When we experience some form of trauma, whether that is a big event or a building up over time of small traumas, the end result is an effect on both sides of our brain. The way we often process trauma both effects the feelings and emotions side but also effects and distorts our thinking about ourselves and the those events. Often traumas create a disconnect between the two hemispheres of the brain and there often can develop a level of conflict internally. This conflict often develops as a result of wanting to be a version of yourself that you currently are not. When we struggle to accept who we are, perhaps because that view of ourselves brings about negative feelings we can wish to be someone else. The trauma might lead us to believe that we are weak, that being victimized is our own fault, that things will never change or improve for us.
Often traumas in our lives make it hard to be honest with ourselves so we focus on who we think we “should” be or should have been during the event. We can review and replay the event in our mind again and again, trying to imagine how we should have handled the situation better. And while this is a natural coping mechanism to try and learn from the past event, in order to not replicate it, often our replaying of events stems from and increases personal shame. When we operate from that place of shame, it may change behavior temporarily, but usually when we live out of shame, the negative thoughts and feelings associated with that shame do not lead to lasting or healthy changes to either our self-perception or our behaviors. Shame often drives behaviors underground, and yet we’re still left with a wound that won’t heal, so we often look for other sources of comfort to alleviate the suffering we experience. This looks different for different people, but often takes the form of food, drink, shopping, serial romantic relationships and other behaviors to give us a sense of momentary relief.
Instead of looking for relief through different behaviors, we actually need to assess and change the distorted thinking patterns as well gain empathy and understanding of one’s emotions. And the thing that brings both our thoughts and emotions back into congruity with one another is forgiving yourself. What often happens in traumas is a self-condemnation that can present as shame. We look at the version of ourself who was abused with contempt and frustration, “why wasn’t I stronger?”, “why didn’t I see that coming?” “why did I trust her/him?” Behind these questions is an admittance that we weren’t good enough, prepared enough, or strong enough, and that’s the reason that the trauma happened.
This self-contempt is powerful and paralyzing. Staying in this place makes it hard to move forward, to trust ourselves in the future, or trust others. The way out of this is the process of self-forgiveness. You need to no longer hold the event against yourself. You must let go of the accusations, the condemnation, and the shame attached to it in order to find healing and growth. Notice that forgiveness here isn’t about forgiving and forgetting, it is about no longer being attached to what we think is owed, or in the case of forgiving yourself it is about becoming dis-attached to who I think I should have been in that moment. This leads to being able to accept ourselves as we truly are, the good the bad and the in-between. It also allows us to make choices for ourselves in the future not out a place of lack which often leads to reactive type decisions, but a place of contentment and fullness which allows us to choose a path forward from an intentional and proactive place. We can choose how to proceed from a place of freedom rather than emotional self-coercion.
The process of self-forgiveness is often neither quick nor easy, but does allow for you to no longer be beholden to the past trauma and the feelings attached to not being enough.