How to Heal Emotional Trauma: Forgive and Forget

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Psycho-Cybernetics" by Maxwell Maltz. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How do people form emotional scars? Why do some people move on from emotional hurt relatively quickly while others form emotional scars that last a lifetime?

Emotional scars—otherwise known as psychological trauma—result from situations that threaten your sense of emotional or physical safety. Psychologists argue that your subjective emotional experience of a situation defines whether you find it traumatic—the more powerless you feel, the more likely you are to feel traumatized and form an emotional scar.

In this article, we’ll explore what determines your ability to heal from emotional trauma and how to speed up your recovery.

Forgive and Forget

According to Maxwell Maltz, the author of Psycho-Cybernetics, the way people handle emotional trauma is strongly dependent on their self-image. Someone with a positive self-image responds to traumatic experiences rationally. In contrast, someone with a negative self-image responds to the same experiences irrationally, is more likely to feel threatened, and form emotional scars.

Maltz argues that an unwillingness or failure to forgive past mistakes and traumas holds people back from experiencing success in their lives—they form “emotional scars” to protect themselves from future hurts and humiliations. These scars don’t protect them, but rather prevent them from experiencing new things and keep them trapped in a state of resentment and misery.

  • For example, a partner cheats on you so you hold back from getting close to others. You want to experience love, but your subconscious mind makes it difficult because you’re still feeding it feelings of resentment and pain. As a result, your subconscious doesn’t let you get close to others because you’ve trained it to keep you safe and distant from others. 

Forgiveness, on the other hand, heals your emotional trauma and allows you to move forward with your life. You need to accept that we all make mistakes and it’s okay—no one’s perfect. Holding onto blame only holds you back from success. Forgiving yourself and others for past mistakes will liberate you and allow you to focus on where you want to go.

  • For example, after allowing yourself to experience hurt for a short time, you choose to forgive your ex-partner for cheating on you. You accept that it happened but you no longer feel any resentment, or project feelings of distrust onto potential partners. You choose to experience love, and you allow yourself to fearlessly embrace new opportunities, and to engage in meaningful relationships. This increases your chances of experiencing a successful relationship.

The more you practice feeling successful and self-reliant, the less sensitive you’ll be to external circumstances (the things that happen and how people react to you). The more you practice responding to experiences rationally, the less likely you’ll be to form new emotional scars.

How to Let Go of Past Grievances

In How To Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie expands upon the idea that you should “forgive and forget” past hurts so that you can move forward and embrace success and happiness. He claims that holding onto past grievances takes away your power because it prevents you from focusing on what you want. These negative feelings can also harm your physical health and produce effects such as high blood pressure and insomnia. Carnegie’s suggestions for releasing grievances, or “emotional scars,” include:

Look for the good: Forgive the person for wronging you and simply stop thinking about them. You’ll achieve this faster if you can find the good in the situation and find something to be grateful for. For example, perhaps you knew deep down that your ex-partner wasn’t “the one” for you but you were too complacent to change the situation. The betrayal was actually a good thing because it put you in a position to find someone more suited to you.

Focus on something you’re passionate about: The more you commit to something you care about, the less likely you are to focus on how others have wronged you.

Try to imagine their point of view: When you allow yourself to think outside of your own worldview, and you consider why that person engaged in the behavior that you’re resenting them for, you open yourself up to empathy and create space to feel compassion for this person, rather than self-pity for yourself.

How to Heal Emotional Trauma: Forgive and Forget

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  • How to program your mind in the same way you’d program a machine
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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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