My name is Tracy Keating Ward. I am one of the therapists with the Texas Military Department. I have been asked to write a “blog” on forgiveness. Looking back on my career of 22 years as a therapist I have worked in many places: prisons, probation offices, parole offices, pain clinics and here at Camp Mabry. What I have learned in the area of “forgiveness” is that FORGIVENESS IS THE BEST MEDICINE.
As I see it, Forgiveness comes in many forms. There is offering forgiveness to those who have hurt you. There is requesting forgiveness from those you have hurt. There is requesting forgiveness from your Higher Power. And last, but not least, there is forgiveness for yourself. One thing I do know is that we all make mistakes. These mistakes hurt others. These mistakes also can be the agent to bring about change and healing.
Years ago, when I worked in the criminal justice arena, all my clients were convicted felons. One day I heard a young chaplain speaking to a group of my clients. He started his talk by saying, “Hello Brothers.” This was such a compassionate kind and totally unexpected greeting. These men looked at themselves as the worse of the worse. For a chaplain to refer to them with the sincere greeting of “Brothers” made a huge difference. As the chaplain talked he referred to self responsibility and said something I have never forgotten. He said, “When you offended, you offended against your own self.” HUH? For a moment I thought he meant to say… “When you offended, you offended against your victim, your family, and your community.” Hurt themselves? How? How is this true? I had never had this thought or spent anytime in therapy sessions looking at how their actions had impacted their own self. I had completely left my client’s healing out of the equation. The chaplain continued by saying that each time we hurt someone we hurt our own soul. What an interesting concept. We have to be held responsible for how we treat ourselves, not just others. WE EACH MATTER.
My next place of employment was a Pain Clinic. I saw 6-8 clients a day who suffered from various degrees of chronic pain. Research states that 70 to 80 percent of all people who suffer from chronic pain have an unresolved traumatic event in their past. I witness each day how people’s anger, sadness, fear, and resentment all impeded their desire to forgive and their bodies just did not heal. I also witness people choosing to forgive those that hurt them (many times these were family members who were suppose to love and protect them) and then close the door on the past. They did not deny that the trauma occurred or that they were not hurt. Just the opposite. They chose to accept that they were hurt (abused), that it happened in the past, that they no longer wanted to spend anymore of the present time concentrating on the trauma and that they forgave the person by “wishing them well and wishing them no harm” (a version of agape love or the love you give to your neighbor). Many were people of faith and they made the decision to let their Higher Power be the True Judge of the situation. As for themselves, they chose to give up their desire for vengeance and with it the anger and resentment that accompanied it. I saw these client’s pain reduce, their bodies heal, and their mind’s become still and peaceful. Sometimes we don’t even realize how much of TODAY we lose by reliving the ugly events of yesterday.
Now working with soldiers I experience another type of struggle with forgiveness. Forgiving yourself. Soldiers tend to forgive others much easier than they forgive themselves. That may be due to the fact that they have a higher level of standard for themselves than they do for others. By the time a soldier comes to a therapy session with me he/she has usually struggled with their own guilt and shame for a while, even to the point of suicide. I love to share with the soldiers the following quote:
We think that we feel regret about a mistake then ask for forgiveness, when actually the forgiveness has already been sent, that is why we feel the regret.
I love this quote because it brings so much relief and so much grace. Within minutes many of the soldier’s eyes tear up. There is mercy in the quote because for many they had thought they had committed the “unforgivable sin.” That thought leads to depression, separation, and hopelessness. Forgiveness of yourself leads to healing.
So in conclusion, here is what I have learned about Forgiveness from my best teachers...my clients.
• Forgiveness is the best medicine… and it is free, no prescription needed.
• All of us have made mistakes and need to request forgiveness sometime in our lives.
• We have a responsibility to care for ourselves and when we offend against others we offend against ourselves and need to forgive ourselves too.
• You cannot fool the body. It won’t heal when it is angry, resentful, fearful or sad.
• Forgiveness brings tremendous healing for our body, mind and soul.
• If all possible, forgive then shut the door to the past. Doing so will make room to enjoy the present.
If you want to discuss more about the Healing Aspects of Forgiveness talk to a therapist, chaplain, or your spiritual leader. What do you have to lose, except a lot of pain.
Tracy K. Ward, LPC-S