Self-care strategy #22: Letting go of a painful past through self-forgiveness

A visit to Castle in the Clouds, NH * Photo by Sofia Reddy

This post is dedicated to adults who survived adverse childhood experiences.

According to the Sidran Institute, 70% of US adults have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lives, and 20% go on to develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While not everyone who experiences trauma will go on to develop PTSD, having such experiences can impact one’s life in other ways. One major impact of having experienced trauma is the misconception that the victim is to blame. It is especially the case with survivors of childhood abuse & neglect or other forms of interpersonal violence. Children are often most vulnerable to this self-view since they believe everything that happens is a reflection of something flawed within themselves or something they did to “deserve” it. Perhaps they were outright told as much. Adults who experienced childhood trauma are at increased risk of carrying this internal belief with them throughout their lives, unless they are able to work with a trusted therapist to challenge these false beliefs about themselves.

Trusting others can be difficult when one has survived painful experiences as a child. Reconnecting with someone who might have been a perpetrator of abuse (i.e. family member) or connecting with others who remind the trauma survivor of his/her abuser can also be challenging. Painful past experiences can leave one feeling confused, upset, angry, and sad. Often it’s possible to feel all of these feelings at the same time, which can be overwhelming. Ultimately, when these feelings are ignored or denied, one’s ability to form close and meaningful connections with healthy others is compromised. This can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and despair. We are social beings who are meant to live in community with others. Feeling disconnected and disenfranchised can leave one vulnerable to depression.

1 important step in the healing process is to first recognize that there might have been a painful past experience with a significant person: it could have been a parent, mentor, authority figure, sibling or a close friend.

2nd, we can learn to let go of a painful past through self-forgiveness. Often when the topic of forgiveness comes up, we think about it in terms of giving that gift to the perpetrator. However, in this case, I think it’s important we start the process of forgiving ourselves first. The abuse cycle continues as long as we believe that “we deserve it.” It’s hard to let go of this intense energy when we might be harboring underlying resentment towards ourselves (often we don’t even recognize we are doing that). Forgiveness doesn’t mean we condone what happened or that we continue to accept abusive behavior from another. Forgiveness means that we are finally starting to recognize how loving ourselves unconditionally means saying no to behavior that comprises our ability to do so.

3rd, we must find a trusted other (a therapist or objective confidante) to share our painful story with who can provide unconditional love and acceptance. Through the sharing of our story, it becomes possible to overcome false beliefs that the abuse or trauma was somehow our fault. By no longer bearing the burden of this experience alone, we can start the healing process. As I often tell my clients, we don’t heal in isolation. We need others who are nurturing and supportive to help guide us to a life that is worth living.

Self-forgiveness can’t happen until we recognize the pain within us and take steps towards healing through healthy relationship with another. We need to feel safe again. We need to feel that we belong and that we are worth loving. We need to love ourselves first. We need to let go of the past, one day at a time. We need to stop hurting ourselves and be kind and compassionate, instead. We need to trust ourselves and know that we can make healthy choices. Life is short. We can’t afford to live the rest of our lives in pain and isolation, grieving a past that we cannot change. We all deserve joy and happiness. It is our birthright.

We have the power to change our lives, in the present, one step at a time.

Thank you to all who have inspired and encouraged me along the way. Your presence, support, love and acceptance have guided me to become the person I am today.

I am forever grateful.



3 Replies to “Self-care strategy #22: Letting go of a painful past through self-forgiveness”

  1. Dear Sofia,

    I just want to express my gratitude as well on the information provided on the blog above, sometimes we allow ourselves to be turmated by situations we can change, subject ourselves to abuse because we believe and think that whatever is happening is entirely our fault. We seriously need to consinder forgiveness and loving ourselves to be able to move on with life.

    Much apptreciated.


  2. Dear Sofia,
    “Letting go of a painful past through self-forgiveness” is such an important post. Thank you for sharing it! The Sidran Institute in your link above has some good resources as well for people wanting to take this further.
    Blessings be with you…
    PS – Love the “abundant” picture! ;o)

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