Trigger warning: This blog post discusses sexual assault.
It’s a statistic no one likes to write or read about.
In 2022, Statistics Canada released the rate of police-reported sexual assault in Canada for the previous year: 34,200, the highest level since 1996.
A staggering number, and one that’s likely significantly underestimated.
The physical, mental and emotional ramifications of sexual violence can be devastating and long-lasting.
A 2006 study noted sexual assault is the most frequent cause of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in women. The high rate of PTSD in survivors shows there is room for improvement in current therapies and approaches to healing.
The role of forgiveness in trauma healing
The same study stressed that an important aspect of the recovery process is empowering the survivor and putting control back in their hands.
I tend to agree.
While we’re often taught to forgive and forget, my forgiveness process shows why it is crucial to remember every thought, speech and behaviour associated with the moments we try to forget. Through my research and experience, I’ve discovered the importance of healing the wounds that hold our attention and constructing new patterns of compassionate understanding, acceptance, and love.
I recently had the honor of hosting Elayna Fernandez on my podcast, Hey, I’m Listening! A bestselling author, acclaimed storyteller, and founder of the Positive MOM community, she helps mothers turn their painful stories into bestselling books.
Her personal story is so inspirational, I encourage you to listen to the entire episode. She has survived extreme poverty, abuse, an unspeakable tragedy in her teen years, and several near-death experiences, all of which “were taking a toll on [her] soul.”
There is a sense of wisdom that flows from those who have experienced some of the harshest elements of our world and yet, found a way to awaken who they truly are. Elayna embodies this, as she found her passion to teach this wisdom to others so they, too, may benefit.
“If you’re on the journey to healing, know that you have been equipped with everything inside of you. There are parts of you that are conspiring, right now, to heal and to thrive–not because of what happened, but in spite of what happened,” she said during our discussion.
I always say to my clients that as soon as they heal, their passions will come forward. Once you find that passion, that purpose, you can pursue it with vigour that comes from the energy that manifests when you heal.
Before we discuss how to overcome trauma symptoms through forgiveness, let’s talk about what trauma is.
When we hear the word trauma, most of us immediately think about intense and tragic events like natural disasters, such as a tornado, hurricane, fire or flood. Some of us go one step further and think about events like sexual assault, domestic violence, or witnessing a shooting or stabbing.
Others may think about the sudden death of a parent, divorce or the sudden departure of an important person in our lives.
Traumas are not defined by the magnitude of an event but rather, our response to it. The response is an involuntary body (physiological), mind (thoughts, feeling, emotions, beliefs) and spiritual (fear, love) response to an event perceived as overwhelming, fearful, threatening or punishing.
Traumas are not always alarming. They can be non-events like someone who promises to show up but never does. They can be related to leaving, like a parent whose presence diminishes after a divorce.
These traumatic moments overwhelm us, trigger the sympathetic nervous system’s fear response and cause us to scream, silently panic or feel as though we are being unjustly punished.
Trauma healing tips
In her renowned book, Forgiveness: 21 Days to Forgive Everyone for Everything, author Iyanla Vanzant explains how forgiveness doesn’t mean agreeing with, condoning, or liking what has happened.
As Elayna stated during our discussion, it’s not about denying the pain; it’s about finding tools to heal it so we can be our true selves.
We want to pour out those aspects that no longer serve us and welcome the aspects that serve, protect, validate, and grant us compassion.
Here are seven tips on how to overcome those moments, big or small, that take our breath away:
1. Assess how trauma is affecting you
Traumatic experiences like rape or childhood sexual abuse can cause significant, longstanding psychological, mental and physical health effects.
As this article on recovering from rape and sexual trauma states, that is a normal reaction to trauma. All of those feelings swirling through your head–those feelings of helplessness, self-blame and shame–“are symptoms, not reality.”
There are tools to help you assess how your trauma is affecting you:
- Depression Anxiety Stress Scale-21
- PTSD Checklist
- Life Changes Index Scale
- Satisfaction With Life Scale
Please consult with a health professional as the use of these tools does not constitute a medical diagnosis.
2. Find the room
During our discussion, Elayna referred to her daily date with pain, an activity wherein you close your eyes and recall your traumatic experience. Bring it to your awareness, find it deep within your body and allow yourself to stay with it for a moment–then, say something validating to yourself.
Similarly, one of the initial steps in my forgiveness process is to identify what I like to call the “room,” or the first moment in time that we experience fear and an energetic shift.
In my book 490: Forgive and Live Fearlessly, I outline an innovative technique (applied kinesiology) to help you find your room and overcome any fears lurking or buried there.
