTSD recovery, I had to wrangle with the idea of forgiveness. How to - and in fact, do you - forgive someone for the trauma they impose on your life? Whether what caused your trauma was premeditated or inadvertent how much and for how long and when is it appropriate to forgive -- or not?
When I was a child, a doctor, purely through his own negligence, drastically altered and forever impacted the course of my life. You see, he didn't read my chart before prescribing a medication that turned me into the equivalent of a full-body burn victim and nearly killed me. Yes, you could say it was a mistake; we're all human. But I never felt like it was an honest mistake. He didn't do his best and just not see the horror coming. He didn't do anything and allowed the horror to descend on me.
Forgiveness In PTSD Recovery Is A Personal Decision
I've read many positions on the idea of forgiveness in trauma recovery. Some people say you have to do it first, right away, or else you can't hope to recover. Others say to do it at the end. Still others say whenever it feels right to you - but it does have to be done. I say, you can heal whether or not you forgive, although forgiving can make healing happen more easily and efficiently.
Let's clarify: Forgiveness is the act of releasing your vendetta. It still holds the person accountable for wrongdoing and offers and allows ZERO excuses for their behavior. In effect, what forgiveness does is release you from spending the rest of your life holding a grudge that both consciously and subconsciously can gnaw away at you.
In my own case, I forgave the doctor. At first, I didn't exactly feel the forgiveness; it was more an intellectual process of saying, "He's only human -- a sloppy, careless and negligent human, but human nonetheless." I didn't forgive him for him. I forgave him for me. I didn't want to spend my life toting around my anger and outrage, or my grief.
As a 13 year old kid at the time of my trauma his negligence stole from me the opportunity to become the adult I might have been, to have the family or career I might have developed, or anything that I would have experienced if I had escaped trauma and PTSD. The grief and anger that I carried for years about what happened to me physically, emotionally and mentally depleted me. I forgave to give myself a chance to live in freedom. When I reached freedom that's what I felt the forgiveness in both my body as well as my mind.
Is Forgiveness Appropriate in Your PTSD Recovery?
When you consider whether or not forgiveness is appropriate in your recovery journey consider:
- how much not forgiving impacts your life. How much anger, frustration, rage, sadness, grief, etc. that you feel is tied to the person who wronged you?
- how much holding on to all of that is holding you back.
- how you could forgive and simultaneously hold that person accountable.
- how long you're willing to hold on to the vendetta when the person it is most hurting is you.
When it comes to forgiveness only do what feels right to you when it feels right to you. This is your recovery. You know better than anyone when you're ready and for what.
What's your take on the forgiveness conundrum? Share your thoughts with me ....
Rosenthal, M. (2013, May 1). PTSD Recovery and Forgiveness: Release Your Vendetta, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, February 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2013/05/ptsd-recovery-and-forgiveness
Author: Michele Rosenthal
Hi I'm Laura m-52 I've been married 32 years I would say 85% was crazy and something strange to you he's different I was young and dumb and I was raised in an abusive home and here I am I got angry about age 48 okay interesting you mention 48 I have A2 respect for what you saying to be a part of you that is never going to be as vulnerable as you were and the in love saying what about trust I used to think that was just really done what he just did I don't think that I was angry and then when I was about 48 I had lived in fear manipulation too long and because I wanted to change or else seems like he changed you got new friends he's made different decisions he talked clearly with me about what it was like what he's done and I appreciated it well I wish I could be free completely a couple of days not too long ago I said is this trust being content in this relationship and then he did something that reminded me he didn't actually do anything just something that reminded me and I I was back I slipped I heard sirens like the ship was going to go down give me all the power you got kind of the feeling came over me I tried it respond fight or flight reflex is I guess scared that it was going to happen and then I felt ripped off because I've been so close to and 3 it was because of the long extended period not seeing your full name and then tell him that I like him back trauma seems to be my middle name and I'm a Christian Hope Springs Eternal thank you Lord I hope not I can live where I want to live the three person that I always saw myself as in Jesus not the person carrying a big bag trauma I understand completely really I don't get it I think it's self preserving I mean the fight or flight reflex is a kickoff and I don't know that it's self-inflicted I be worried that it's related to unforgiveness I used to be so nice I used to be so naive
I think it's possible to not linger in resentment and anger and still not forgive.
