When changing looks like forgiving or forgetting

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Sarah Parker

Change coach, therapist, human being, and founder of Well of Being.

Sadly many people have experienced dreadful events in their lives and the struggles they experience reflect the huge impact of those events. Our minds come up with many creative ways to manage past trauma and try to protect us. The ways in which we manage past traumas are unique to each individual, but some examples of the ways minds have tried their best to manage may be drinking alcohol to ‘escape’, using food – comfort eating, binge-eating, Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, using recreational drugs, over exercising, avoidance……….the list is endless.

Those struggles are hard enough, but letting go of the struggles can be even harder when the struggle represents the wrongdoing which we have experienced. The struggle can become ‘evidence’ of the harm that has been done, and whilst people want to let go of their struggle, that idea is often at odds with wanting to hold on to the evidence for others to acknowledge the past hurt.

There is no doubt that it makes sense to hold on to the evidence – that’s what a court of law would look for after all – but what if the evidence is now harming you? What if it doesn’t impact on the perpetrator(s) of the harm anymore?

Imagine if someone smashed a window in your home. You would perhaps call the police and report the crime; they might look for fingerprints and take photos then they would be on their way. After the crime, you have two main choices – you may want to fix the window, or you can leave it as it is. What if you don’t fix it? What if you leave the smashed window so everyone who visits your home can see the wrong that was sadly done to you? How else would they know this had happened and what you had experienced?

However, if you leave the window smashed, you are going to feel the cold in the winter. You will experience the rain coming through and the icy wind blowing. No matter how effective your heating system is, your home will feel cold. You will likely feel unsafe because there is an open entry into your home, even if the doors are locked. Those who smashed the window will not experience the hardship you are experiencing, but for you, the suffering will continue.

There is, of course, a possibility that, if you fix the window, people will forget it was ever broken. You may remind them sometimes when you talk about it, but they will not see it all the time. There is also the possibility that you will start to feel warm and safe again and you can let the air in on your terms by opening and closing a fixed window, but that will mean letting go of the visible evidence of the past harm done to you. It may also mean adjusting to the warmth and safety, which may feel strange after a long time of feeling cold and afraid.

When we hold on to struggles and behaviours which have arisen from past hurt, we are, understandably, holding on to evidence for the world to see; but who is suffering the most?

It is not for me to say whether anyone should or shouldn’t change their behaviours and ‘fix their window’. I hope simply to gently shine a light on who is suffering by holding on to the evidence and think about how life in the present moment could be honoured so that the ‘innocent victim’ can once again live their life with fullness and vibrancy.

With April love. Sarah

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