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What You Need To Know About Complex Forgiveness

 

What do you do when you’re trying to forgive but you can’t stop thinking about your trauma? The fact that you can ask yourself that question shows how complex forgiveness can become. Amy Killingsworth explains that you have to feel and acknowledge your feelings, and then process them out of your system. Forgiveness is like hygiene. If you carry it around, it’ll defile everything in your life. Tune in, take your power back, and forgive! 

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What You Need To Know About Complex Forgiveness 

This episode is about complex forgiveness. What do you do when you are trying to forgive and the thing keeps happening over again or the trauma runs so deep that you can’t stop thinking about it and your memories are in your thoughts or intrusive about it? Let’s find out. Remember, God wants you healed so you can wholeheartedly live your purpose and love your life. 

In this episode, I am doing a follow-up to our last episode, which was Amnesty. Amnesty is a broader, more inclusive concept of forgiveness that means deciding to let a situation, a person or an offense go. When I get a lot of questions about an episode, I know that I need to dig a little bit deeper and this is one of those times. What I want to focus on is a topic called Complex Forgiveness. There’s a little bit of a difference between forgiving a so-called minor offense, something that doesn’t wound or damage you and forgiving something more significant. When we are dealing with something more significant, which means that something is ongoing, we are dealing with it every single day and it’s still happening. It’s not in your past. It’s in your present and it keeps happening or it’s something that is a major or significant trauma. 

Complex forgiveness is ongoing where there are daily fallouts or reminders. Click To Tweet

When we have a more significant situation, there’s a commitment that we can undertake to complex forgiveness. In this episode, I’m going to walk you through what complex forgiveness is and how to do it. In the end, I’m going to walk you through a forgiveness exercise. It is powerful. Maybe towards the end, you want to be somewhere where you can get quiet with your journal, sit and do the exercise or you want to come back to it. It will be here for you if you do. An exercise can be done over again. I recommend it because it’s simple but it’s therapeutic. It’s one of the practices that we do in our Rise to Reign Live Event. It is a turning point in the process for people’s hearts to open up and to start to get a deeper layer of healing and breakthroughs in their situation. 

Complex Forgiveness 

Complex forgiveness is when something is ongoing, there’s daily fallout or reminder. I will give you a couple of examples of this so that you can get a picture of what this looks like. Even most of us have situations like this in our life. I have a coworker or a business associate who is dealing with a custody issue. She’s in court, constantly fighting her ex-husband for custody of their child and it is dragging on for years. She’s over a decade into the process. I know there are two sides to any story but in this case, he’s a bad guy. He is actively abusing and terrifying their child. At the same time, he’s lying in court. She continues to have to pay money for lawyers, have to go and fight this thing. When she thinks she’s forgiven, something else comes up and the hits keep on coming. 

When somebody is toxic or a relationship is harmful, it would be nice if you could cut ties and walk away from that but that’s not always possible. If you have kids with someone or if they are a family member, it’s not always possible. What do you do in those situations when it feels like you are trapped? We are sovereign people so we don’t want to get into the victim energy. We want to approach this as the queen or the king and their go-to is amnesty. How do you know when you are blaming and you need to do forgiveness? 

The number one red flag that jumps out is that you are feeling sorry for yourself. You are feeling like a victim or victimized. You might be saying, “I am being victimized.” In the strictest sense of the word, there may be somebody who’s perpetuating something against you and injustice has occurred. I don’t want to gaslight you, minimize that it’s not right or that there’s pain involved because I get that. Hopefully, by now, you are starting to see how these concepts tie together with sovereignty, identity and now with forgiveness. The victim position is either the prisoner or the slave. It’s not a powerful position. Even if somebody has perpetrated something against you, you don’t have to be a victim of it. The way that you get your power back is to get out of the victim position and stop blaming. I promise you that you can do that. It doesn’t make the offense any less real. It takes your power back from the victimizer, perpetrator, situation or event. 

Traumatized By An Institution

Another issue is when there’s an institution. It doesn’t necessarily even have to be a person. It can be an institution like the church. I know so many people, myself included, who have had horrible traumatic experiences in religious environments and institutions that can create something that needs complex forgiveness because you still have to reckon with your spirituality. There’s a mess because of what you went through. Complex forgiveness can be involved in a situation like that. An example of somebody who had to go through complex forgiveness that I know of is with a government is somebody that I know who had their child’s killed in a work accident that was because of government malfeasance. 

