Forgiveness: Is It Necessary for Healing?

Forgiveness: Is It Necessary for Healing?

I recently attended a beautiful healing retreat in San Diego. I have been thinking about forgiveness a lot lately. While reflecting during the retreat I realized that I've been holding on to some resentment that has been a barrier to my relationships with important people in my life. As painful as it is to have this barrier in those relationships, I realize that it is actually creating a barrier to my own relationship with myself as well. Self-forgiveness is a key factor in being able to forgive anyone else. Taking the time to reflect helped me see that and let go of that old stuff, and as a result, I feel better and I'm relating differently to the important people in my life.

This subject frequently comes up in my therapy sessions with adults who have experienced childhood abuse, neglect, or other traumas. It's also a popular theme in our culture. Click on the image to the right to listen to Episode #10 of the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast on forgiveness.In it, I discuss the concept of forgiveness and offer some thoughts on the role of forgiveness in the healing process. I also offer resources for forgiving in a way that is authentic and true. Here's a summary of what I said in the podcast:

In the last episode of the Baltimore Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast, I asked whether you'd ever had a loss of relationship with someone with whom you were formerly very close. Something happened which led you to decide that you do not want to communicate with this person anymore. Or maybe you are setting boundaries around the role they have in your life because continuing to be close after what happened feels too painful. 

I raised the point that our culture tells us, both through religion and our popular culture, that forgiveness is a requirement for healing. But what if the person hasn't asked for your forgiveness? What if they deny that they did anything wrong? What if they have passed away, and you will never have the discussion about how their actions hurt you? What if they have apologized in a way that feels hollow? Is forgiveness really about the person who did wrong or about the person who has been hurt? Is it for your healing or theirs? Or the healing of the relationship?

Healing childhood trauma involves allowing oneself to feel the painful emotions we may have been avoiding, consciously or unconsciously.  Before jumping to forgiveness it is important to acknowledge these painful emotions. Self-compassion is extremely helpful to healing these hurts and moving the process of forgiveness forward. I offer resources for increasing self compassion in the podcast.  

Researcher Kristin Neff, PhD has researched and written extensively on the subject of self compassion. I highly recommend her book, "Self Compassion," and her website: http://www.selfcompassion.org/ to facilitate healing and allow forgiveness of yourself and those who have hurt you. 

If you're in the Baltimore area and looking for a therapist to begin or continue your journey of healing childhood trauma, get in touch with me at (443) 510-1048 or laura@laurareaganlcswc.com to talk about how I can help. See below for places to get more of what I have to say. 

Find me on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Google +You can listen to my podcast here and sign up for my e-mail newsletter here.  Check out my website, www.laurareaganlcswc.com for information on upcoming workshopsgroups and retreats. I'd love to talk about how we can work together!  

 

                      What does asking for forgiveness look like?

                     What does asking for forgiveness look like?


Click on the image to listen to the podcast episode on forgiveness.

Click on the image to listen to the podcast episode on forgiveness.

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C Psychotherapist, Clinical Supervisor, Podcaster, Consultant

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C Psychotherapist, Clinical Supervisor, Podcaster, Consultant

Kids Are Resilient, Right?

Conventional wisdom holds that children are resilient, and they bounce back easily from childhood experiences by the time they reach adulthood. This is considered to be even more true if the child doesn't remember the events. A large study has de-bunked that myth. Read on! 

There's an epidemic in the United States which is causing increased risk of suicide, chronic disease – including heart and lung disease and cancer – as well as addiction, violence and divorce. It costs the U.S. healthcare system over $103 billion annually. The good news is that there is a cure, and we can prevent new cases. This short TED Talk explains:

 

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris’s TED Talk explains that Adverse Childhood Experiences, also known as ACEs, correlate highly with poor health outcomes in adulthood.  

ACEs include the following experiences during childhood:

  • ·      Abuse, whether emotional, physical or sexual – or emotional or physical neglect
  • ·      Witnessing one’s mother being abused (domestic violence)
  • ·      Losing a parent to separation or divorce, or another reason
  • ·      Having a family member who is depressed, has addiction or is incarcerated

How Was This Epidemic Discovered?

As explained in this article, when a physician conducting research on obesity noticed higher than expected numbers of dropouts in his study, he began asking questions and discovered that most of the patients reported history of childhood sexual abuse

Until then, he did not realize how common sexual abuse is. We now know that one in four girls and one in six boys will experience sexual victimization at some point before his/her eighteenth birthday. The study also found that 64% of Americans have experienced at least one ACE, and of those people, 87% had 2 or more.

Image copyright Laura Reagan, LCSW-C Psychotherapy Services, LLC

Image copyright Laura Reagan, LCSW-C Psychotherapy Services, LLC

The higher the score, the worse the respondents’ health outcomes. In other words, those who had more ACEs were more likely to have cancers, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, addiction, depression, divorce, and overall their lifespans were shortened by as much as 20 years compared with people who had no ACEs.

