I want to share with you some lessons I’ve learned on how to create a space for healing and peace for people that have been harmed.
In my life,
like any person, I have spoken and behaved in ways that have harmed people around me and the people I care about.
“Like any person” is crossed out, because I wanted to use that sentence to share a lesson I have learned. Harms we have enacted are not caused by society, culture, or something greater than us. They may be the soil that the harm we caused grew in, but deferring the blame to something greater than us is a way to unburden ourselves of the weight of creating harm.
To use a personal example, I had harmed a friend when speaking about a concern I had with myself. I did not recognize that I was upholding an abuse structure in our culture that had harmed my friend in the past. The abuse structure is bigger than I am, but I acted as a conduit from it to my friend. I am responsible for the harm I caused. Seeing someone uphold an abuse structure, intentionally or not – strikes fear into the people who were exiled or harmed by it.
I have learned that apologies can be a trap. We must recognize, as the people who have harmed, whether the desire to make amends is for us or for the people that we have harmed. Sometimes a person who has been harmed needs time and space. That is often the only thing within their power to control in response to harm. Offering an apology can sometimes destroy their power and control, and preclude that response.
An apology can act as a reminder of harm, before the person who was harmed is ready to confront and process the pain.
An apology can act as a ticking clock because it can force a person who is harmed to respond, and to respond within a polite time frame.
An apology is a burden because the person who was harmed must hold the weight of the apology and also perform forgiveness.
I have learned to recognize that because fear and confusion are common responses to being harmed, distancing is sometimes the only protective action that feels safe.
I have learned if forgiveness is offered, it is important to understand that forgiveness is not a resetting of relationships or closeness. Forgiveness is not a way to move backward, it is a way to move forward – and sometimes it means moving forward apart.
I have learned that forgiveness can be given by the person who was harmed, to themselves. And in that process, forgiveness can be given to you by a person unburdening themselves of the conduit that brought harm into their life.
Sometimes forgiveness means that the person will walk away from you, and that means sometimes we only need to provide them a path to do so clear of obstacles.
It takes care, time, and empathy to recognize that we are not always the source of healing.