Tammie Lesesne, MA, LPC
Many of us were raised with messages like “To err is human, to forgive divine” (Alexander Pope); “Forgiveness is the final form of love” (Reinhold Neibuhr); “Forgiveness is God’s command” (Martin Luther); Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong” (Gandhi).
When forgiveness was extended to Dylann Roof by some family members of those murdered at Mother Emmanuel AME Zion Church, the world was incredulous at their depth of faith, especially as that forgiveness wasn’t requested.
I’ve come to believe that real forgiveness isn’t an act or even a process, it is a body-mind-spirit state of being. Achieving that state isn’t facile work when the hurt is profound – especially if the transgressor denies responsibility and escapes consequences. So I believe the real task is about our own healing, which may lead to forgiveness.
I’m often asked if I think we must forgive those who caused profound suffering. That, to me, is a very individual journey. Here are two stories of betrayal trauma (wounding at the hands of someone who is supposed to love and protect) – which is perhaps the hardest to heal and forgive.
One amazing client, “Sally,” was molested by her bullying, shaming stepfather when she was 8-14 years old. Her mother couldn’t face the truth of her husband’s cruel betrayal. Sally’s core spirit even then was kind, as she focused on protecting her younger sister.
Through therapy, guided meditation, prayer, and understanding the somatic response to trauma, she learned to handle her physiological and emotional triggers, came to believe in hers rights, grew spiritually, and found her suppressed voice. One day she phoned her step father. With firmness, clarity and even compassion, she said, “I’m going to tell you what you did to me, and you are going to listen.” She described what she had endured, how it had affected her, then declared, “I am giving this back to you to figure out how to heal yourself.” Her stepfather broke down, and actually asked for forgiveness.
This amazing woman entered a body-mind-spirit state of being in which she held her wounds with tenderness, yet freed from living in victimhood. When she had truly entered that state, “Sally” moved naturally into forgiveness.
Some wounds are so shattering that forgiveness is an oppressive goal. “James” was molested from ages 4-6 by a priest who had ingratiated himself into his family. Secondary traumas such as being bullied in school flowed from his resultant “weird” behaviors. This smart, sensitive man now in his 40s is still plagued by nightmares, self-loathing and other persistent PTSD symptoms.
Reintegrating his fractured ego is a slow, challenging process, with many stumbling blocks (marginal work performance due to focus issues, relationship triggers, etc). For now, he can ask that a higher power be in charge of the question of forgiveness
Belleruth Naparstek, HealthJourneys.com: A Meditation to Help With Anger and Forgiveness.Steven Levine, Anchor Books: Guided Meditations, Explorations and Healings Peter Levine, SoundsTrue.com: Healing Trauma