Adverse Childhood Experiences Study

This information was gained from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, a longitudinal study conducted by Kaiser Permanente on a huge sample of insured patients – 17,000 mostly white, educated, middle- to upper- class, employed people – in other words, some of the most high-functioning members of society who should have the best access to healthcare. This makes me wonder how much higher the stats on the incidence of childhood adversity and poor health would be if the sample had included people who live in poverty, those who are incarcerated, and others of less means and access to healthcare.

All of This Sounds Pretty Scary, but Here’s the Good News!

For one thing, if you have experienced childhood trauma, you now know that you aren’t alone. Traumatic experiences in childhood are quite common in the United States. The most important thing is to recognize that traumatic experiences can affect us years later, even if we think we should be over it by the time we reach adulthood.  

How Do I Find Out My ACE score? 

You can take the quiz at this link. As I’ve mentioned - and you may have read in the linked articles - the higher your ACE score, the more likely you are to be affected by mental and physical health issues.  It’s scary to hear that having an ACE score of 6 or higher is correlated with lifespans as much as 20 years shorter than the average.

However, you don’t have to fall into those statistics, even if your score is high! I have worked for years helping people who have experienced childhood trauma and what I know is that having traumatic experiences is very painful, but the most damage comes from ignoring how you have been affected by these experiences – and the healing begins when you allow yourself to feel the emotions you’ve been avoiding. 

When the emotional effects of childhood trauma are not addressed, they don’t go away on their own. Often we develop methods of coping with trauma symptoms - like avoiding developing close relationships so we don’t get hurt - and numb the emotional pain with drugs, alcohol, the internet, being busy, sex, shopping, perfectionism, eating disorders, work, school, and/or gambling. 

Image copyright Laura Reagan LCSW-C Psychotherapy Services, LLC

Image copyright Laura Reagan LCSW-C Psychotherapy Services, LLC

 

Knowledge is power – what do you do with the information once you learn about it? You can ask yourself honestly whether you have healed from the Adverse Childhood Experiences referenced in your score. If not, what are the steps you can take to begin the healing process?  

You can heal from childhood trauma.  There's a therapist out there for you!

Psychotherapy for trauma can include, among other techniques:

  • ·      Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy techniques
  • ·      Creative methods such as art, music, yoga and dance therapy
  • ·      Mindfulness approaches
  • ·      Body-based (also known as somatic) methods including Somatic Experiencing and     Sensorimotor Psychotherapy
  • ·      Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

There are many useful methods therapists use to help you heal from trauma – I don’t mean for this to be a comprehensive list. In fact, I’d love to hear what you have tried in the comments below! 

It’s important to speak to a potential therapist about his or her training in trauma treatment. Make sure you feel comfortable that this is the right person for you, and if you don’t, it’s okay to tell the therapist that and find someone else who can help you. Trust is an important part of the therapy process, and without developing a trusting therapeutic relationship with your therapist it will be extremely difficult to work through the trauma.   

Childhood trauma is preventable! I will write about that in a future blog post. By the same token, the health outcomes the ACE Study identified are not a matter of fate. Rather, they are the body's expression of unresolved trauma, and by addressing the underlying cause you can potentially limit future illness.  I’m so glad the ACE Study has provided so much information which is now being used to help spread the word about this major public health issue affecting our children and so many adults in the United States. I hope more people will understand the effects of their own ACEs and address them as needed.

If this has made you think about finding help to work through your own childhood trauma, call me at (443) 510-1048 or visit my website

Sources:

Burke, N.B. (2015, February 17). How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95ovIJ3dsNk

Center for Nonviolence & Social Justice. (2014). What is trauma? Retrieved from: http://www.nonviolenceandsocialjustice.org/FAQs/What-is-Trauma/41/

Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. (2013). Sexual assault in the U.S. Retrieved from: http://www.mcasa.org/_mcasaWeb/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Sexual-Assault-in-the-US-updated-2013.pdf

National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (n.d.). Effects of complex trauma. Retrieved from: http://www.nctsn.org/trauma-types/complex-trauma/effects-of-complex-trauma

Reagan, L. (2015, February 21). Why can’t I just get over it? Retrieved from: http://www.yourtango.com/experts/laura-reagan/why-cant-i-just-get-over-it-0

Stevens, J.E. (2012, October 3). The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study – the largest, most important public health study you never heard of – began in an obesity clinic. Retrieved from:  http://acestoohigh.com/2012/10/03/the-adverse-childhood-experiences-study-the-largest-most-important-public-health-study-you-never-heard-of-began-in-an-obesity-clinic/

Stevens, J.E. (2015, February 17). Nadine Burke Harris: How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime. Retrieved from: http://acestoohigh.com/2015/02/17/nadine-burke-harris-how-childhood-trauma-affects-health-across-a-lifetime/

Stevens, J.E. (n.d.). ACES 101. Retrieved from: http://acestoohigh.com/aces-101/

Stevens, J.E. (n.d.). Got your ACE score? Retrieved from: http://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/

United States Centers for Disease Control. (2014, May 13). Injury prevention and control: Division of violence prevention. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! And if someone you know needs to read this, please share!