an open sky and road

It’s not uncommon for me to hear from clients about how they may have read a self-help book, watched a YouTube video, or perhaps have even sought out the advice of another professional who may a similar background in treating psychological disorders, trauma and abuse. Most of the time, the treatment approach is limited to showing people how to ‘survive’ after having endured some form of psychological abuse or other forms of trauma. The path to survival usually amounts to the client choosing to be ‘indifferent’ towards the person who injured them and ‘moving on’ as a way of getting their own version of ‘justice’.

Making the choice to be indifferent towards one’s enemy requires a certain hardness of heart that is unnatural to the human spirit, particularly if there has been a personal relationship with the one who is now the enemy. It’s also illogical and unhealthy for a clinician to suggest to a person who is suffering that they will simply begin to feel better if they begin to treat their enemy with the same degree of insensitivity that caused them so much pain.

The suggestion that a person should just ‘move on’ is also unlikely to get them anywhere. The majority of the time, the person is just running away and trying to bury the pain, only to find out that the pain continues to live in their unconscious and show itself in the form of anger, dreams, and self-sabotage.

Justice by means of indifference or moving on without the enemy so that a person can ‘show’ them that they ultimately didn’t ‘win’ is actually just anger in disguise and usually has the opposite effect than what is intended. Unless the enemy has acknowledged and apologized for the specific things they have done to hurt a person, they don’t care that the wounded person is no longer a part of their life. For many, the lack of care and concern for the wounded person’s absence is just another way that they use to continue the abuse and maintain power and control. The wounded person is the one who is stuck resenting the fact that the person doesn’t reach out to them or in the alternative continues to spread lies about them and their mental health or the relationship in general. Even if an apology does occur as a result of this distance done in anger, these are often forced or if sincere, the wounded person is not ready to accept the apology because they are still suffering.

Which is why I do not endorse any of these ideas and I prefer to help clients with forgiveness. The other suggestions do not provide a way to help clients heal from their pain; rather they suggest that the person remain in a constant state of anger (even if it’s subtle) so that they can protect themselves from getting hurt again by that same person. Forgiveness, on the other hand, helps the person recover by being fearless in doing the hard work of acknowledging and feeling the pain of their injury and courageously choosing not to use anger to protect them from the pain anymore.

My clients learn through the course of our work together that forgiveness doesn’t require reconciliation with the person who injured them, but reconciliation is possible in some relationships. They also learn that hardening their heart towards anyone, even their enemy, isn’t psychologically healthy and how forgiveness is the healthy alternative for psychological wellness. Forgiveness is complete when the person is able to abandon their anger, leave the justice to God, and love the person who hurt them.

Ultimately, forgiveness is the only pathway to interior freedom. Jesus warned us though that this is something that we would have to do often (Mat 18:21-22), so the sooner that you learn how to forgive…the better off you will be. Moving on won’t get you anywhere; it’s just a dead end road.