Pathways Wellness

Learning How to Forgive After Being Harmed by Addiction

Learning How to Forgive After Being Harmed by Addiction
Raul Haro
November 5, 2023
When someone is harmed by addiction, it can cause a cascade effect in a person's life. It doesn't just harm the individual, it can also harm those around them. What makes it worse is that addictions are dangerous, even when someone is undergoing addiction treatment to recover. With how often addiction is glorified in media […]
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Learning How to Forgive After Being Harmed by Addiction

When someone is harmed by addiction, it can cause a cascade effect in a person's life. It doesn't just harm the individual, it can also harm those around them. What makes it worse is that addictions are dangerous, even when someone is undergoing addiction treatment to recover. With how often addiction is glorified in media or outright ignored as a social problem, it's easy to see why the harm of addiction is so easily widespread. 

However, people don't have to continue being harmed by addiction. It can stop and steps can be taken to recover completely from addiction. An important step in the process is forgiveness, both to one's self and to those that have been harmed by addiction. People may not want to think about it, but their addictions can and do harm the loved ones in their lives. These people who were harmed by addiction have their forgiveness journey to go through as well. 

It's why at Pathways Wellness Center, care is taken to help clients and their loved ones understand each other and work toward mutual forgiveness. Sometimes forgiveness from others can take a long time, or may not come at all. Overall, it's a complicated topic full of nuance that takes time to understand fully. With help from qualified mental health care professionals, the process of forgiveness can be a little easier. 

But to understand why forgiveness is so important, a person must understand the full scope of the damage done to those harmed by addiction. 

How an Individual Is Harmed by Addiction

An individual struggling with an addiction is being continuously harmed. Addictions hijack the chemicals of the brain and sometimes cause physical damage and other health problems. This is because addictive substances can fundamentally change the brain, which can make recovery difficult. Sometimes substances can cause withdrawal symptoms so severe that they can threaten someone's life. Other substances can cause organ damage, such as liver damage caused by repeated alcohol use. It's easy to see how one can be harmed by addiction on a physical level. In general, addiction makes someone psychically unwell, sometimes to the point of death.

There is another level to the harm addiction can do to a person, one of which is the mental toll it takes. Many people who live through and recover from an addiction remember the cravings they had. Cravings are when the brain craves the substance a person is addicted to and makes it difficult to think of anything else. There may also be feelings of shame, as addictions often cause people to act in abnormal and sometimes very destructive ways. This often damages relationships with other people and can cause distress and loneliness.

Many addictive substances are illegal and can cause someone to face legal troubles when caught using them. Some substances are legal, but being intoxicated in public or driving while under the influence is not. Sometimes the overwhelming need to satisfy an addiction can cause someone to take drastic measures, such as breaking the law by stealing or getting into fights. Those harmed by addiction are not only harmed physically and mentally. They are also harmed on a social and legal level, especially when someone is ostracized or shamed for struggling with an addiction.

Addiction also harms someone's sense of self. Many times, an addiction can consume someone's life to the point where nothing else matters besides satisfying that addiction. This can cause someone to neglect the hobbies and people they love, or undergo a personality change. Without a sense of self or self-confidence, a person can sink deeper and deeper into an addiction. The further down a person goes, the harder it is for them to recover from an addiction.

How Others Are Harmed by Addiction

It's vital to not discount the harm that someone experiences when a loved one is struggling with an addiction. Yes, it's important to be supportive and understanding. However, they can still be harmed, even when this loved one doesn't realize they are harming another. Sometimes, this is the point where someone realizes they need help and seeks treatment. While in treatment, the person with the addiction can work on making amends to the people they have harmed. Some support groups for addiction will place a lot of emphasis on making amends and seeking forgiveness as a necessary step to healing. 

There are many ways a loved one can be harmed by addiction through the actions of another.  For example, a person may have a key to a loved one's house. If they are struggling with addiction cravings or withdrawal symptoms, they may enter the house and steal money and valuables to fund their addiction. They may also lie and ask for financial help for food and other essentials, while in reality spending that money on their addiction. This can break the trust one has in another and can severely damage relationships, or even end in legal trouble. 

