Choosing to Forgive:My Journey to Emotional Healing

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In expressing compassion, a clinician may be tempted to excuse or condone the veterans' actions—for example, by reassuring the veteran that their actions were justified. This form of reassurance is well-meaning but can hinder progress. We have seen veterans continue to harbor the same feelings of self-condemnation and shame, but simply avoid admitting them to a provider focused on reassurance.

Clinicians should also avoid inadvertently steering veterans toward inauthentic self-forgiveness, which can delay real forgiveness work, create confusion between authentic and inauthentic self-forgiveness, and hinder eventual engagement in a more authentic process. By facilitating initial progress toward self-forgiveness, the clinician can play a crucial role in helping veterans begin to heal from moral injury—a process that will continue long after treatment ends. As veterans pursue their forgiveness and amends plans and prepare to continue the work of self-forgiveness after treatment, part of the clinician's job is to make sure that each veteran has the necessary support in place and to help him or her build new support as needed—for instance, by encouraging the veteran to strengthen existing bonds with family and friends, or to forge new bonds within supportive veteran or spiritual communities.

Clinicians can also facilitate veterans' connections to pastoral care through, for example, referrals to or collaborations with chaplains or clergy e. In these ways, clinicians can empower veterans to keep making progress on the path of self-exploration, community reintegration, and making amends. It bears noting that not every veteran will feel that forgiveness is warranted or possible. Some will feel that their actions are unforgiveable. This may be especially true for veterans who killed civilians, participated in massacres, or took actions that can only be described as murder.

Others may feel that they are not authorized to forgive their own immoral actions—believing, for example, that only victims can grant forgiveness. Philosophers have long debated who has standing to forgive and whether any act is finally unforgiveable However, when it comes to self -forgiveness, we have found that the individual veteran is ultimately the arbiter. A clinician may ask probing questions to encourage more critical and flexible thinking or greater attentiveness to context, but must finally respect the veteran's choice to embrace, or not to embrace, self-forgiveness as a goal.

Some will choose to reject it. Those who choose to pursue self-forgiveness are likely to find that it is a long journey with many ups and downs. That journey may result in worsening guilt and shame at first, and guilt is seldom resolved entirely, even in the aftermath of self-forgiveness.

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For many veterans, additional therapeutic work will be necessary to address the long-term traumatic impact of moral injury, which is often entangled with post-traumatic stress in complex ways. For others, religious or pastoral care may facilitate healing and spiritual growth beyond what clinical care can offer. Self-forgiveness work should not be conceptualized as the only approach to resolving the multiple psychological, emotional, behavioral, and spiritual problems that may be associated with moral injury.

If embraced uncritically or inauthentically, self-forgiveness can result in eased feelings of guilt that do not actually lead to reconciliation or amends, nevermind spiritual growth and learning 21 , Inauthentic self-forgiveness is also compatible with ongoing self-destructive behaviors, such as the self-sabotaging behaviors and substance abuse that can sometimes accompany moral injury Even authentic self-forgiveness has its limits.

It can help some veterans reach a place of spiritual restoration, where they can live beyond shame and self-punishment. It can also help them re-engage with their families and communities and give back in meaningful ways that honor their values. But it can never undo what happened and is thus limited in its capacity to ease the pain of others who were harmed or victimized. This is particularly true when it comes to the moral violations of war, which often involve killing and harming anonymous strangers.

In some sense, the most serious of wrongs can go un-righted, even in the wake of authentic self-forgiveness. Although the self-forgiveness process involves making amends and giving back, it is still primarily a matter of personal growth and transformation. In itself, it does not help to change the social or political conditions that lead soldiers into morally compromising positions and it may allow those conditions to continue unabated. In the end, moral injury is not exclusively a psychological matter, and healing moral injuries requires more than the tools of psychology or psychiatry can offer.

It requires spiritual growth rooted in both personal and communal values, as well as reintegration into a moral community be it religious, secular, familial, or other. Often, there is an explicit social and political dimension to this healing process. For example, some veterans may feel that making amends entails seeking justice and contributing to specific communities in specific ways—a path akin to those created through restorative justice programs.

