An emotional injury damages the attachment to the injurer, and damages the injured’s sense of self.
The emotional injury can usually be named. It feels like a violation or betrayal of trust and happens within an ongoing relationship.
Examples of emotional injuries are: abandonment, betrayal, neglect, humiliation, shaming and violation.
How can you resolve emotional injuries?
You can deal with emotional injuries by holding on, letting go or forgiving.
Holding on is reliving the pain and the hurt, and wanting to punish the person for what they did to you. Unforgiveness can become bitter resentment, corrosive anger, debilitating sadness and incredible shame. It stops you from moving on with your life and decreases your well-being.
Letting go means you put down the burden and you feel calm rather than hurt.
Forgiveness involves letting go but also giving our undeserved compassion or love. Rather than wishing the other person would suffer for hurting you, you come to a point where you can want the best for them. The other person may not deserve your forgiveness, but you deserve the peace that comes with forgiving.
Why should we forgive?
Forgiveness benefits us psychologically and physically. Forgiveness is associated with lower heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension. It is also associated with better mood and less anxiety.
This does not mean that you condone the wrong done to you, or remain in a situation where you continue to be wronged (or abused).
Forgiveness is an internal process. We want the other person to repent before we forgive, but sometimes that may not happen. We may need to accept that amends may not be possible.
When should you forgive?
Usually after a hurtful event, you will feel distress, pain, anger and grief. You may feel indignant and angry at the unfairness of what has happened. You want the other person to apologize or make amends. You may even want the other person to suffer for what they did to you so that they know what it was like to be in your shoes and feel the pain you felt.
These are normal feelings and reactions.
No one can force you to forgive and forgiveness is not a quick process.
Forgiveness comes when you are ready to deal with your pain and anger. This process requires you to be open and vulnerable with your feelings and so it is best done in a supportive and safe environment.
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness requires processing the pain, the sadness, the anger and the grief that you have. There is no short cut. It is not cognitive.
Forgiveness is for your well-being, not to let the other person off the hook. Unforgiveness may hurt the other person which is what you want, but it also hurts you.
Is it just time? “You just need some time, after all ‘time heals all wounds.’”
Before you know it, years have passed and nothing has healed. Time is not sufficient for healing or forgiveness.
What helps you to forgive?
1. Holding the other person accountable.
2. Acknowledging your own role in the events that caused the injury
3. Giving up your right to hold a grudge or get revenge.
4. There is an effort to end feelings of anger, resentment and desire for revenge.
This helps you forgive the offender from the responsibility for “fixing” the pain, it ends the “why did you do it”.
Having an answer to the “why” does not take away the hurt or the anger.
What is needed for a successful reconciliation?
1.The injured need to express vulnerable and true feelings.
What are you angry about? What are you sad about? How did the event personally affect you?
Use “I” statements. For instance “I am angry”, “I feel hurt”, “When you do this, I feel sad and distant from you”.
This goes beyond blaming and criticizing. You need to be vulnerable with your feelings.
2. The injurer needs to respond to the expressed feelings by understanding and accepting anger and hurt.
Let the injured person know that he/she feels bad for causing you this pain. See the hurt, rather than defend yourself against it.
3. This helps the injured feel heard and cared for and allows him/her to see his/her role in the events.
No longer are you fighting to be validated. But when you are validated and safe, you can examine your role and accept responsibility.
As the injurer, how can you deal with the other person’s anger?
You need to accept it. We are often afraid that if we accept the other person’s anger, the anger will grow and grow, or that it will mean that *we* are bad. But accepting the other’s right to be angry actually soothes and validates the other person and allows him or her to begin healing. Accepting the anger doesn’t mean you are 100% at fault for the situation, but it does mean whatever the situation is, the other person has a right to feel. The more you deny the anger and hurt that the other person feels, the worse it will be for your relationship. The other person will either detach from you, or continue to feel unheard and uncared for, no matter how many other things you do.
You don’t need to come up with a solution, you just need to listen and accept.
What if the injurer is not around to reconcile with?
Sometimes there is no other to reconcile with in reality but you want to move on anyway. Forgiveness can still happen even if the other person is not around.
Imagine the other person responding in a kind and empathetic manner to your pain. Imagine that they understood the consequences of their behaviour on you and sincerely wished they had not done that. If you can imagine the other person feeling compassion and empathy for your suffering, you are one step closer to forgiving.
Forgiving does not mean putting yourself in dangerous or abusive situations again. You can recognize the other person’s wrongdoing, and desire that your life is not filled with anger and pain any more. Forgiveness allows you to move on, it does require you to move back.
Who can help you walk through this?
A psychotherapist/psychologist who provides a supportive environment, preferably trained in Emotion-Focused Therapy. The supportive relationship is essential to helping you process and work through your feelings in safety.