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What is complex trauma and how does it relate to complex forgiveness?

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Below is a permalink to an unpublished manuscript (Coleman, 2013) that argues for the designation “complex forgiveness” to describe the unique challenges faced by those who have experienced complex trauma and are sincerely seeking to work through their forgiveness issues. I highly recommend that everyone read this post, since we all know of persons who can benefit from the information provided.

http://www.complexforgiveness.com/what-is-complex-trauma-and-how-does-it-relate-to-complex-forgiveness/

Many times the explanation for our suffering transcends simple answers

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It is true that our suffering can at times be the result of our own sin so that the solution to our suffering may indeed be to simply confess our sin, repent of it, and receive God’s gift of forgiveness. However, Allen (1958) offers a word of caution:

“I was in Miami for a series of services. Thousands of people were there on vacation seeking a good time. One night, while walking down one of the brightly lighted streets, I passed a Western Union office. It was deserted except for the clerk and one lady. She had a telegram in her hand and was crying her heart out. In a land of soft moonbeams and sea breezes, hearts can still be broken. Had that lady in Miami spoken to me, I might have said, “Suffering is caused by sin. You have not been living right and now God is punishing you. You should get on your knees and repent.”

I have said that to some and I have seen the forgiveness of God take away the pain and bring back a song into a heart. But many times that is not the answer” (Allen, 1958, p. 97).

Allen, C. L. (1958). All things are possible through prayer. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell

For those who have been wounded deeply, forgiveness is rarely if ever a quick and easy fix

cropped-woman_207969-B+W-Hair-in-Face1.jpgIn my work with survivors, I have known many persons who have experienced an overwhelming sense of failure and self recrimination as they have compared the testimonies of those who were able to quickly forgive and move on – to their own experience of working through memories of abuse. However, upon closer examination, they realized that they were not comparing “apples to apples”.

In their book for mental health professionals on helping clients with forgiveness issues, Enright and Fitzgibbons (2000) devote an entire chapter to the process of forgiving. “If a client sees forgiveness as the effortless answer to all of life’s problems, then he or she is starting with false expectations” they argue. “Certainly, it is not the case that all instances of forgiveness are like being locked in the gym with only the 200-pound weights to work with” they went on to say. “Sometimes it is quick, almost effortless, and painless, but when people are deeply hurt they rarely find a quick, pain-free solution” (p. 50).

Even for persons who have suffered similar forms of abuse, there are many factors that can dramatically increase the level of harm experienced, factors that are oftentimes overlooked by both the one sharing “the testimony” and the one who is tempted to judge themselves harshly in the light of such a testimony. Furthermore, some who may sincerely perceive themselves to have successfully and completely resolved their trauma history with a minimum investment of time and effort – may continue to unconsciously or symbolically reenact their abuse whether as victim or as a victimizer, oftentimes in less obvious relational contexts. They simply do not know what they do not know. However, the result is that their hurts are transferred rather than transformed.

Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. P. (2000). Helping clients forgive: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. Washington, DC US: American Psychological Association.

Forgiveness is a process whereby one abandons one’s resentments and increases one’s mercy, which takes time

cropped-shutterstock_109647038-Black-Man-Smiliing-PRCHS.jpgSome teach that forgiveness is merely a decision that one makes once and for all, rather than a process into which one chooses to enter. However, Enright and Fitzgibbons (2000) argue that the decision to forgive, though a necessary step in the process of forgiving, is only the beginning of the process and must be worked out in practical terms before it can be considered a true or complete forgiveness:

“…the acts of abandoning resentment and increasing mercy need time to develop and cannot be forced, merely willed into existence, or ordered about by one’s thought processes. In our view, the definition of forgiveness necessitates that we in the helping professions consider forgiveness to be an unfolding process, one that does not run smoothly, filled with starts and stops, only eventually culminating in reduced anger and more compassion. A decision to forgive is only a part of this process” (p. 49).

Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. P. (2000). Helping clients forgive: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. Washington, DC US: American Psychological Association.

When forgiving, it is the sincerity of our words that matters

cropped-mairani_cuevas_208847.jpgIn working through forgiveness issues, saying the words, “I forgive you” may be not be enough, warns Enright and Fitzgibbons (2000):

“Although language can symbolize forgiveness, it cannot be a substitute for it. Even if a person uses the seemingly correct words, he or she might be masking resentment. The sincerity of the words matters” (p. 48).

Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. P. (2000). Helping clients forgive: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. Washington, DC US: American Psychological Association.

Some necessary ingredients required before the benefits of self-forgiveness can be fully realized

cropped-girl_205263.jpgAccording to Johnson (2004), self-forgiveness requires honesty, the choice to allow for special circumstances, the assuming of responsibility for the consequences of one’s behavior (i.e., the damage done), the choice to make amends, and a commitment to do things differently in the future. Observes Johnson, “If you do not make this commitment to change and follow through on it you will not be free from guilt. In fact, you will very likely repeat the same dysfunctional behavior patterns” (p. 327).

Johnson, S. L. (2004). Therapist’s guide to clinical intervention: The 1-2-3’s of treatment planning (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Academic Press.

Forgiveness is the choice to avoid any desire for revenge or any temptation to nurse a wounded ego, according to Andrew Murray

cropped-cry_208356-Shutterstock-Free.jpgAndrew Murray was a pastor, author, and one of the founders of the South African General Mission. During his lifetime, he published over 240 books on Christian spirituality. For Murray (1981) forgiveness is defined as avoiding any desire to punish the offender, to nurse a wounded ego, or to maintain one’s rights [to retaliate or seek revenge], and is made possible by the power of Christ’s forgiving love dwelling in the forgiver. It is Christ Himself forgiving in and through the forgiver.

Murray, A. (1981). With Christ in the school of prayer. Springdale, PA: Whitaker House.

It may be impossible to complete our forgiveness work until we first understand our own innate need for God’s forgiveness

cropped-149_2592x3888_300dpi_all-free-download.com_14247889.jpgAccording to Abbas (2004), in order to be truly able forgive another, we must first have known the experience of having been forgiven by God:

“Frankly, I think it’s impossible to forgive others until we understand our own innate need for forgiveness….I wonder if you’ll come to a point, as I did, when you are so frustrated with your inability to control your circumstances that you’ll finally run, exhausted and overwhelmed, to the God who willingly took your hurts and sins upon Himself on the cross, who loves you unconditionally, and who provides a peace you can’t explain” (Abbas, 2004, pp. 3-4).

Abbas, J. (2004). Generation ex: Adult children of divorce and the healing of our pain. Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press.

Johnson (2004) suggests some necessary ingredients for working through one’s feelings of guilt and shame

cropped-despair_191878.jpgAccording to Johnson (2004), self-forgiveness requires honesty, the choice to allow for special circumstances, the assuming of responsibility for the consequences of one’s behavior (i.e., the damage done), the choice to make amends, and a commitment to do things differently in the future. Observes Johnson, “If you do not make this commitment to change and follow through on it you will not be free from guilt. In fact, you will very likely repeat the same dysfunctional behavior patterns” (p. 327). Questions for self-examination are provided.

Johnson, S. L. (2004). Therapist’s guide to clinical intervention: The 1-2-3’s of treatment planning (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Academic Press.