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Others might argue that the civilian community shares responsibility for the violence of war and, thus, that healing requires a collective reckoning with war's consequences e. After all, soldiers suffer from moral injury as a result of actions they took in wars engineered by much larger political and social forces. For individual veterans, self-forgiveness is not a panacea, nor does it resolve the larger moral questions raised by the violence of war. At one time I couldn't love myself… I had to forgive myself. Forgiveness of the self is a powerful, if partial, intervention that can facilitate healing from moral injury.

Although it does not constitute the totality of that healing process, we have found that it is a crucial springboard to the reaffirmation of violated values and the reconstitution of an integrated moral identity. Self-forgiveness may not repair the underlying conditions that leave so many soldiers affected by moral injury, but it can give individual veterans the opportunity to find a livable path forward.

Clinicians, if they are willing and humble, can play a crucial role in facilitating the process of self-forgiveness. They can create a space for open and compassionate exploration of painful moral traumas, and help veterans chart a course toward the renewal of their moral self. Many veterans, we have found, can and do achieve that renewal—honoring their values, making amends to those they harmed, and finding ways to respect the self they have become.

This is not an original research manuscript, but it does reference findings and data across several of the authors' previously published studies. SM designed and served as principal investigator of the original research studies referenced throughout, with NP and KB conducting data analysis and interpretation. BG contributed his expertise in the literature on forgiveness and moral injury. NP prepared the initial draft of the manuscript, and all authors participated in revision and refinement of the final manuscript. The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Here, spirituality might be thought of as a capacity for or even a need to find meaning and purpose in life. This meaning or purpose is often rooted in a sense of inter-connection with others or a belonging to a larger whole that is endowed with significance beyond one's own life. Spirituality is often, but not necessarily, tied to religious faith or beliefs. The funding sources did not play a role in study design; in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; or in the writing of this perspective.

The authors alone are responsible for the content of this manuscript. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U.

Journal List Front Psychiatry v. Front Psychiatry. Published online Oct Griffin , 1 Kristine Burkman , 1, 3 and Shira Maguen 1, 3. Brandon J. Author information Article notes Copyright and License information Disclaimer. Edited by: Harold G. Carey, La Trobe University, Australia. This article was submitted to Psychopathology, a section of the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry. Received Jul 28; Accepted Sep The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author s and the copyright owner s are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice.

No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms. Abstract For military veterans struggling with moral injury, forgiveness can become both an animating concern and a potential path to healing. Keywords: moral injury, military veterans, forgiveness, self-forgiveness, psychotherapy.

What does forgiveness have to do with moral injury? What sort of forgiveness is attainable and meaningful? How does self-forgiveness begin? How can self-forgiveness help? What role can clinicians play in facilitating forgiveness? What are the limits of forgiveness? Ethics statement This is not an original research manuscript, but it does reference findings and data across several of the authors' previously published studies. Conflict of interest statement The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

References 1. Collins M. Almost Sunrise. Burkman K, Maguen S.

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Impact of killing in war: a randomized, controlled pilot trial. J Clin Psychol. Healing from moral injury: a qualitative evaluation of the Impact of Killing treatment for combat veterans. J Aggress Maltreat Trauma 27 — Veterans' perspectives on the psychosocial impact of killing in war. Counsel Psychol. Maguen S, Burkman K. Combat-related killing: expanding evidence-based treatments for PTSD. Cogn Behav Pract. United Stated Department of Veterans Affairs. Sulmasy DP. A biopsychosocial-spiritual model for the care of patients at the end of life.

Gerontologist 3 — Moral injury and moral repair in war veterans: a preliminary model and intervention strategy. Clin Psychol Rev. The impact of killing in war on mental health symptoms and related functioning. J Traumat Stress 22 — Shay J. The impact of reported direct and indirect killing on mental health symptoms in Iraq war veterans. J Traumat Stress 23 — Killing in combat, mental health symptoms, and suicidal ideation in Iraq war veterans.

J Anxiety Disord. Killing in combat may be independently associated with suicidal ideation. Depress Anxiety 29 — A consensus definition of self-forgiveness: implications for assessment and treatment. Spiritual Clin Pract. A therapeutic model of self-forgiveness with intervention strategies for counselors. J Counsel Dev. Working through psychological needs following transgressions to arrive at self-forgiveness. Handbook of the Psychology of Self-Forgiveness. Springer International Publishing; a. Orientation to the psychology of self-forgiveness. Springer International Publishing; c. Holmgren MR.

