Forgiveness can be a tough concept for those who have been betrayed, wronged, abused, or hurt. Many of my clients come in because they are tired of feeling hurt, sad, depressed or angry. When I ask them if they are ready to work on the process of forgiveness, they look panic-stricken and admit they don’t know if they are able or willing to forgive. Unfortunately, the residual feelings of anger, depression, and sadness can be exacerbated by their inability to forgive.
Oftentimes people are afraid that if they forgive, they will be giving in to what has happened to them. They say, “I’m not ready to forgive because I’m not about to condone what was done to me.” In those cases, we talk about how forgiveness can benefit them and allow them an opportunity to heal and move beyond the pain.
When asked if I believe that all behaviors should be forgiven, I explain that forgiveness is uniquely personal and the answer to that question lies within each person. People can heal without forgiveness, but for most, it speeds up the process.
Forgiveness is many things to many people. For most, it allows them to stop obsessing on the act of betrayal and hurt. It breaks the chains that keep them in a victimized state and allows them to rebuild feelings that have been held hostage in their personal turmoil and angst. When a partner has cheated, a relative has perpetrated against a child, or a good friend has violated a confidence, it is normal to not want to forgive because it protects the person from being hurt again. However, it also can keep from rebuilding trust.
When one experiences betrayal, the psyche, says, I can’t believe I could have been so stupid.” “I can’t believe I misjudged him or her.” Ultimately, it becomes an assault on one’s own sense of perception. Many clients have spent years angry at themselves for misperceiving or misjudging the betrayer. They come in with self-loathing, saying, “How was I so stupid?” “How will I ever be able to trust again?”
It is normal to question one’s perceptions of reality, but as the healing process evolves, the trust does rebuild.
If you have been wronged and want to forgive, it can be one of the most freeing and enlightening processes you can experience. It can give you back a sense of power and take you out of the victim’s role. Your feelings are no longer held hostage and you begin to find that energy to get back into the race and believe in yourself—and others.
It creates a domino effect. Not only do you forgive the betrayer, but you forgive yourself. You may also forgive others in the process. Clients often comment that they are no longer mad at the other players in their life or, on a grander scale, they are no longer angry at God for allowing the betrayal to have occurred.
If you have been wronged in your life and you feel compelled to work on forgiveness, I encourage you to do some soul-searching.
• Journal about it and how the act of forgiveness can restore your own sense of self.
• Honor all of the feelings that naturally occurred because of the betrayal.
• Go slow. Don’t speed through forgiveness. If you forgive prematurely, you bury the feelings and are more likely to be at risk for further pain.
• Acknowledge that you are a different person now and focus on how much stronger and wiser you have become.