May 30, 2023


The expression “Forgive and forget” has been quoted for centuries with different variations. The word forgiveness evokes many emotions. We often say the words, but seldom internalize them. Sometimes we just say the words aloud, but don’t mean them, or say them internally and don’t believe them. Sometimes we say it to friends, families, and loved ones just to move on. But forgiveness takes more than words to truly accept and let it go.


In my Resolution Focused Therapy ©(RFT) treatment model, some of the more difficult obstacles on the way to trauma resolution are distorted beliefs (a belief not accurately depicting the event). These obstacles are what keep us “Spinning” (getting triggered in the present time that sends you back to your pasts) and causing symptoms to be more pronounced. These symptoms will often trigger relapses, outbursts, anger, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and so on. One of those distorted beliefs is about forgiveness.


Now let me be very, very, clear. I am NOT saying you must forgive someone who has done you harm. I do not, even for a second, believe that is necessary to heal, although there is a school of thought that does believe it is necessary. To move forward from a past unresolved life event, you need to forgive yourselves. But wait a minute…. If you did not hurt anyone, then why would you have to forgive yourselves! Well, this is where many survivors of past trauma/life events get confused.

I have seen this confusion firsthand in my personal struggles and my groups. Clients with past unresolved traumas/life events did not quite understand why they would have to forgive themselves. Then I would explain that many survivors have taken on the distorted belief that in some way “the trauma was their fault,” or they “should have done better” and probably spent many months and years with the guilt or shame. So, you need to forgive yourselves for those months and years of beating yourselves up for something that WAS NOT YOUR FAULT. This concept does get confusing at times, so I wanted to stress this point.

When I talk about distorted beliefs, I refer to people who do not accurately depict their past events and with time often make them far worse. Again, I know this from my own experience. This is where we will make it about “us,” or a “Should’ve, Could’ve, Would’ve” about the event. If the latter, you feel you need to punish yourself for not acting perfect in the past. This was my “demon”. But who is perfect? Definitely not me, are you?


I cannot resolve your past trauma/life event in one easy lesson, and if I did, it would not have a healthy outcome. I would just overwhelm you and probably make it worse. So, for now, I am only going to say that the ultimate goal of the reconnection of past events with current emotions takes time and work. That goal is “forgiveness”. As I teach groups on this topic it’s pretty simple to see what’s causing the “spinning”. You expected your past behaviors or actions to be “perfect”. There is no such animal.


Perfection is a goal to strive for but will never, ever, be achieved. It is simply not possible and yet we will beat ourselves up chasing that ghost. I did it for 4 years until realizing the obvious, “I’m not perfect”. I had to understand that “I did the best I could at that time in my life”. The irony here is that most of you will comfort others who are beating themselves up over past events and actions, yet you will not cut yourselves the same break.


For now, just know that forgiveness is not something you can just say. It must be believed, felt, and internalized into your psyche. I have heard too many of my clients say, “But I forgave myself a long time ago, so why am I still not in peace?”. My answer is “Just because you say the words does not mean you internally believe them”.


The journey to reaching forgiveness is a process and not an immediate fix to your struggles. Thinking it is an immediate fix is probably what causes more disconnection from the past. For now, just know, “Self-forgiveness” is attainable regardless of how awful you believe your past was.


Give the process time to happen. Establish a solid healthy ground before taking this step. There is no timetable for healing. There is no age limit on healing!


Remember this! You can either be a victim or a teacher of your past. Being a victim of your pasts will only lead to more victimization, pain, anger, and misery. I chose teacher! Do the work and become a beacon of light for others suffering from past unresolved trauma.

Mind, Body, Spirit…Balance!!

Vinnie Strumolo, CEO, CCO, LMFT