Forgive and forget? We all have been faced with this challenge since the school yard. But what about the more serious long-lasting and long-reaching scars that linger into adulthood? Those who have experienced emotional abuse, physical abuse, or mental abuse may have different coping skills than others. They may even have had chemical changes in their brains due to severe trauma. As victims, or partners of victims of abuse, there are things we can do to heal.
Letting Go of the past is difficult for all of us, but people who suffered as children, before they could rationalize, before they could go off and be free-standing thinkers, had to rely on their abusers for survival. They were in a kind of prison that many of us cannot relate to. That is why it is so important to listen without judgment or interruption to friends, loved ones, or spouses who were abused without judgment or interruption. They just want their voice heard after years of being silenced.
I don’t think it is appropriate to tell someone who has been through such an ordeal to simply move on, drop it, or stop thinking about it. This only further invalidates that person, much the way the abusing family did. Many people who survived this kind of torture have post-traumatic stress syndrome, much like a war veteran or an earthquake victim. You may notice a startled response, or you may notice them being triggered by seemingly banal statements, smells, or other sense memory triggers. These people need our compassion — not lectures about religious faith or telling them to let go.
Of course, we all want to forgive and forget — it is part of the healing process — but survivors have their own timeline. Hopefully, they are working with professional therapists, reading self help books, and gaining affirmations.
These people need a safe place to vent, to rage, and to trust. It is always good if they follow a spiritual path, but they should not have to listen to that kind of ‘talk’ when they are in crisis. They need a good listener. Compassion is the key for those around us who have been marginalized or mistreated for years. Judgment is the opposite of compassion.