The idea of forgiveness is a common place for people to hastily go to in the midst of a major tragedy, working through old wounds, or the emergence of new ones. However, as well intentioned as the sentiment is, it can actually be wounding in itself. Going straight to forgiveness for past wrong doings not only invalidates one’s feelings, but also has them continuously stuck in that same place whether they know it or not. Forgiveness often times acts as a sort of emotional bypass to somehow avoid addressing the profoundly painful feelings behind those wounds that so badly have to be dealt with in order to get to a place where you can actually let go and heal.
It is, in fact, acceptance rather than forgiveness that is the real goal in these moments, and in many ways one of the major goals of psychotherapy. Acceptance requires you to acknowledge that it happened to you and that it hurt – to, in other words, let yourself fully embody your feelings rather than shirk them away with the convenient notion of forgiveness. It means allowing yourself to really be with the pain that has altered your life forever – to validate yourself by acknowledging that you not only survived but that it is a large part of who you are today. Processing this pain is crucial for real healing to begin because it is the only path to learning how to control your feelings rather than letting them control you.
However, while acceptance is the larger goal, forgiveness can be an incredibly helpful tool to get you there. The most commonly deceiving part of forgiveness is when it becomes about the other, not about how you’re feeling. While it is an incredibly noble and admirable thing to be able to truly and honestly forgive an other, often times the person you’re needing to forgive the most is none other than yourself. For instance, one common obstacle in the way of acceptance is self-judgement (i.e. ‘I’m stupid for feeling this way,’ ‘I’m mad at myself,’ ‘I hate myself,’ etc.). Forgiving yourself for inflicting this internal self punishment puts you in place where you can stop beating yourself up, and start accepting what simply is and who you complexly are.
You are little more than the sum of your experiences and how you chose to hold those experiences within you moving forward. Denial, avoidance, or trying to downplay the pain serves you in a way that only holds you back. Acceptance means healing. Forgiveness means you’re worth healing.