Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting. Neither does it mean what happened is acceptable. It means that we have moved from the paralyzing place of total fear, through icy denial and fiery anger, into a space of releasing enough hate and guilt to be able to start to take back our power, and love ourselves again.
“When trust is broken from an assault of any type,” says Sharon Aden, lead counselor at Buncombe County’s Our VOICE, “the world becomes unsafe. People are unsafe. One has to get to the point where they understand the forgiveness is for themselves, to be able to let go, and accept the other person is human.”
Forgiveness is just one piece of the puzzle
In her work with Our VOICE, a non-profit agency offering support, advocacy and education to victims of sexual violence and human trafficking, Sharon has seen how forgiveness is a journey, not a destination, and says, “It’s never a ‘once and done’ thing. It’s a process. Some people are ready to start working on the trauma right after an incident. Others, like a child who was sexually traumatized, may have kept it secret for decades. Their readiness to work could depend on a person’s relationship with the perpetrator – a relative? A trusted family friend, coach, teacher or priest? All that plays into when and how healing can begin.
“At the time of trauma, our rational brain doesn’t function. The brain goes into fight, fright, or freeze mode. Feelings are activated SO strongly, and may get submerged. It might not be until later on that a smell or sound triggers a horrific memory. Some people might be triggered by a wall the same color as in the place where the trauma happened. The scent of aftershave might activate it, or glimpsing someone who has a resemblance.”
Whatever activates a traumatic memory, Sharon offers tools to help people regain emotional balance. “When we’re triggered, we start shallow breathing. Take a deep breath in. Take a quick look at your surroundings. If you’re in a room with a picture, find five red things. Touch different textures in the room. All of these instantly ground us into the present. The trauma isn’t happening now.”
Sharon stresses that forgiveness does not diminish the atrocity of what happened. “Sexual abuse is a death in a way – a part of you dies. Your ideal of what life was going to be, all the hopes and dreams; those plans die. It’s a different world, and you have to figure out how you fit into it now.”
Forgiveness is just one piece of the puzzle, Sharon said. There are other layers of healing that are done when we move forward, towards