Self-forgiveness and responsible moral agency. J Value Inquiry 32 — Forgiving the self: conceptual issues and empirical findings. In: Worthington EL Jr, editor. Handbook of Forgiveness. New York, NY: Routledge; Repairing meaning, resolving rumination, and moving toward self-forgiveness. Springer International Publishing; Self-forgiveness and military service: equipping warriors to combat moral injury.

Dordrecht: Springer International Publishing; Forgiving the self and physical and mental health correlates: a meta-analytic review. J Counsel Psychol. Combat exposure and risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors among military personnel and veterans: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Suicide Life Threat Behav.

Forgiveness and alcohol problems: a review of the literature and a call for intervention-based research. Alcohol Treat Q. Self-forgiveness in romantic relationships: it matters to both of us. J Fam Psychol. Moral injury, spiritual care and the role of chaplains: an exploratory scoping review of literature and resources. J Religion Health 55 — There is no better way to move forward into the future. When we forgive others, we forgive ourselves as well. That is when the real healing begins. Are you ready to learn how you can master your life?

This page contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission at no additional cost to you. I only ever endorse products that I have personally used and benefitted from personally. Thank you for your support! Although at times it may seem impossible to do, forgiveness is a learnable skill that anybody can master. The problem is that a lot of people aren't willing to let go of their story. By holding onto their pain, they think that they are empowering themselves, but this is far from true. Thoughts of anger and resentment only serve to disempower you and suck away your energy, leaving you feeling trapped and stuck in the past.

How would it feel if you could release these negative emotions?

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To forgive is a choice, which means that it is entirely in your control. You cannot control who is going to hurt you, but you do have the power to control how you react to that hurt. How we choose to respond determines whether or not we will wallow in anger and hate, or rise above our circumstances and choose peace and happiness.

Let's explore 5 reasons why having the courage to forgive someone is the key to success, freedom and lifelong happiness. When you practice forgiveness, you forgive yourself in the process. Not only does this allow you to release any negative energy and resistance that you may be feeling, it also makes space in your heart to reconnect with yourself. You don't need to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders for one day longer. No matter what is going on in the outside world, when you stay grounded and make decisions that serve your highest self, you pave the way for a life of success, freedom, and happiness.

It's one thing to forgive someone, but it's another to completely rid yourself of the resentment that you feel towards the person who has wronged you. Nobody wants to get hurt, but it happens. What you do with that hurt is equally as important as the actual experience of being hurt. Because holding onto past hurt means that you are unable to let go of the past, and if you are living in the past , you are stuck and can't move forward.

Don't get me wrong. Your emotions matter, and it's important to feel them fully, but you need to know when to walk away and write a new chapter in the story of your life.

Have you ever had the experience of feeling sick to your stomach when you find out that someone has wronged you? It's a horrible feeling, especially if that person is close to you. Our mind and body are connected to one another, which is why when we experience negative emotions our physical body responds. By not practicing forgiveness, we can make ourselves sick. Research shows that forgiveness is actually good for our health. Forgiveness isn't easy, especially when someone has deeply hurt you. Emotional wounds can haunt people for a lifetime, but they don't have to.

What's the answer? When you can find the strength and courage to forgive, that is the moment at which your healing process will begin. No one deserves to experience pain, but everyone deserves to heal from it. It all starts and ends with you. Ho'oponopono is an ancient Hawaiian prayer used for healing, forgiveness and inner peace. In Hawaiian culture, they believe that not being able to forgive someone leads to disease and disconnect from your higher self. The best way to take back your power when you have been hurt by someone is to take responsibility for your life.

If you don't open your heart to forgiveness, you continue to play the victim. I am in no way discrediting the pain that someone has inflicted upon you, but living with a victim mentality only serves to keep you stuck in the past. Be mindful of how you talk to yourself, because what we say we attract into our lives. Do you define yourself by your pain?

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Calling yourself a victim will only continue to feed more negative experiences that put you back into victim mode again. Try choosing more positive words that honor and support your healing process. When you do, you will find freedom. We cannot become the master of our lives if we choose to remain a victim. Give yourself permission to move out of victimhood. Feelings of anger, resentment, and guilt will slowly start to fade away and be replaced with self-love, compassion and freedom.

It is your key to success, freedom, and lifelong happiness. Let's go through a 5-step process for how to forgive. This is a simple, yet powerful exercise because it means that you are making a conscious decision to forgive someone.