The government, regulatory agencies and people that were in charge of making a certain situation safe didn’t. An accident happened on the job and her adult child was injured and killed. It’s like, “Do something to me and I might have a hard time forgiving but when you do something to my kid or your negligence causes my child to be harmed, that is a tough one.” We hear stories about people who have had loved ones killed by drunk drivers, murder or rape. These horrible situations laid down this significant life-changing trauma then you are left carrying this grief and sorrow. What do you do? That’s when complex forgiveness is not only helpful but necessary. 

RTR 7 | Complex Forgiveness

Complex Forgiveness: The number one red flag that jumps out is that you are feeling sorry for yourself.

 

I want to bring you back to how woundedness gets laid down in our nervous system. If you can imagine your nervous system as like a cassette tape if you are as old as I am, you know what a VHS tape is or you might have had cassette tapes that you listened to in your Walkman, stereo or your boombox. It was a little plastic cassette with a film that had data on it. It would record over here. As this spool would fill up, this spool would empty. That’s exactly how your nervous is. Everything that you experience is laid down on a recording tape in your nervous system. It’s stored in your subconscious. Everything you have ever seen, heard, feeling you have ever had, good and bad, and every experience is recorded in your subconscious mind. 

This is important because it’s exciting when we are talking about good experiences and this is how we learn but it can be challenging when we are carrying around trauma, negative feelings and burdened by woundedness that we are still carrying. There’s a way to unwind that trauma. The way that it goes in is the way that it comes out. You have to feel it to heal it. You have to feel, acknowledge and process those feelings out of your system, otherwise, feelings buried alive and never die. You have to process your feelings out. 

We can have beauty for ashes and we can have the oil of joy for mourning. Click To Tweet

If I get cut off in traffic, someone makes me slam on my brakes, my purse might fly off the seat and empty onto the floorboard. That irritates me and I need to do forgiveness around that because I don’t want to be carrying that offense around. That’s simple. If I’m dealing with some major or ongoing trauma, it’s the same process but it’s a little bit more layered and ongoing. You can consider it like forgiveness hygiene. I’m going to walk you through an actual process where we do this and it’s something that you can repeat over again. It’s important to remember that when you are carrying around trauma, hurt and woundedness in the nervous system, it is infecting and defiling everything in your life. It will come up at the most inopportune times. It will sabotage relationships, your money and your dreams. Forgiveness is the path to get that out of the well and to unblock yourself. Everything you want in life is on the other side of the forgiveness process. 

Open The Door For God 

The other thing that it does is it opens the door for God to work in your situation because you are participating in the divine exchange. The scriptures tell us that we can have beauty for ashes and oil of joy for mourning but to get the beauty, we have to give up the ashes. Philippians 3:13 says, “I forget what lies behind and press forward to what lies ahead.” What lies ahead on the other side of healing is that new relationship that you want, the love of your life, success in business or you finally getting your art out into the world. Your dreams and desires are on the other side of forgiveness. 

The process of getting that beauty, getting that joy, having that peace is on the other side of giving up the ashes. To give them up, you have to let them come up, be willing to feel and acknowledge it. What we do usually is, push it down or throw it off we talked about that with projection and blame. I’m not going to be elaborating on the point. Know that for God to get involved in your situation, a prerequisite is that you continue to forgive especially in a complex forgiveness situation. One other thing that I want to mention that is directly out of the writings of Paul in the New Testament is that complex forgiveness is what Paul refers to as a stronghold. It’s a network of thoughts, beliefs and feelings. You can imagine it tangled all up in a ball if you’ve ever had a ball of cords or necklaces. When I travel, sometimes my jewelry gets all tangled up and it’s like this big messy ball. The complex is a stronghold. If something happens, there’s an inciting event, it can be multiple events over time that keeps adding layer upon layer or it can be something so awful and traumatic that it lays down this ball of complex trauma in a moment. 

RTR 7 | Complex Forgiveness

Complex Forgiveness: You have to feel, acknowledge, and process your feelings out of your system.

 

We don’t want to get stuck in that moment and feed this stronghold with victim energy so that it grows bigger and takes apart our life but neither can we reach in and grab the stronghold and pull it out. We have to tear it down piece by piece and bit by bit. The way that we do that is by feeling and facing our feelings, acknowledging them, being honest with them, giving the ashes up and receiving beauty. I covered that in the Forgiveness Framework, the episode before this one if you haven’t read that yet or you need to read it again, you can go back. 

