Forgiveness and letting go is a hard pill to swallow for nearly all childhood trauma survivors. When this topic is broached too early in the healing process, it can cause a trauma response, terror, tears, fighting, fleeing, or shut down. 


Let’s face it, there is more pressure put upon the victims who are at the receiving end of mistreatment or abuse instead of the perpetrator of such. Why is that? Why isn’t there more pressure put upon the one who harmed? Shouldn’t the perpetrator – this person be accountable, own up to what they did, express remorse and offer a way to make amends?


All that said, I’ve noticed in my own healing journey, being able to “let go” of the emotional suffering that resulted from the inflicted pain takes time. 


“Forgiveness,” although a simple word, is a complicated concept. A UCLA psychiatrist, Dr. Stephen Marmer, distinguished three types of forgiveness:


  1.  Release
    Common circumstances where Release fits:
    -No Acknowledgement of Hurt
    -Obviously Insincere Apology
    -No Reparation or Amends Attempted

Release does not exonerate the offender. It allows you to let go of the burdens that are weighing you down and eating away at your chance for happiness. You will not be allowing the one who hurt you to live rent-free in your mind, reliving forever the persecution that the original incident started. 


  1. Forbearance
    When the relationship matters to you. Common circumstances where Forbearance fits:
    -Partial Apology
    -Inauthentic Apology
    -Apology Mingled with Blame

Forbearance requires understanding, tolerance and self-restraint. This is where you cease dwelling on the offense, and do away with grudges and fantasies of revenge, and you retain a degree of watchfulness


  1. Exoneration
    Common circumstances where exoneration fits:
    -Genuine Accident
    -Unintentional Hurt
    -Responsible, Remorseful & Reparative

Exoneration is wiping the slate entirely clean and restoring the relationship to its original state. For many abuse survivors, this state is next to impossible. Rarely if ever can the relationship return to it’s pre-violated and pre betrayal state.


Even with these stages or styles of forgiveness, coming to this place in the healing recovery journey, happens towards the end of the healing process. It is at the caboose of “ride.”

There is no timeline to follow on what or how an abuse survivor can or should forgive. Everyone heals in their own time. Healing cannot be forced either. It is respectful and “baby step” process.


The word, forgiveness, can still bother me at times. It depends on who speaks of it and what the topic is. I know in my heart that God doesn’t forgive those who are unrepentant, so He would never ask something from me that He doesn’t do himself. Knowing this brings me inner peace.


And I wish you inner peace. 

Lisa Hilton, CTRC-A, founder of Hilton Coaching & Consulting. I am a trauma coach; I educate, consult, and am a published author. I work with adult survivors of Childhood Trauma and those suffering from Complex PTSD so they can Transform their Travesty into Triumph, one step at a time.

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