Trauma Informed Forgiveness

There is so much grey area that I have been discovering recently surrounding the concept of forgiveness, which is historically, a very challenging topic for many. It’s challenging because the concept of forgiveness is often confused with other concepts like reconciliation. I see these two concepts as very different. In order to peel back the onion, I want to break down what forgiveness is by my definition and what it is not:


Forgiveness is:

  • Unburdening yourself of feeling responsible for the pain others have put on you.
  • Having self-compassion for the impact this pain has had on your life. 
  • Creating compassionate boundaries to limit the impact of this person’s painful actions has on you.
  • Owning your part in the unhealth of the relationship.


Forgiveness is not:

  • Going back into a close relationship with the person without exploring where things went wrong.
  • Excusing someone for their abuse because they were in pain.
  • Neglecting the pain and hurt you were caused.
  • Using spiritual bypass to suppress unprocessed feelings of resentment, pain, or anger.




Now that I have spelled out the working definitions, let’s break this down a bit more.


Our society has a way of glossing over the energetic load that is the concept of forgiveness. Spiritual communities tend to paint broad brushstrokes around concept of forgiveness by saying to “release the pain others have caused you” so you can move on.

When I hear those statements, they sound good. Who doesn’t want to feel free of feeling responsibility of other’s pain that’s not theirs? But on the other side of that statement is tending to what’s left over after you have freed yourself from responsibility and created those boundaries: grief and sadness.

Addressing pain after forgiveness is a slow process of chipping away at the grief caused by a relationship that did not feed you, and replacing it with compassion, thus reminding yourself that your love was never wasted.


Trauma Informed forgiveness means:

  1. We must find ways for us not to feel responsible for the pain of others.
  2. That our love was never wasted even if the relationship was abusive or unhealthy. 
  3. We are able to cultivate safe and healthy relationships void of power struggle by intentionally being in touch with our own relationship needs, or what we desire out of our relationships.
  4. We can cultivate a freedom of loving people who have hurt us from afar without being “in relationship” with them. Love is not equal to a relationship. 


Let’s break this down bit by bit:


We Must Find ways to break free from feeling Responsible for the Pain of Others:

It isn’t up to us to do the work for others that they refuse to do for themselves.  We need to stay in our own lane, on our own path of wellness. We can only heal and are responsible for the pain  we have experienced.


Our Love Was Never Wasted:

Loving another human being in any capacity is a risk. Any opportunity we have had to feel connected to another human and have that sense of being known, regardless of the outcome of the relationship, is never a waste. It’s practicing what we’re hard wired to do, which is connect. Love also will always be a profound teacher that helps us understand where we fall short and where our strengths are, and so the lessons we carry with us are markers as to how to further our healing and growth along the path of self-discovery. 


Knowing What We Need in Friendships and Relationships:

Understanding how to seek emotionally safe people that are trustworthy and secure is paramount to cultivating a hopeful relational future, especially after the grief and pain that comes with a relationship's fall out. Here at Integrate, we often refer to The 6 Principals of Trauma Informed Care created by SAMSHA (Substance Abuse for Mental Health Association) to help us keep in mind our own relationship needs to seek in others, and embodying these same standards with our loved ones in return. In a nutshell, if we seek safe people, we internally cultivate being a safe people too.

The principles include:



Mutual support (eliminating power dynamics)

Collaborative in problem solving and conflict resolution

Offers Empowerment, Voice and Choice

Sensitive to gender, cultural or historical issues (racial trauma, lgbtqia issues, etc)


Cultivate a practice of loving people from afar without being in relationship with them:

Love and relationships are not synonymous. We can still love people who have hurt or abused us and know that being in relationship with them is not a safe choice for us. The love doesn’t change, but the relationship does.



On a final note, forgiveness is a process of slowly chipping away at whatever we feel it is we are ready to chip away at. It's a process, takes time, and is unique to each human who goes at it. Contrary to popular self-help belief or pop psychology, forgiveness is not a mandate for wellness. We have the choice to call it a different name like “unburdening” or “releasing contempt,” but forgiveness is a very personal decision that needs to be tended to in high regard as an act of self-love, in your own time. It is not so much forgiveness that enhances our health, but finding ways to release and transform pain or grief, regardless if you're willing or ready to forgive.

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Julie Johnson