Healing From Abuse and Trauma

Working through anger with forgiveness to move past the chains of past trauma

Posted Feb 13, 2014

As I wrote in my book, 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child, children who have a history of emotional trauma may exhibit oppositional behavior as a response to their past experiences. I have worked with a considerable amount of children, teens, and adults with trauma histories, including sexual abuse. Some of these individuals have presented accounts of horrific abuse. It is deeply, intrisically satisfying to have clients who are victms of abuse, trust and open up with me. 

Individuals who have been hurt, betrayed, and abused have the right to be angry and resentful. These are normal reactions and emotions when feeling the crushed spirit that can come from being disrespected or abused. If not dealt with, such angry reactions can damage personal health on several levels: These include killer cell cytotoxicity, autoimmune suppression, disruption of personal relationships, Acute Coronary Syndrome, and consequent increased mortality.

Robert Grant, Ph.D., a lecturer on traumatized individuals who experienced military horrors, 9-11-2001 stress, the aftermath of violent crime, and the painful baggage of sexual abuse, states "Suffering is the only thing powerful enough to wake you up to reality."

Working through trauma can be a very long, painful road. I have seen over and over from my counseling clients who are victims of abuse, that it is crucial that they work through the stages of anger and forgiveness, to move forward in the healing process.

Below are some key points that promote emotional healing from trauma:

  • Experiencing the darkness of your suffering is where true learning and a deeper sense of personal meaning can arise.
  • Acknowledging revenge fantasies within oneself or with trusted others is integral to the process of freeing oneself from the shackles of anger.
  • The reality is that anger needs to be acknowledged and processed even though most people are not comfortable with their anger in the first place.
  • Finding common ground between yourself and your offender/aggressor helps to lead the way to forgiveness.
  • At the same time, seeing how you are different in that you would not act out in the same way also keeps you separate which is important to promoting emotional health.
  • Forgiving yourself is crucial for healing. To forgive yourself, you must accept that you were/are vulnerable and allow yourself to be human. This means accepting that you may have made mistakes if, in fact you had made any concerning your safety or welfare.
  • To truly heal yourself you must be willing to move from our "pleasure world" of mainstream consciousness and acknowledge, and stay in, with inner pride, your own suffering. The mainstream world we live in fills us with media portraying easy living devoid of pain. Freeing yourself means you must leave the fairy dust fantasies of what you SHOULD have in life and accept the painful realities that have come your way.

Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein is a psychologist with over twenty-two years’ experience specializing in child, adolescent, couples, and family therapy. He holds a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the State University of New York at Albany and completed his post doctoral internship at the University of Pennsylvania Counseling Center. He has appeared twice on the Today Show, Court TV as an expert advisor, CBS eyewitness news Philadelphia, 10! Philadelphia—NBC and public radio. Dr. Bernstein has authored four books, including the highly popular 10 Days to a Less Defiant Child (Perseus Books, 2006), 10 Days to Less Distracted Child (Perseus Books 2007), Liking the Child You Love (Perseus Books 2009) and Why Can’t You Read My Mind? (Perseus Books 2003).