You don’t need “forgiveness” for having experienced or survived trauma.
But— sometimes it’s helpful to use that language with ourselves, because we FEEL like we need forgiveness.
We might “know” that we weren’t fundamentally “bad” when we were growing up— but we might FEEL like we were bad because we failed to “earn” the love and protection we very much needed.
When kids don’t get what we need growing up, we tend to blame ourselves.
When we’re kids, we kind of assume everything’s about us.
The very process of growing up itself is kind of about learning, often the hard way, that the world DOESN’T revolve around us— that NOT everything is either our fault or our responsibility- and, in the best of all possible worlds, we get the emotional support and attention we need to deal with that fact.
But what happens when we don’t get that emotional support or attention?
What happens if, instead of emotional support and attention, we’re ignored or neglected— or physically, verbally, or otherwise abused?
Not only do we then have the aftereffects of trauma to deal with— but we never quite learn that lesson that not everything is about us.
We continue thinking that everything IS about us— including the pain we’ve experienced.
Unless something big changes, we can often carry that believe into adult life.
Many survivors reading this know what it’s like to feel that EVERYTHING is our fault— and EVERYTHING is our responsibility.
Letting ourselves off the hook not only feels wrong— it feels dangerous.
Being kind and fair to ourselves feels like a trap.
It’s not that we truly think we’re the center of the universe— most often, in fact, trauma survivors struggle to believe we even exist outside of the perceptions and expectations of other people.
It’s that we’ve been programmed to believe that if we— or even someone around us (or sometimes even someone we don’t know!) is experiencing pain or inconvenience, it’s probably our fault.
We’ve also been programmed to believe that, even if we can’t quite identify how or why it’s our fault that something bad is happening or being felt, it’s our responsibility to do something about it…which then runs headlong into our difficulty believing that we truly CAN do ANYTHING about ANYTHING.
The belief system that trauma stamps on our nervous system is such a scam.
It can be hard to, in recovery, wrap our mind around the idea that we’re not at fault for or responsible for everything bad that has ever happened in our lives (or in the universe throughout time).
We can take realistic responsibility for situations to which we contributed.
We can take action to change our beliefs, feelings, and behaviors. This isn’t about denying and disowning responsibility that IS ours.
This is about getting real about the fact that we are not fundamentally “bad” because we failed to make everything okay growing up.
You don’t need forgiveness for that because there’s nothing to forgive. Really.
But— if the kid inside your head and heart needs to hear it— tell them you forgive them.
You forgive them for not living up to standards no kid, anywhere, at any time, should have been asked to live up to.
You forgive them for not being an adult, with an adult’s intellect, perspective, and behavioral options, when you were a kid.
You can forgive the kid you once were for being the kid you once were.
All they ever needed to be WAS that kid.
All you ever needed to be was you. Not the savior or scapegoat of your family.
You weren’t the reason the abuse happened. Not the way you looked; not anything you did.
If you choose to use the language of self-forgiveness in your recovery, be sure to add to caveat that such forgiveness is your birthright— because there is truly nothing to forgive.
One thought on “Maybe there’s nothing to forgive yourself for.”
Thank you for your generous writings, Doc. This is core stuff. Wow. On point! 🙌 So helpful!🏄♂️❤️🎶👏
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