My husband did something to me that caused PTSD. I have forgiven him for one of those things but never will the other.
I don't think about not being able to forgive often, it just is. There will always be a little piece of me that he doesn't have though, because of what happened.
He doesn't get my anger and resentment, he does get a person that will never be 100% vulnerable with him again though.
He may be ok with this. I'm still deciding if I am ok with not being "All-in" in a romantic relationship.
@Stephaniec -- I totally agree! Your illustration underscores the point of how forgiveness absolutely must be a personal decision, and there are many ways to move forward regardless of what we each decide. Thanks for sharing that!
For so long I kept the abuse hidden. My parents told me pretend it never happened, so I did. Anytime a flashback happened I just pushed it down. At the age of 47 I had a mental breakdown and finally dealt with it. I had to forgive for me but it was hard. My parents did what they thought was best- I can say that now after 3 years of treatment. It was about a year before I forgave them. My brother is another story. Everyday I forgive him but its still an on going proceess. I forgive so I don't carry arpund the guilt and the shame. I also forgave myself because I did nothing wrong-that also took time.
@Otelia - You point out an important fact: forgiving ourselves does take a long time, even when we are not to blame. I like the way it sounds like you're pacing everything, which really allows you to be more and more in control.
This is the first time I have related to your experience, Michelle. My introduction to you and your writing about your experience was reading an article you wrote about recovering something about buying a new house and taking salsa lessons (this is from memory).
I was like - are you kidding me? My trauma took EVERYTHING away from me. No house, no money, no family of my own and a child born of rape/sexual abuse.
So, I could not relate - at all. I get your newsletter and sometimes I get a little something out of guest posts but because of that first article I read I recoiled from the thought of ever reading your book.
But, I related to this article. Because, forgiveness IS a personal choice. And, those who were in my life who could not understand that have been cut out of my life. When I discussed the legal disaster and personal pain I have lived with for over 30 years they would say "F**K HIM!" meaning I should no longer have any thoughts concerning him in my mind even thought he never went to prison for what he did to me and what he has done to my son (28 now), who now is treated with HALDOL for severe emotional problems.
And, recently, I have realized the same thing that you express in this piece of writing. Every thing I put out comes back to me, regardless. But, I only realize this because the mental injury is beginning to heal through very hard work on my part and dedicated healing professionals that have worked with me over the years. But, it gives me hope that in time I will heal and feel joy even thought right now I'm being treated for major depression.
Despite all of that, I heard you, I got it and it gives me hope.
New York, NY
@BAB -- I'm so glad you stuck with me! I can imagine that a new house and salsa lessons sounded ridiculous. Of course, those things came at the tail end of 10 years of hard work in the PTSD recovery process, all of which is outlined in my book, BEFORE THE WORLD INTRUDED, which covers my trauma, my descent into PTSD, over two decades of coping with PTSD, and then clawing my way back out.
Here's to hope, and hearing what we need when we need it, plus having the grace to allow some new thought to come inside. I admire your consciousness. Onward toward freedom...
