This was a question that again came into focus as I talked with an old client I hadn’t seen in many years. Deep woundings of the psyche can fester for years, and probably even lifetimes. They are like the deeply entrenched psychic tattoos that simply don’t go away. And so how can we heal these wounds – can they even be healed? Or do they just scar over as we try to move on with our lives? Sometimes we see individuals who are so scarred, and therefore so armoured, that the scarring interferes with their abilities to have and to hold close and intimate relationships.
I think these are deeply personal soul issues that shape our lives, and so of course there is no easy answer. However, as a therapist I am always interested in how we can come into a different relationship with these old wounds so as to free the individual and help them move into an easier flow with life and with significant others.
To forgive or not to forgive? How do you forgive an atrocity or horrible abuse? Somehow we have this notion that if we forgive someone who has done something very terrible to another human being, they are off the hook. This is simply wrong thinking. We are never off the hook for something terrible we have done unless we truly regret or repent with consciousness. And if we don’t do that, and do our best to make amends, we carry that with us in our souls. The laws of karma will inexorably kick in. I have seen this over and over. And it’s not pretty.
But my focus here is not so much on the perpetrator, but on the one who feels victimized and harbours the anger and the sadness, and is unable to live life fully. It is a very human trait to hold onto grudges, and to mentally and/or verbally curse someone. We curse them every time we speak and think negatively about them. We are sending the offenders negative energy, and that will affect them to a degree. While that may be a satisfying thought in the vengeful sense, the deeper problem is that it harms you more. Holding onto anger and a feeling of victimization is very damaging to the person who is holding onto these dark and destructive feelings. We stew in it, dwell on it, and turn it over and over in our minds. It affects our moods, our behaviours, our relationships, our health and worst of all, our self esteem.
We carry it in our bodies without even realizing we are doing so. This is called somatization, and it is very insidious because it becomes part of the unconscious fabric of our psyches. A very useful technique that is used in Focusing (a body-mind therapy first devised by the philosopher/psychotherapist Eugene Gendlin) is to get in touch with what is often called the ‘felt-sense’ of how we carry something in our bodies.
When I work in this way with clients we always start with some diaphragmatic breathing because it helps to bring the awareness down into the core of the body – the area between the throat and the groin – and which I sometimes refer to as the ‘processing plant’.
When you think about the whole thing, connected to x or y, you will probably become aware of some physical or energetic sensation in your body, such as a clenching in your throat, or a tightness in the chest, or a knot in your stomach – something like that. The next part is to explore the feelings connected to x or y, and allow yourself to really feel it. Then, it is always good to hold the question – ‘given that I am feeling this way, what is needed? Or what do I need to do to take care of myself?’
Sometimes, an important intermediary step is to imagine taking the whole thing connected to x or y, and see if you can imagine putting it outside of your body, just for now. Visualizing putting the whole thing all about the situation or the person in some sort of container, outside of your body can be very freeing. You can always bring it back whenever you want, but most people enjoy the experience of getting a little space or perspective on the issue! They also get to experience, often for the first time in a long time, what it feels like not to carry that issue inside them anymore, or even for a while. It allows them to glimpse what freedom from the issue might look and feel like.
One of the most important things to realize and to remember about forgiving, is that it will free you. It does not let the perpetrator off the hook, but you are not in charge of his or her karma. When you truly hand this matter over to the universe and mentally say, “Over to You. You deal with this – I can’t carry this around anymore”, Life will take care of it – sometimes in much harsher ways than you could ever imagine.
The blessing lies in the ability to let go of the old woundings and to be free of the toxic side effects that come with holding onto something negative. We need to access the inner good mother or good father and learn to take care of the inner wounded part or child. This is what you are doing when you hold the question of “what do I need to do to take care of myself right now?’
I don’t mean to over simplify this or to trivialize anyone’s pain. These are just simple guidelines that might be of help, as I am all too aware that not everyone has the means or opportunity to go into therapy. But if we can experience within ourselves how crucial forgiveness is to our own well-being, we can move more fully into the creative expression of our lives.