Why is ownership and validation a necessary part of healing?
If you've been told you hang onto the past, you just need to get over it or if you keep re-validating your own past experiences with recalled memories and looking for others who have had similar experiences, this article is probably for you. If you would love to "just get over it" but you don't know how or why that's so hard, you'll probably find a lot of new understanding for yourself below.
When we’ve been hurt by someone, a parent, a partner or someone else we are close with, it can be really hard to move on and heal without them taking ownership for their behaviour and acknowledging our experience. Few of us ever get that, but many hold on to the need for that for eternity. Why?
It is healing when we have a support person, a therapist or a good friend who does validate our feelings and confirm that we are justified in feeling the way we do, ending the relationship or another step we deemed necessary for our own healing and feelings of safety. As helpful as that is, why isn’t it enough? Why can’t that alone take us all the way in our healing?
We’ve heard stories of abusers on their deathbeds finally apologizing and admitting to a persons lived reality so that both can have healing, but why can’t the abuser do that years before?
If you’ve experienced abuse or repeated bad behaviour in a relationship you may feel confused about the abusers state of mind. Why do they absolutely refuse to validate or even hear about our experience? How can they deny the reality of what happened? Is their ego really that fragile? Yes, but that’s not all.
You may question if they really don’t recall your shared lives experience. Do they really not see their past behaviours and how it affected me? There is some truth to that but no, they do know. Complete absence of awareness of the experience is not the reason. While you each have your own recollection based on your own individual perceptions, they do know what they did and that it affected you negatively.
So how can they deny your reality and experience forever even if it means having no relationship with you at all? And why will people hang on to their need for validation and acknowledgement forever too even when they know it’s never going to come?
They may even say things like “You never let go of the past!” which in itself is an admittance of your reality, like a slip up that they’re not willing to take all of the way.
You can’t let go of the past and you can’t fully heal without them validating your feelings and experience for two reasons.
History repeats itself. If we knew the past was a one time experience, we might feel safe enough to let it go and move past it. But when the past is a pattern of disrespect, abuse, experiences of trauma or not feeling safe we have to hang onto it to keep us safe in the future. Those repeated past behaviours define that relationship. It becomes the nature of the relationship. Perhaps they are patterns that exist in multiple relationships you have. Holding onto the past is a way to protect oneself in the present. You may feel you are constantly adapting your responses to these situations to survive each one with less and less harm, or to recognize early red flags in future relationships. When someone asks you to let go of your past with them and move on without them even validating that your past experience was real and by not owning it, they’ve given you no reassurance that history won’t repeat itself. Why wouldn’t it? From their position it never happened in the past anyway. As soon as someone who has hurt you validates your lived experience fully, it makes it much more difficult for them to do the same bad behaviour or abuse and return to denying it in the future. It stops the pattern of abuse in the relationship.
This brings us to the second big reason why we need validation and acknowledgement from abusers to fully heal and move on. It provides a protection or a stop to the pattern. When abusers are called out on their bad behaviour they depend on denial, gas lighting and victim blaming. It didn’t happen, you’re crazy, it’s your fault I acted that way etc. This allows them to keep repeating the bad behaviour in the future because they’ve never admitted to it happening, you’re always the one who is to blame or you’re crazy for feeling the way you do. Once they’ve owned it and admitted to it, that future gas lighting will have even less power. It almost has to bring an end to the pattern in the relationship. They would have to practice better self control, self regulation and learn and put effort into new healthy relationship behaviours. The gig would be up so to speak. Hurt people are desperate for validation because they need the safety that being validated can bring. They usually know they’re not crazy but the other person involved is finally admitting to it too.
This is the third reason why people hang onto the need for validation from the people who hurt them. Our experience of reality is a touchstone of our sanity. When other people who were a part of your experience refuse to admit it happened, pretend it didn’t happen, try to convince us it wasn’t a big deal or twist the reality as if we are to blame, it’s crazy making. That’s the point though. You become stuck in this place of forever reconfirming your own reality and trying to remind yourself of experiences that validate your feelings as a way to keep yourself safe and hold onto your sanity. These other people involved would rather you feel like you’re crazy than own and acknowledge their bad behaviour. You can’t “just forget the past” or “move on” because reality is what is real. There’s been a lot of effort put into distorting your reality by others and you’re not holding onto the past to stay mad, rather it’s to stay sane!
So what can we do in these situations?
Find someone who can validate your feelings. A good therapist, a good friend, a good energy healer or a support group of people with similar past experiences. Having someone hear your experience of reality and validate your feelings makes you feel more sane and it calms your nervous system by increasing feelings of safety. Someone else now has record of your past and believes you. Your story becomes more anchored in truth.
Write letters or journal. Send the letters or don’t send the letters but read them out loud. It moves the energy more than writing alone. Cycling your feelings and history around inside of you doesn’t do anything for your healing. Write a blog or a book about your story. Sometimes people will refrain from sharing their story because they’ve been so well programmed to protect the reputation of those that hurt them, but sharing your experience and having others validate your feelings and believe your story can be healing for you and for your readers. When your sharing is healing for others that also gives your experience greater purpose.
If you’re still in relationship with people who don’t treat you well, continue to stand up for yourself when it happens. Validate your own feelings when they are denied or minimized. Take your power back, even if they won’t own it or validate you, it’s good for you.
Give yourself permission to walk away. It’s one of the hardest things to do sometimes. Going no contact with a parent or ending a relationship with a friend, sibling or partner doesn’t bring healing but it allows space to start healing. Constantly having your reality denied or being blamed when someone else hurts you or not being allowed to talk about the past and being expected to pretend bad behaviour didn’t happen is crazy making. Taking space for yourself and finding support allows for healing to happen in another way. You can find healing without their participation. You can take the healing quite far actually. You can make space for new and healthier relationships and birth a new version of yourself that is learning how to be in relationships that are healthier and safer for you.
I do believe that there will always be a need for that acknowledgement, ownership and apology despite all of the other things that we can do. We may find ourselves feeling so much lighter, healthier and more whole with all of the other work, but I think it would be a rare experience to not find a real apology with all of our reality acknowledged by the one who hurt us, even if it happened on their deathbed, to not having a profound affect on our healing. It’s such an important piece needed for complete healing but unfortunately it’s the only one that we can’t control or attain on our own.