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Shift What Self-Centered Means To You

Forgiveness is tricky - as a CONCEPT and a PRACTICE. This is particularly true for trauma survivors. Especially if your trauma occurred in childhood, and involved rejection, abandonment, punishment, and neglect. Culturally and socially, forgiveness is often linked to other beliefs like generosity, kindness, and love. Being forgiving is perceived as the desired quality. It implies “you’re a good person.” If you’re a trauma survivor, there’s a good chance you’re already struggling with core negative beliefs about yourself (you can read more about this here). And then, society tells you, you’re unkind if you don’t forgive. This perception adds to the skewed untrue negative beliefs you already have about yourself. So, you might lean into forgiveness so much that it overrides your healing. You can get so absorbed in it that you forget to factor yourself in. 

This week, for PTSD month, I invite you to celebrate your healing wherever you may be on your journey by factoring yourself in, especially when it comes to forgiveness.

Ignoring Yourself by Being Too Forgiving

In cultures like my own (Arab / Middle Eastern), being overly accepting and forgiving is the norm. So I grew up seeing this as a method for life. But this doesn’t help you solve problems that need to be solved. In the context of trauma, it means tolerating abuse, mistreatment, and damaging behaviours; at the expense of your well-being. When this happens, forgiveness becomes toxic.

Being too forgiving can make things worse. In the context of trauma and healing, the result of letting go too quickly without attending to yourself is often self-betrayal, among many other things. You can find yourself detangled in a chain reaction. So you get stuck in a pattern that you don’t want.

It’s important to remember that the context for this discussion is post-trauma. To survive the original trauma, you might have found yourself negotiating, appeasing, lying, or tolerating various toxic behaviours (in the moment). These behaviours become reasonable and valid when you’re trying to move away from the actual threat and seek safety. 

Post-trauma, you take yourself out of the equation when you consistently let go in an unbalanced way.

In practice, you:

  • Ignore your thoughts/feelings/emotions
  • Dismiss your wants and needs
  • Distrust your inner experience or yourself
  • Overly pay attention to others (giving them priority in an unbalanced way)
  • Become too forgiving / too agreeable
  • Are too caring
  • Have difficulties with boundaries (keeping your own)
  • Pretend significant things don’t bother you (invalidating yourself/ discounting yourself)

And this leads you to:

  • Feel invisible/unimportant
  • Feel stuck/disempowered
  • Feel disorganized or chaotic on the inside (having a lot of internal noise/unable to be clear about your internal reactions)
  • Act defensive due to resentment of the person/behaviour/situation
  • Feel unheard and unseen (feeling like an outsider)
  • Be destructive or harmful to yourself 
  • Tolerate destructive behaviours from others 

At your core, you betray yourself because you’re more likely to disconnect from your internal experience. You “forgive and forget” too quickly because you’re not paying attention to what’s happening inside you.

This forgiving method interferes with your healing and keeps you stuck. It leads to reliving destructive patterns that you no longer want or need. This process is called trauma reenactment and re-traumatization. Ultimately, it blocks your healing.

You might find yourself doing this whether you intend to or not. Intention aside, these are natural outcomes of being overly forgiving: You seem so agreeable and easygoing on the outside. You don’t feel so good about yourself and might feel resentful on the inside. 

Factoring Yourself In: The Intention in Practice

You can start factoring yourself in today to get on the path of breaking this pattern. Here are some ideas you can incorporate with your other skills to build awareness of your inner world.

Pay attention to your body

What's is it telling you about your experience? Do you feel relaxed? Tense, Conflicted? Your body holds memory, so it communicates information to you. It makes you feel grounded in the present when you pay attention to it because you focus on how an experience/situation is registering in your body.

Get curious about your emotions

Turn your attention inward: what do you notice? Can you recognize your emotions? Maybe more than one is showing up. Try naming them. Or perhaps you feel numb or disconnected. If so, label that numbness. Sometimes what grabs your focus is the strongest emotion. When you sit in stillness for a few moments, you can go beyond the surface of that strong emotion. 

Practice self-validation

A big part of trauma is invalidation. Invalidation happens when other people discount you and your reactions. When this happens often, you can start to minimize and ‘put away’ your internal experience. You can shut it out partially or fully. In other words, you take yourself out of the equation. Practicing self-validation can help you tune in and connect to how the experience affects you. 

It helps you with:

  • Acknowledging your experience
  • Allowing yourself to feel it
  • Understanding why you’re reacting the way you are
Some Tips on Validation

Validation is:

  • Acknowledgement, not agreement.
  • Fitting: the history and biology (aka the context)
  • Honest, genuine, and authentic
  • Normalizing
  • Non-judgemental

These three steps will help you factor yourself in with your body, emotions, and thoughts. When you develop this awareness, you gain a deeper understanding of yourself and how things affect you. You feel more connected. Factoring yourself in becomes an integral part of your forgiveness.

Reaping the Benefits

You start to honour your inner experience and own it when you can re-calibrate. You factor yourself in by acknowledging and processing the impact of other people’s behaviours on you. And the effect of your own decisions and behaviours on yourself and others. You start to evaluate commitments differently. And you become more clear on what’s ok and not ok for you. This clarity helps you understand yourself better and communicate that to others more concisely. In this context, forgiveness happens in a balanced way.

Your relationships improve because you navigate them from a place of inner peace: 

  • You have more clarity about yourself
  • You can experience and process your emotions
  • You genuinely accept yourself and others
  • You become more consistent with your boundaries
  • You don’t betray yourself for the sake of others
  • You don’t blindly conform to expectations

In the bigger picture, all these build your self-trust, so you go about your relationships differently.

A note: Any recommendations here are from a perspective of doing things from a middle ground. It’s not an all-or-nothing approach. The focus is on you because you might lean towards others. If you were overly dependent on your inner experience, the recommendation would be to calibrate the other way around.  

As you heal and practice factoring yourself in, you get to decide what forgiveness means to you and how you want to go about it. You build awareness and connect with yourself. As a result, Self-trust, not self-betrayal, becomes your new norm. Honouring your experience in this way allows you to tap into your grace and accelerates your healing. 

I’d love to hear how you’ve redefined forgiveness for yourself this week (connect with me below), away from the mainstream idea, especially in the context of celebrating yourself.

You may want to check out other relevant topics on handling intense emotions and finding your resilience through family drama. These can support the recommendations made above.

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Hiba Khatkhat

A registered psychotherapist, life coach, and social justice activist. Born and raised in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), she immigrated to Canada and currently lives in Niagara. Hiba is passionate about Yin Yoga, interior design, travelling, dancing, and entrepreneurship.

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