On Trauma and Forgiveness
I have had a deep trauma in experiencing physical abuse in my former marriage. I am worried that forgiveness will open the wound again, something I certainly do not want. What do you suggest?
When you forgive, you do not have to re-visit the details of the physical abuse. Forgiveness asks you to label what happened as wrong. You will have no problem in so identifying what you experienced. Once you label the behaviors as wrong, you then make a decision about whether or not to forgive: to examine the one who abused you as a person (not evil incarnate), to be open to softer emotions toward him, to offer mercy. None of these developments ask you to go back in time to visualize the trauma.
At times, some people need to go back to examine whether or not what happened to them was, in fact, unjust. For example, an adult brother yelled at his adult sister, but it was in a context of her pushing him very hard regarding how he handles his finances. This occurred at a time of high pressure for him. She at first thought what he did was insensitive and hurtful. Yet, she was not sure and so she examined the experience in more detail. Upon doing so, she realized that she played a large part in his frustration and decided not to forgive because he had an extenuating circumstance concerning his behavior. Yes, some people still would choose to forgive, but she did not. She came to the decision by careful examination of the event.
This is not the case for you. You know the abuse was wrong and so you can take the next step of deciding whether or not to forgive without examining any of the details of what happened.
Editor’s Note: Learn more about the process of choosing to forgive in Dr. Enright’s self-help book Forgiveness Is a Choice.