This technique uses body memory to identify the day, month and year something happened that overwhelmed you and caused the body-mind-spirit response previously outlined. It’s no easy task–you’re going to be diving into the most intense and painful parts of the body and the memory it holds.
Most people, when they start therapy, are highly stressed by something happening in their lives right now. They can spend years talking about an issue if they do not know when and where the room is found.
Finding the room is an important step in the healing process, one that is essential to help you move through the rest of your journey and bring peace into every aspect of your life.
3. Move through a conscious forgiveness journey
While processing a significant trauma like rape or sexual abuse can be complex and multi-faceted, you can still seek to move through a conscious forgiveness journey.
Start by asking yourself four questions:
- What did you want?
- What did you get instead of what you wanted?
- How did this make you feel?
- What do you know that would help you understand why the person behaved the way they did?
These questions stir up a lot of feelings and emotions, but as you acknowledge the event(s) in question, you can better accept you were not responsible for it–but you are responsible for forgiveness now.
The process of healing takes time, but you can actually engage with your emotions in as little as a minute and a half, according to research on the 90-second rule.
With my clients, I use exercises that help bring your subconscious, conscious and superconscious to a place of unity by allowing the right and left hemispheres of the brain to begin to work together–an essential connection for healing to take hold. The conscious forgiveness process has many components and is outlined more clearly in the ultimate forgiveness journal, Forgive: Master the Art of Letting Go.
4. Don’t focus on the feelings–focus on the patterns
Wow, what a powerful statement. These insightful words from Mahatma Gandhi mark a philosophy that can be applied to forgiveness after trauma.
Take a step back and observe how the concepts flow from one to the next, and how your beliefs can ultimately determine your destiny. Awareness of how they are interconnected–and taking the appropriate actions where needed–will bring you one step closer to healing.
Create the future you want to see, but also recognize the past that was.
The most important thought pattern to notice is the one focused on changing the past. Statements like “It never should have happened” or “It should have been different” keep you going backward rather than looking forward. And believe it or not, wherever we focus is our destination.
5. Every trigger is an opportunity to overcome your traumatic fears
This Forbes article by Mark Travers on reclaiming yourself after sexual trauma hits the nail on the head when it comes to triggers. Reminders of trauma like anniversary dates or a particular smell, triggers can lead to a variety of intense reactions, from panic attacks to flashbacks to blackouts.
Even though your instinct may be to push them deep down inside of you or ignore them completely, you can regain your power over those triggers. Like this article on building strength and resilience after a sexual assault suggests, self-care isn’t about turning off those bad feelings, but feeling them so they can subside naturally.
First, it’s important to identify your triggers to learn how to better anticipate, prepare for, respond to and eventually overcome them. Your connection to your body will play a huge role here, especially as you enter fight-or-flight mode and your primal instincts start to take over.
As Travers notes in his article, “A negative relationship with your body as a result of sexual trauma, though unfortunate, is a natural occurrence…Re-establishing a connection with your body might help you accept and take charge of it.”
Practicing breathing and mindfulness techniques can help you ground yourself and bring you back to the present.
6. Protect yourself and build borders
In identifying each forgiveness, you will receive the opportunity to learn from it and protect yourself and your energy going forward. That could look like this:
- Building boundaries that allow the right people in through the course of your journey
- Recognizing the layers of fears (here’s where we revisit the “room”) and how they may influence decisions–whether positively or negatively
- Making decisions that conserve your energy, time and resources
- Seeking peace and calm, however, that looks for you
Stand in your power by returning to your true nature, giving up the desire to return to the chaos. Treat yourself like a best friend through your journey–with sensitivity, respect, kindness, gentleness, and the most profound truth, understanding, and compassion.
7. Give yourself grace and recognize healing is a journey
Everyone heals in different ways and at different speeds, so don’t compare your journey to others. You’re unique, and so too will be your journey.
It’s also important to remember that forgiveness and healing won’t happen overnight, nor will they be a linear experience. Setbacks may happen, and that’s OK.
And, perhaps most importantly, don’t face your healing alone. As Elayna noted during our podcast discussion, for every person who hurts you, there is someone who wants to be part of your healing journey.
“Sometimes, I have stayed alive because I have myself permission to ask for help…and it’s not only OK to ask for help; it is necessary, and it’s a beautiful thing,” she said during our podcast. “It’s a beautiful opportunity for another person to fulfill their purpose.”
With the tools I’ve listed above–and support from groups, mental health professionals, friends and family–you can start to heal from your trauma. By choosing the spiritual path to forgiveness and releasing yourself, your healing journey will lead you to truly stand in your power.
Register for The Forgiveness Method course for more in depth training on how to handle and heal from trauma.
Disclaimer: The content in this blog post is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult with your doctor or a qualified health-care professional for specific concerns.