As we are processing the wounds from the past, the idea of "forgiveness" seems daunting. The word itself is not helpful — it is loaded, tinted with religious and moralistic associations, and unhelpfully vague. What does freeing ourselves from past wounds mean, and what does it entail?
Forgiving vs. Forgetting
First, forgiving is not forgetting.
In fact, forgetting is the antidote to forgiving.
By covering up our anger, prematurely moving into fake forgiveness, drowning our truths to protect others, letting go of our boundaries for surface harmony, we are bypassing an essential step in our attainment of emotional freedom.
Although we may temporarily feel relieved, the residue from past trauma will inevitably come back and haunt us when we least expect it to — addictions, compulsion, rage at those we love and care about. Or, in some insidious and invisible ways, our past wounds hide us from our potential and stop us from moving forward in life — through depression, allowing abuse, and the inability to stand up for oneself.
Though in reality the process is not linear, it might be helpful to break down what "forgiveness" or "releasing" is, not merely as a concept but as a step-by-step journey.
1. We face the truth — The ugly, painful, inconvenient truth.
2. We tell our story — We can start with one person, perhaps our therapist, or even our diary.
3. We give voice to anger — This is a difficult step for most of us because we have mistaken anger for disconnection, betrayal, or aggression. It is essential that we do not direct the anger back towards ourselves in the form of shame.
4. We grieve — The tunnel of grief is dark, but the light at the end is liberation.
5. We integrate our past into the present — We mature from a child-like mind to having a much more full and realistic vision of reality. We can see and hold both the good and the bad, the dysfunctions and the wisdom, the love and the hate, the anger, and the compassion.
6. Finally, we learn to be with our family as they are today — While apologies and redemption are not always possible, we can still learn to manage our emotional triggers, set healthy boundaries, and healthily relate to them in the present day.
Specifically, on Anger
Anger is one of the most challenging steps in this journey.
In contrast to the popular belief that says emotional freedom is being freed from "negative" emotions, liberation from our past is hardly possible without our willingness to embrace the whole spectrum of our feelings — even the ones we spent our entire life trying to do away with — anger, envy, grief, resentment, regret.
If we grew up in an environment where anger expression was forbidden, we learned to deny our feelings and repress our memories. Growing up, it was not safe to express our anger openly and outwardly, so we went inside with it, where it fermented and grew. We locked our resentment away because we were fearful of our rage. We feared being out of control.
But to release, we ought to reclaim rightful anger. Anger can be a healthy emotion if we relate to it as such. If we are not afraid to releasing it bit by bit, it won’t have to be built up to the point of explosion.
Anger is the other side of the passion that makes you feel alive. Shutting down the dark side of your emotions, you are also robbed of the joy and aliveness that is on the other side.
From now on:
When someone hurts you, see if you can feel angry instead of depressed.
When something unjust happens in the world, try to turn your anger into energy that propels action.
When someone crosses your boundaries, practice an assertive, healthy expression of anger.
“I am now allowing myself to feel the feelings I have never had before. I must listen to the child within me that was ignored. And if one of the feelings that comes to the surface is blame, then perhaps I can feel the anger behind the blame. And then the pain behind the anger. And the sadness behind the pain. And the acceptance that is rumoured to lie behind the sadness. And the hope behind the acceptance. So that someday I may have a chance at leading a contented life.’ — Dwight Lee Wolter
Seeing the Truth
True release starts with knowing our story, even when it means staring daringly at the cruelty, dysfunctions, and limitations of those who have hurt us.
We see how, unlike the superman or superwoman our childlike-self had wanted our parents to be, they are wounded, limited, and human.
They have acted out of their insecurities, projections, insecurities, trauma, and wounds, and those acts have wounded us.
They didn’t understand our intensity and said hurtful words that made us shrink. They felt threatened by what we saw and said and tried to stifle our voice. We were used to compensate for their un-lived lives. We had become the container for the anxiety that they could not bear.
Rather than deleting, bypassing, forgetting, or excusing the awfulness of it all, we see that our painful memories sit alongside all the happy moments, peace, and joy that we do have in life, and one does not negate the other.
We think not of elimination of our past hurt but of integrating our story as a part of us.
This is expansion, rather than contraction — we are expanding our capacity to hold paradoxes and opposites, rather than tightening to resist life.
We widen our circle of love, without shrinking into the position of a scared animal.
Once we have released our resentment, we can move through life with a sense of lightness and ease.
When something causes hurt now, we can hold both compassion for self and others in our heart, and we can stand up for ourselves without being aggressive to others.
When we again become confronted with our parents’ dysfunctions, we might be able to hold both their limitations and their love for us.
When people repeatedly let us down, we remember that we are no longer a helpless child, and could choose to take assertive actions, or walk away.
Rather than reacting, we patiently wait for our emotional wheel to turn, for the bad to become good, for the dawn after dusk.
We align with the narrative of a Phoenix rising from the fire, a heroic journey of a wounded soul rising to the occasion.
While in an ideal world we could all release past hurt as we could do with a hot air balloon, the reality gives a much more complex picture. It is multi-layered, three steps forward then two steps back. But the liberation and peace you will feel on the other side after this not-so-easy journey makes it all worthwhile.
“Last night I lost the world and gained the universe.” - C. JoyBell C.
Sally Edwards Counselling
I am a fully qualified counsellor based in Orpington, Kent
I work with clients with problems including: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, stress, low self-esteem, low self-confidence, identity issues, relationship problems, self-destructive behaviours, self-harm, childhood sexual abuse, sexual violence, domestic violence, domestic abuse, trauma, PTSD, eating disorders and body image problems.
I am easily accessible from local areas near me including Orpington, Bromley, Chislehurst, Petts Wood, Sidcup, Beckenham, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Knockholt, West Wickham, Chelsfield, Swanley and Bexley
Face-to-face in person or online counselling