In 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.