Meaning Making


How does forgiveness play into trauma recovery?


 Forgiveness plays an incredibly complicated and sometimes contentious role in the traμma recovery. After experiencing traμma, it is not uncommon for people to tell you that forgiveness is the only path forward to recovery. However, this is not entirely true. 

The decision to forgive or not forgive is highly personal, and the broader role of forgiveness in recovery varies substantially. Studies show mixed findings as to whether forgiveness facilitates or hinders recovery after a traμmatic experience. 

Some research suggests that forgiving after abμse or viφlence fosters post-traμmatic growth. Other research, however, suggests that forgiveness can also be detrimental to recovery. How do we make sense of these conflicting messages? 

Perhaps it’s not the act of forgiving itself that facilitates healing, but what forgiveness provides to you as a survivor. What matters are the feelings and thoughts that lie beneath the surface and accompany your choice to forgive. 

Does forgiveness feel right to you? Is it necessary for your healing? The choice to forgive is often tied to your belief systems, the attitudes you hold, and your religious or cultural background. It also may be tied to your particular traμmatic circumstance (e.g. your relationship to the person who harmed you or how they responded to the harm caused).

For some, choosing to forgive a perpetrator can be a cathartic experience that helps “release” negative thoughts and debilitating feelings. For others, it can cause justified resentment or anger that can make their trauma feel unseen. For many, in their eyes, what happened to them is unforgivable—and that is okay. 

Overall, most survivors share that the most important forgiveness they learned to extend is to themselves. Survivors often feel guilt or shame for their traμma and the difficulties they experience afterward. You are not responsible for the things you experienced. Be gentle with yourself. 

Forgiveness looks different for everyone. While some may not choose to forgive, if you do, it does not make what the person did to you okay. It’s your choice to decide what role forgiveness will play (or not play) in your own recovery. You know yourself best. 

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