Developing Spirituality For Trauma Survivors – Part

In my last newsletter, I gave you some ideas about defining yourself and your spirituality, I mentioned the 8 positive qualities that Dr. George Valliant states make up an internal state that we can think of as “spiritual”. These spiritual qualities are: gratitude, equanimity, awe/wonder, joy, compassion, love & forgiveness. While last month we discussed a new twist on a traditional gratitude exercise, this month, I wanted to explore the concept of forgiveness and the role it plays in your emotional sobriety.

The Importance of Forgiveness

The concept of forgiveness is a good one and yet the practice of it is not easy for most of us. It is a crucial part of a good recovery plan and one that will ultimately lead to more peace of mind and better relationships. Let’s begin with the definition that forgiveness is “to cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one’s enemies”. Since resentments are “the number one offender” for risk of relapse, then clearly, there is a sort of urgency about getting the idea of forgiveness translated into everyday behavior.

What Forgiveness Is And What It Is Not

The struggle many people have with forgiveness stems from a false belief that by forgiving, it gives a free ride to the offender. That is not true. What forgiveness does is set us free – it is an act of liberation of the self. Forgiveness is, first and foremost, a shift in consciousness. This shift has a huge impact on our well being. We cannot stay ‘stuck’ in hurt and quietly resent the offending party without it having a negative impact on our emotional, psychological and physical health. In fact, there is enormous medical evidence that indicates holding a grudge is a source of chronic stress and leads to increasing rates of cardio-vascular and gastro-intestinal problems. There is a saying that the alcoholic who drinks because they’re angry at someone with the attitude of “I’ll show you”, is “drinking poison and hoping someone else will die”. No one else is as damaged by our unresolved hurt and anger as we are.

Self – Forgiveness

I’m a big believer that we need to practice what we preach. If we can begin to soften the harsh critic within ourselves and be more forgiving of our own shortcomings – than we can feel that way towards others as well.

In a research study of women who had recently left abusive relationships who were given either forgiveness training or assertiveness training, which group do you think did better? Yes, you guessed it! The group who were given forgiveness training did much better – they had less PTSD, and did better physically and emotionally and were more motivated to make positive change in their lives.


So, how do we learn to forgive – ourselves and others?

1. Be honest about the toll that the grudge you are holding on to is having on you. How much time does it consume? How much sleep do you lose? How much extra food do you eat or deny yourself? Acknowledge you’re angry. Learn ways to express this anger in non-harmful ways. You can write a letter to someone you are angry at that you will never send. Say everything that comes to mind – do not censor yourself – get it all off your chest. Then destroy the letter.

2. Ask yourself about your grievance story? What do you tell yourself over and over again that keeps you in a victim mode? Being a victim means believing there is nothing you can do to affect a change in your life. Write out your story and get as clear as you can about it. Know what it is that you say to yourself – make it conscious.

3. Change your story – from victim to victor. Instead of getting stuck in the idea of ‘bad luck’, begin to explore what positive things you have received from the most difficult experiences you are struggling with. You want to help yourself make the transformation from helplessness to someone who recognizes that bad things happen to good people and difficult situations can be overcome. Maybe you are more resilient, more compassionate or wiser because of what happened. Focus on that. Make a list of positive qualities, states of mind, and/or ideas that you have acquired as a result of the offence. Come to understand that you play a responsible part in your life story.

4. Work on the developing empathy and compassion for the person who harmed you. Alice Miller, a respected psychoanalyst said, “No one abuses who has not themselves been abused”. This is not to say that abuse is ok – far from it. In fact, if there is abuse, you need to find a way to keep yourself safe. It’s just that the majority of people who hurt others, were hurt in the same or similar ways. Visualize yourself triumphing over them and in your mind’s eye, see yourself cutting the cord of anger that keeps you attached to the offender. Let them go and free yourself.

5. Celebrate your courage in saving yourself from a life of misery and choosing instead to live a life of spirituality, filled with awe, wonder, joy, happiness and love.

Until next time, I wish you all the best on your journey through life.

Sue Diamond Potts

This newsletter is meant to provide you with information and tips for improving yourself. It is not meant as a substitute for therapy or counselling. Please feel free to forward a copy of Emotional Sobriety Matters (in its’ entirety) to others who may be interested in personal development.

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