Loved ones are also harmed by addiction because they have to watch the person with the addiction change drastically. It's difficult emotionally and mentally to know when someone needs help, only for them to refuse to seek it. The drastic personality changes can also come with mood swings and irritability, which can hurt others on a deep emotional level. Sometimes a person may give all they have to their loved one with an addiction, only to be drained emotionally, physically, and financially. The feelings of helplessness and pain can sometimes be overwhelming, especially when they don't know how to help their loved one. 

It can be difficult for some to forgive their loved ones after being harmed by addiction. Some may never forgive them, and that's their right to decide that. Nobody can be forced to forgive someone else. Forgiveness has to be earned by hard work, restitution, and sincere personal changes. However, some loved ones may be more forgiving than others, especially when the person seeking forgiveness is sincere about their remorse and desire to make positive change.

What Treatments Can Help Teach Forgiveness?

Learning how to forgive oneself and others can be a complicated process. This is because forgiveness is highly nuanced, and no two people are alike. Someone may be willing to forgive some transgressions against them, but not others. Forgiving oneself is an equally daunting task as people tend to be harder on themselves than their peers. Some treatments and therapies can help someone learn about forgiveness. Pathways Wellness Center especially works with its clients to not only treat addiction but also help nurture the value of forgiveness.

Psychotherapy is perhaps the most used therapy when it comes to teaching forgiveness. The two most commonly used psychotherapies are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Both dive into a person's psyche to untangle unhealthy thoughts and behaviors and encourage personal growth. CBT in particular can be used to help teach someone new skills. One such skill is the ability to acknowledge the wrongs a person has done and forgive themselves for it. DBT is often used to help someone cope with their life. It teaches understanding that even if they forgive themselves, they still must live with their actions and change for the better. 

Many clients find comfort in peer network programs and support groups. These programs offer access to those who have been in the same shoes as the person seeking treatment. They understand what it's like to live with and recover from an addiction and can pass on a collection of hard-earned wisdom. Some of these people may have different perspectives on forgiveness, but they can all offer advice that comes from experience and understanding. Pathways Wellness Center has staff members who are also in recovery and can also help give their perspective on forgiveness.

Family therapy is another important treatment type that brings clients and their loved ones together. It's a safe place where people can talk about how they have been harmed by addiction, both to themselves and to each other. Family therapy is overseen by a mental health care professional who can mediate between each member. It's a place where people can seek resolution to their problems and come out as healthier people, especially when they can communicate how someone can make amends for their actions or seek comfort in healing from their addiction. 

Learning to Forgive Yourself

Perhaps the hardest thing a person can do is forgive themselves. It's especially true if they have caused harm to other people and sincerely regret their actions. Even though addiction can cause someone to act in ways they would usually not, they still choose to undergo those actions. People can still be harmed by addiction long after the addiction has been treated due to lingering regrets and pain. Before someone can ask others for forgiveness, they have to forgive themselves.

Again, this is easier said than done and takes looking at addiction in a new way. People should consider the pain and turmoil they have gone through as they struggle with their addiction. They need to look at the effort and hard work it takes to achieve recovery. Sometimes it even takes cutting out loved ones who may have encouraged the addiction. They may have been dangerous to the individual's health, but it doesn't lessen the pain and heartache that comes from saying goodbye. People must look inside themselves and ask some serious questions. Haven't they struggled enough? When will the self-loathing and pain be enough to atone for their perceived wrongs? 

The answer is that self-inflicted pain is never healthy. It's unhealthy because no matter how much pain a person inflicts on themselves, they will never feel as though it is enough to make up for their perceived wrongs. Instead, a person needs to focus on self-reflection and change as an outlet for improvement. To make these self-improvements, a person must be ready and willing to forgive themselves so they can begin anew. 

People also must be aware that they may never be forgiven by the people they have harmed. Forgiveness can't be forced, so if someone doesn't want to forgive them, they must accept that. However, that doesn't mean that they can't forgive themselves and work on their improvement. Giving people the space and time they need to heal after they have been harmed by addiction can eventually open new doors and chances for forgiveness. They simply need to stay patient and respectful of the other person's feelings and desires, as bulldozing over their boundaries will do nothing but bring more harm. 

