You have to forgive the people who hurt you & other myths about healing from trauma


November 4, 2017

By Jordan Pickell

I am here to tell you that you probably have some ideas about healing that are just completely wrong. These beliefs may have come from pop culture, religion, your parents, even your therapist. Basically, if you assume that in order to heal, you must do x, y, z, even though that doesn’t quite resonate for you, you might end up feeling triggered, frustrated, and stuck. Let’s debunk 5 myths that might be getting in your way of recovering from trauma.

Myth #1: There is only one way to heal from trauma.

The people around you may offer unsolicited advice and judgement about what you need to do and when you need to do it. When you imagine healing, what does that look like? What does it feel like? Does it mean understanding what happened to you, or knowing how to cope when you are feeling triggered, or re-committing to yourself and your vision for your life? Or maybe none of those ways of understanding healing fit for you. It is vital to connect with others and learn what has worked for them, but in the end, you have your own process and your own timing. What worked for someone else may not resonate with you.

Myth #2: You have to tell the trauma story.

Because of what we have seen in the movies, people often dread coming to counselling because they think therapy is all about telling the trauma story, as if once they get it all out, they will be able to put what happened behind them. This is not only untrue, but when stories are told without a sense of emotional safety, it can be damaging. When you talk about the details of what happened, and you are flooded with the images, smells, sounds and body sensations of the trauma, your brain responds as if it is happening right now; you are re-living the violence. This kind of storytelling escalates trauma-related symptoms. It does not lead to healing. Of course, in a world that silences and discredits survivors of violence, speaking our truths can be incredibly empowering. Telling your story may be a huge part of your healing process. But when we feel pressured to tell our story, or if we re-live the trauma when we tell it, talking about what happened is not helping us.

Myth #3: If you don’t talk about it, it will go away.

The flip side of feeling compelled to tell the trauma story is when people believe that if they do not tell anyone, it will be like it never happened. Of course, the trauma did happen and it can impact you regardless if you acknowledge it out loud or not. It is understandable that sometimes people want to try to forget about it and move on. But often, it is just not that simple. Again, there is more than one way to heal. Some people recover from trauma without ever putting their experience into words. But, when we push down our pain, it can have the opposite effect. What happened can feel increasingly horrifying and unspeakable. By acknowledging what happened to you to a supportive listener, the trauma begins to lose some of its power. Healing from trauma is possible. You do not have to suffer in silence with the desperate hope that it will go away on its own.

Myth #4: Being triggered means you were wrong about the progress you have made.

You might feel like you have done a lot of work and then something happens, something is triggered, an old hurt reveals itself again and you think, Really? I thought I was over this. You might see healing as a mountain you have to climb, and you have now tumbled back down the mountain. While it’s true that healing looks different for everyone, one thing is for sure: healing from trauma doesn’t happen in a straight line. When you are triggered, it does not mean you are back at square one. You deepen your self-understanding and you become more aware of what is happening when you are triggered. You get a better idea of what you need to do to address it. You have developed strategies for re-gaining a sense of calm. Also, at different times in your life, a different piece of how you were hurt may reveal itself, asking for attention. Sometimes, people’s bodies and brains shut down overwhelming feelings until they have developed the ability to cope. To put it simply, you are now strong enough to withstand and address the emotions. When feelings and memories re-surface, it can actually mean you have reached a new stage of your healing process.

Myth #5: You have to forgive the people who hurt you.

You might receive messages from your family or your friends or your religion, even your therapist or treatment program that you must forgive the person or people who caused you pain. For some people, offering forgiveness can feel incredibly freeing. It can be an important step for healing. However, true forgiveness comes from within. It cannot be forced. Saying you forgive someone because you feel pressured is not forgiveness and it will not make you feel better. There are many reasons why people might try to pressure you to say you forgive, and most of them are not about supporting you in your healing. Sometimes it is actually about how your trauma inconveniences them. They just want to return to a sense of normalcy with the family or friend group. They want to evade holding people accountable for the harm they have done. If you are not able to forgive the people that hurt you, that is not some moral failing. In fact, it can be a form of resistance, of holding on to the fact that what the person did was not okay. Bottomline: forgiveness is not required for healing.

Do you find yourself believing in one or more of these myths about healing? If so, reach out to a counsellor to further unpack these ideas and how they might be playing out in your life.

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