As the victim of sexual trauma as a child, I am bothered when people say that I need to forgive the abuser in order to heal. You have not conveyed this message, but I have heard or read this perspective with "should" attached to it countless times. It is frustrating and confusing. One of the most liberating and empowering moments of my healing process arose when a therapist at an outpatient therapy program for women (who had suffered from childhood sexual trauma, varying degrees of PTSD, dissociative identity disorder, and/or rape as adults) told a group of us that we did not have to forgive our abusers or rapists. She was very blunt: "No, you don't have to if you don't want to. It's your choice." Some women in this program had been stuck on this idea of forgiveness and unable to move forward. Acceptance, working through and releasing anger and resentments, letting go of self-blame and shame, self-forgiveness, self-responsibility, self-compassion, unconditional self-love have all been essential to my healing process. Acknowledging, validating, and feeling the painful feelings that I had feared and avoided for years has been essential to my healing process. But this idea of forgiving the abuser? This belief by some in the healing community that this type of forgiveness is a crucial or necessary part of healing can be harmful and counterproductive for victims. It makes me angry when I think about the women who have struggled and agonized over this issue until someone finally them "permission" to let go of this idea of the need to forgive their abuser or rapist. It's time the healing community came up with an alternative approach or explanation to this part of the healing process. I can forgive people for backing into my car, pushing me aside to get through the checkout line first, screaming at me for whatever reason they had, lying, stealing, name-calling, cheating, and other actions. I am overflowing with empathy, compassion, love, and forgiveness for humanity. But I do not need to forgive an abuser or a rapist to live a joy-filled, peace-filled, beauty-filled,and love-filled life. It is my hope that more people will see this issue from this perspective rather than preach the "should-forgive" perspective on healing from trauma.
@Rebecca - Terrific assessment and very insightful. And you're deepening what I hoped to convey in the piece: none of us necessarily need to forgive; it's up to us to decide.
I can certainly understand your frustation. You have every right to be annoyed with those forcing their views on you. Nobody has walked in your shoes so they should not presume that they have all the answers for you. You "must" do what you need to do for your own recovery. You are right - it truly is your choice to forgive or not.
But for those who may not understand the therapeutic effects that forgiveness can have, here are my thoughts:
I have never had to deal with anything that comes even close to what you have experienced in your life, but I have been associated with a number of people, including my husband, who are suffering from PTSD after serving time both at home and overseas with the military. Their traumatic experiences are truly varied and what causes PTSD in one individual has little or no negative effect on others. What I have noticed in those suffering PTSD, those feeling powerless, angry, and resentful, or have hot buttons that brings the traumatic memories rushing into the forefront, they seem to have a more difficult time with the idea of forgiveness. This may be in part due to the fact that they don't really understand what it means to forgive, how and why to forgive or the negative impact that un-forgiveness may have on their physical and mental well-being. In fact I don't know if any of them have even given much thought to forgiving those responsible for their trauma.
I would never presume to dictate that forgiveness is a "required" element of anyone's recovery but I would suggest it as another tool that may or may not be helpful. I would encourage them, if they hadn't already done so, to investigate what forgiveness is really all about and to understand the benefits it may have for them. Forgiveness can be a difficult drawn out process that may need a counsellor to assist, but the choice should be left to the individual if and when the time is right.
Everyone must make their own journey and it looks like you are well on your way to the good life. Congratulations Rebecca. Thank you so much for sharing.
i have found i've forgiven everyone but myself....that is the most difficult...
@Pish -- That was the hardest part for me, too! I had to develop a lot of self-love and compassion. We give that to others so easily. Why is it so hard to do for ourselves?
When I came to understand that forgiveness was for me, not necessarily my rapist and certainly not for what he did to me, I was able to begin the discernment of what forgiviness is all about. It is not an easy concept to get your head around and even when you do, your heart doesn't want to follow. So I have argued with myself, my intelligence vs my heart, for some time now. It isn't something you can decide in one day--OK, I forgive you now. Rather, I have found forgiveness to be a kind 'becoming aware' of less pain as I continue along in my healing, my journey to who I want to be, to who I was meant to be. From this point forward, it is in how I allow myself to react to the remembered trauma. I wish for all of us to find a place of serenity in our minds and our hearts. God's Peace> Sandy
@Sandy -- Forgiveness can be very confusing because we immediately think of how it benefits others. It took me a while to realize the full benefit was for me. Wonderful description of the 'becoming aware' idea. What a meaningful way of looking at and experiencing it.