Is Forgiveness Necessary to Heal Hurt or Trauma?

Often when working with people I hear, “I guess I need to forgive …”.  This may surprise you, but forgiveness is not necessary to heal from significant trauma, nor is it a requirement for moving forward with your life. Some believe that there are things only a higher power can forgive. Others, including many therapists, disagree with this statement. Be that as it may, I have seen healing from immense difficulties where traditional forgiveness has not been part of the solution.

How Forgiveness and Healing Works (and Doesn’t)

  • In some circles it is thought that in order to forgive someone they need to be aware that they have hurt you and be remorseful for what they have done. We all know people that have hurt us or others that quite frankly do not care what they have done, let alone feel remorseful about it. So where does that leave a person that believes that forgiveness is necessary to heal?
  • Forgiving someone does not mean that their future behaviour will change or that anything will change with the offender.
  • Forgiving someone does not mean that the relationship with the person will get better. Past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour.

Healing is about moving on, moving past, or moving through the pain. It is not about minimizing the impact of someone else’s behaviour or saying it didn’t matter. Healing is about understanding what happened and making sense of who you are relative to the hurt. Healing is about forgiving yourself and letting go of the anger, grief or resentment.  Healing is about disconnecting from the past.

In my practice I use EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to help people let go of the anger, grief and related feelings associated with hurt and significant trauma. I tell clients that the goal at the end of EMDR is the ability to say, “that was bad and I am okay”. Healing from the past takes courage and perseverance. Forgiveness is not a requirement for the journey.

Listening. Guiding. Caring.