How Families Can Learn to Forgive Each Other

For someone to receive forgiveness from another, they must understand the harm they have caused to them. They must also sincerely apologize and make visible changes that will prevent the harm from occurring again. Sometimes, this is not enough, especially when a loved one is harmed by addiction. It would be insulting to tell someone who was harmed that they have to forgive the person who harmed them right away. People have the right to choose when and if they forgive someone, especially if they are worried about empty promises.

That's why family therapy is so important as a part of addiction treatment. It allows people who are harmed by addiction to safely discuss problems with the oversight of a mental health care professional. Hurts can fester deeply, and family therapy is a safe place to bring those hurts to the surface. Here, everyone has an equal chance to speak and get their emotions out in the open. Forgiveness is a common topic in family therapy, as well as the steps family members must take to give and receive it. 

Sometimes it's beneficial for family members to receive individual therapy themselves. That way, they can discuss their feelings with a mental health care professional in a private setting without judgment. There, they can work out exactly how they feel and what they want to see happen before they can forgive their loved one. It's okay for someone to set boundaries with someone who has harmed them. Time can heal a lot of wounds, and space gives both parties time to make important changes. 

When someone is harmed by addiction because of the actions of another, they need to ask themselves what forgiveness means to them. Will giving forgiveness be for their own sake or the other person's? A person needs to decide if forgiveness will help them let go of negative feelings or open the door for a healthier relationship. Ultimately, it's their choice, and their choice should be respected. 

Nobody Has to Continue Being Harmed by Addiction

Anyone can recover from an addiction as long as they have the inner desire to change their lives. Our lives are not fixed or locked into a specific role or action. People can choose what they want to do, and that can include recovering from an addiction. For the person struggling with an addiction, they need to admit to themselves that they need professional help. As for their loved ones, they need to admit that they can't help their loved ones alone. At this point, it's time to search for a specialized addiction treatment facility and undergo treatment.

Anyone who is harmed by addiction can get help. Addiction treatment is not just for those struggling with an addiction. Treatment is also there to help those affected by addiction cope with their ordeal and utilize healthier coping skills. Sometimes it takes working together and supporting each other to find a place of healing. Through this healing, anyone can make important and healthy life changes. This includes finding the ability to forgive themselves and others. 

People need to remember that addiction treatment centers are not prisons or the abusive asylums of old. They are places of healing where clients can seek treatment without judgment or ridicule. Addiction treatment centers are staffed by compassionate and caring people who want to see their clients recover and succeed in life. At Pathways Wellness Center, we have staff members who are in recovery themselves. This means that they know exactly what their clients are going through and can offer comfort during treatment. 

So don't allow yourself and your loved ones to be continuously harmed by addiction. Reach out for help and take the first step toward recovery today.

Addiction is a disease that doesn't just harm a singular person. It also harms the people around them. Learning how to forgive yourself and others is an essential part of addiction treatment. Without the ability to forgive, it's impossible to heal from addiction and move on to recovery. Here at Pathways Wellness Center in Glendora, California, we help our clients forge healthy bonds with their loved ones. Part of that is learning how to recognize the hurts we cause to ourselves and others. Once they understand that, they learn how to change their unhealthy and harmful behaviors. To learn more about forgiving yourself, or forgiving others for the harm caused by an addiction, call us today at (888) 771-0966.

About the Author

Raul Haro
Raul Haro is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with sixteen years of experience working in both the inpatient and outpatient setting. As an LMFT, He has trained in trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy and EMDR. Raul has furthered his training in the drug and alcohol field by obtaining a Masters in Drug and Alcohol Counseling through CCAPP. Raul has a background in nursing where he has been an LVN for over 25 years. Recently, he has returned to school to complete a degree in Registered Nursing. Future plans are for Raul are to eventually complete a degree as a Nurse Practitioner combining his therapy practice with his nursing skills.

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