…And learning comes at a cost.
A common takeaway from my experience of life traumas is that I, and the trauma inducing people, are still learning and learning lends itself to a conversation on forgiveness.
I try not to expect a pro performance on my first take. Honestly, I probably shouldn’t expect it on my seventeenth take. You may notice the forgiving undertone (through setting reasonable expectations — expectations that allow for imperfection). That is because learning well requires forgiveness. Because we don’t know all things (or how to do all the things we know) we will make mistakes. And if we make mistakes and cannot forgive ourselves or others, we end up only learning that we suck (are failures or losers and will never amount to anything of worth) instead of learning the powerful concepts we might have learned. If we can forgive ourselves and others, we learn better and quicker.
I am proud of myself when my response matches the novelty of my traumatic life experiences. If I have never experienced a loved one die, and then one does. If my response to this is that I completely fall apart and feel broken and alone, I am proud. If I have experienced a loved one dying before, and I feel removed, detached, etc., I am proud. I am proud because my reaction doesn’t have to be any one thing. It doesn’t have to be the same thing in every situation. In this example, death is the only trait shared between the two differing responses. Everything else is different. Our abnormal reactions to abnormal situations are normal. (Viktor Frankl) And most experiences are new enough to be considered abnormal. This is called learning.
New, at times has been lovely, beautiful, and breathtaking. At other times, new has been horrific, ugly, and breathtaking. [enter yet another definition of trauma — novelty]. We experience a good trauma when a healthy child is born. When the pain leaves once the baby is held (numbness) and we have flashbacks to this beautiful moment years later. Positive PTSD. We experience numbness (when we don’t want to feel the pain) and we have flashbacks of painful memories years later as well. Negative PTSD. In both cases, newness or novelty are the traumas. Both can leave very solid imprints on our minds that can last a lifetime. While we cannot always control intrusive reminders, we can learn from them as they present truths about the lives we have lived. No life has been exclusively all positive or exclusively all negative. So find ways to celebrate that.
The point is that what often sticks behind, when the trauma has come and gone, are our interpretations (often harsh) of our own reactions to the traumas. Trauma is the pain of newness; of what is not expected. How we interpret that pain is where suffering, depression, anxiety, anger, guilt, and many other disorders come to pass. Because our interpretations of trauma affect our beliefs, values, goals, mood state, and perceptions, they tend to linger and are not easily changed (usually until another trauma presents itself as an opportunity to analyze previous traumas). That’s one of life’s dirty little games…re-presenting traumas, or versions of that trauma, until we learn what we need to in order to adapt to life’s pains and ease suffering.
The truth is, you are always experiencing something new. Even when “things are the same”, time has passed, and that means that more knowledge/experience has been gained. Things are never completely the same. Which means just about every situation is a situation of learning; where potential to make mistakes and the need to forgive and be forgiven is present.
When we stop learning, we die. Moments of emotional death (numb, depressed, anxious) occur when we don’t want to, or are not yet ready to, learn from life’s traumas.
Learning, and changing based on what we learn, are often uncomfortable and sometimes painful experiences.
The next time you are hurt, bruised, broken and then to add to that you are angry with yourself or others who hurt you, bruised you, or broke you…remind yourself that you and others, we, are still learning. While this outlook cannot prevent life’s ability to catch us off guard, nor our propensity to get hurt, it helps us to forgive ourselves and others. Which forgiveness, if practiced and received, can help with the secondary lingering trauma of our interpretations of ourselves and others’ (depression, anxiety, panic attacks, etc).
The outlook of “we are all learning” may additionally promote other helpful outlooks such as: I can learn from my mistakes and the mistakes of others.
Some of the more resilient people I have met can say certain phrases out loud that others of us cannot. It seems their super power is found in phrases like these: “I possess the ability to let go of other people’s mistakes, because I understand they are like me and are capable of making them in the first place.” These resilient people seem to have an understanding that forgiveness is necessary to relieve suffering. Religion often times provides excellent guidelines on forgiveness of self and other, including intercessory figure(s) who are authorized to forgive all mistakes. Whether you participate in religion or not, you live by some sets of principles, and I believe it is still important to consider the principle of forgiveness as it relates to your ability to recover from the inevitable pains of participating in living. Most times forgiveness requires change. Changes in the ways we live, the ways we see, and the people we spend time with.
When applying this “superpower” of forgiveness to your own traumas, please understand that what is not being prescribed here is the timeframe in which you do so. You are not expected by me to be able to instantly forgive yourself and others the moment trauma occurs. That is not what I am saying. We each have varying timelines and lessons we learn in the time between the trauma and our ability to forgive. Accepting your timeframe and the timeframes of others is crucial to the process of letting go of the lingering effects of trauma/learning. Patience is often the trial of the trauma victim and her supports.Additionally, forgiveness, to me, does not imply that an act is morally permissible. I have a unique understanding of the difficulty of this concept for those who have experienced sexual traumas and other pains brought about by the willful and morally wrong acts of others. If you can, please take this post as an opportunity for thought experiment and not as a judgement on your personal character. After all how could I judge your personal character. I do not know the personal details of your life. You and I, in this format, are fictional …and because of that I can pretend you’re my friends…So, keep on learning my friends!