Forgiveness Exercise

Now, I want to walk you through an exercise. It’s powerful. It’s something that you can use over again to be able to experience massive healing in your life. If you are in a place that you can get quiet, sit down, get a journal out, you are going to need a piece of paper and a pen. Put your hand on your heart. I love to use essential oils to help ground you into the body and rest your eyes closed. Take a few deep cleansing breaths and start to feel your body because trauma is stored in your physical being. Your central nervous system is a part soul and part physical. It’s the mechanism that crosses over. Know that your body is an incredibly powerful tool for diagnosis and healing. I want you to close your eyes and do a quick scan of your body. Notice where you feel any tension. Take some deep cleansing breaths. Notice the breath going in and out of your lungs. From head to foot, scan your body and see, “Are my shoulders tight? Am I holding tension in my jaw? Am I clenched anywhere? Is there any pain?” See where you are feeling pain, discomfort or tightness. 

That’s your baseline. Once you have that, I want you to think about a situation or a person. The first one that comes to mind would be great. I recommend starting small. Don’t start with that mother-in-law that has abused you and made your life miserable for many years. Maybe you want to start with the mailman who won’t bring your packages to the front door but instead takes them to the post office and leaves you a note that you have to come to get them. Don’t ask me where I’ve got that situation from. It’s a little bit more benign. We can start there and move into some of the more complex stuff. 

Clear your spiritual accounts to sleep in peace. Click To Tweet

Identify a situation. I want you to think about it, bring it up, stir it up. What is going on? What happened? What did they do? What did it cost you? How much did you lose? When you are in touch with the feelings about that person or that situation, I want you to draw an oval that fills the entire sheet of your paper. You can put the name of the person or the situation at the top and fill in all the thoughts, feelings, judgments and attitudes that you have about the person or situation. 

“They stole from me. They are a bully. They are a liar. They cheated. I feel betrayed. I can’t trust you now. I feel like I’m damaged goods.” All of the things that you can. Take your time with this. You can pause reading, fill this out, take your time with this and get that oval full. Get everything out onto this piece of paper. When you have done that, you write, “And everything else.” That’s your catch-all. Once you have this piece of paper, I want you to tear it out if it’s in a journal and put your hand on it. I’m going to ask you three questions. 

I want you to close your eyes. Number one, are you willing to forgive this person? That’s not, “Do you want to forgive them? Are you excited about forgiving them? Do you feel forgiveness in your heart?” It’s just, “Are you willing to take this step for your own enlightened self-interest?” If so, answer, yes. Number two is, are you willing to forgive this person or situation totally and completely? Just willing. It’s not based on feelings. This is a decision that, “Yes. I’m willing to give this a try.” The last one is, are you willing to forgive this person or situation unconditionally? If that’s yes, I want you to open your eyes. 

The last step is you are going to take this piece of paper and destroy it. My favorite thing to do is to burn it. Use caution if you are going to use a firing mechanism. You can also tear it up, run it down the garbage disposal or flush it down the toilet. This is an act of, “I’m releasing you. I’m tearing up the IOU. I’m letting you off the hook. I’m letting go of the pain. I’m letting go of the situation. I’m ready to forget the past and move forward into the future.” That’s the forgiveness exercise. What you also need to know is that this can be done over again. If you are dealing with complex trauma, especially when it’s ongoing every single day and something else happens, I would recommend doing this every single night before you go to bed. 

RTR 7 | Complex Forgiveness

Complex Forgiveness: Take a few deep cleansing breaths, and feel your body because trauma is stored in your physical being.

 

Clearing your spiritual accounts so that you can sleep peacefully, rest, be healed in your sleep and wake up refreshed. Give it a try and see if not only you start changing but if your situation doesn’t start changing and if some great things don’t start coming into your life when you choose to do things the right way or God’s way, God is after your healing. He’s trying to help you. He’s like, “Help me help you.” He’s never trying to take anything away from you or trying to diminish you. He’s always trying to give and expand to you, help you grow, give you what you say that you want and need. Remember that God wants you healed so that you can wholeheartedly live your purpose and love your life. I would love to know how this exercise impacted you. You can go to AmyKillingsworth.com/podcast, click on the little microphone where it says, send me a voicemail and tell me what your experience is. If you want to ask me a question like this episode. It was born out of questions that I’ve got. You can do that. Send me a message and I will answer your question on the show anonymously. That’s it for this episode. I will see you next time. 

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