Forgiveness Is a Journey, Not a Destination

hiker-looking-at-horizonMany years ago, I was betrayed by a friend I admired. If I had been asked to forgive her, my immediate answer would have been, “No.” But if someone had asked if I wanted to be free from the anguish and distress that I felt from her betrayal, I would have shouted, “Yes!”

Forgiveness is more than releasing your hands from the neck of the person who hurt you. It is truly about releasing your hands from your own neck. Forgiveness is about your own freedom from the grip of pain caused by someone else. In reality, forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person; it’s about you. Forgiveness does not need to be asked for because it isn’t done for the sake of the “offender.” It’s done for our own healing and well-being.

It goes without saying that when we’re considering forgiveness, it is because we’ve been hurt, wronged, or betrayed. Someone has done something to us that caused us pain. A pivotal component of forgiveness is the recognition of the intensity of your pain. You have to sit in and with your pain. You can’t ignore, rationalize, or wish it away. You must simply let it be. You can talk, journal, cry, or scream about the hurt and painful emotions, but they must be allowed to surface.

Another key step to forgiveness is in understanding how the pain and betrayal affected you. Pain isn’t an isolated experience or emotion. When we are hurt, it affects all aspects of ourselves and our relationships. Consider a man who just learned that his wife was cheating on him. Understandably, he is hurt, sad, and angry. He also has trouble focusing at work, his patience with his children is low, and he begins to withdraw from his friends because he is too embarrassed to discuss his wife’s infidelity. His emotions go beyond his wife’s betrayal; now the pain seeps into other relationships.

Part of understanding the intensity and depth of the pain is in comprehending how your pain affects you in other ways. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have your feelings of betrayal and sadness spilled into other relationships?
  • Has it affected how you view yourself?
  • Are you less willing to be emotionally intimate and vulnerable with people because you’ve been hurt?
  • How are you restricted or imprisoned by this pain?

Take time to write, think, or talk about your answers to these questions. Revisit the questions over time, perhaps at three months, six months, and one year. Have your answers changed? Do you notice anything different each time you answer? Are your feelings the same or have they shifted?

You cannot simply decide to forgive someone and expect it to be done. It takes time, compassion for yourself, and the support of others to work through the pain that you endured. Often when we are hurt or grieving, there is internal pressure and external pressure from family, friends, and society to “get over it”: “It’s been six months; why haven’t you forgiven him for cheating? Are you still upset about what she said to you?” These statements suggest a time limit for moving on after being hurt, but everyone has a different time frame. What takes one person two weeks to forgive may take another person one year to forgive. We all have our personal and individual processes of forgiveness that cannot be rushed.

When you are in the process of forgiveness, it is crucial that you have compassion toward yourself. Enlisting the support of people who are also compassionate toward you and will not rush your process is also beneficial.

Once you’ve acknowledged your pain and you understand how it has affected you, you can ask yourself: What do I need in order to be free from this pain?

What are your stories and experiences of forgiveness? How have you been able to forgive? When have you struggled or been unable to forgive? I want to hear from you!

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • chloe

    chloe

    July 23rd, 2013 at 10:49 AM

    Yeah, I think that many of us who are charged with forgiving someone see this as a one stop deal. We think that we are supposed to put our thoughts and feelings aside and that immediately we will feel that we have forgiven someone.

    But like you say, this is more of a journey that we have to take. I think that it is better to process and let go a little at a time. This is how you give yourself the time that you need to understand that betrayal and to them find a way that you can accept and make some peace with it.

    I don’t care what anyone says, this is not an overnight event, but I do think that you owe it to yourself to at least try it because it is very freeing to be able to let go of the pain and anger that you will continue to carry around with you if you don’t.

  • MARK

    MARK

    July 24th, 2013 at 12:07 AM

    Guess I’ve been hard wired to not forgive…No matter how hard I try I cannot get over the things that cause hurt to me…I may forget the things at some point but they do come back in the right supporting circumstances.

    Am I weird or is this just my personality to not be able to forgive or free myself?

  • Francine

    Francine

    July 24th, 2013 at 4:19 AM

    I think that there is way too much pressure that we place on people to just forgive and forget, let it go. But if it hurts to the bone, that’s a pretty tall order.

  • Tonya Ladipo

    Tonya Ladipo

    July 24th, 2013 at 1:30 PM

    You’re not at all weird Mark. Forgiving doesn’t mean that you forget what happened. It is natural for the memory to become present at certain times and even to feel twinges of pain when it does come up. The goal though is to not be gripped by the memory or pain.

  • Junior

    Junior

    July 24th, 2013 at 6:40 PM

    Tonya,

    What are the conditions that you think make it healthy to forgive? What I’m wondering about is how do you know if you are simply not holding someone accountable by forgiving them? The idea of forgiveness sometimes feels like I am just opening the door to be hurt by the person in the future. How do you forgive someone while keeping them in your life? Do you have to forgive someone in order to rebuild trust? Do you have to trust someone to forgive them?

  • Francine

    Francine

    August 29th, 2013 at 5:17 AM

    It’s been 7 months since my ex broke up with me…but I still could not forgive him for all the lies he said before he left. I feel burdened by this feeling and God knows how much I wanted to forget about everything and just move on with my life, as he did move on with his. I have heard from friends that he’s already dating the same girl we used to fight over. I was expecting it anyway, but it still hurt. And now, I am really having a hard time trusting anyone again…I hope I can free myself from this pain soon and be able to find myself again.

  • Tonya Ladipo

    Tonya Ladipo

    August 30th, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    Francine, I also hope that you can free yourself from the pain. It is hard to watch someone else move on when you’re still hurting and healing. If you focus on healing and doing what you need to take care of yourself you’ll eventually get to a place where you want to be.

  • Tonya Ladipo

    Tonya Ladipo

    August 30th, 2013 at 10:43 AM

    Junior – you raise some interesting and important points that are necessary to consider if you continue in the relationship. But I think that forgiveness isn’t about the other person or even the relationship. It’s just about you and accepting what was and is and coming a place where it no longer grips you. I do believe that if you’re continuing the relationship then there needs to be trust and accountability. Apologies can be a piece of that.

  • Joanne

    Joanne

    November 2nd, 2013 at 11:42 PM

    I lie alot. My boyfriend was in an accident early this year and he lived on for me. He has problems trusting me that he doubts my movements unless he sees it for himself. I havegiven him acess to my online websites and hp. He wants me to fix him so badly but im so helpless. How can i do it. He has thoughts of suicide and lashes it out at me saying why did i lie, why hurt him. He still loves me very much. I regret so much that i cry everynight and when he cant take it hurt he burts and blames me, i get violent on myself and have thoughts of suicide. One moment he lashes out on me next moment he can be really sweet and gentle. He says he is constantly trying to hide the hurt. But sometimes he cant take it. He has been really negative and when he lashes he would demand a break up, further hurtting us. I love him so much. I have thought about him seeing a therapist or couple councilling but he insist they would tell him to break up with me n says it would not help. If that doesnt help? what will?

  • Tonya Ladipo

    Tonya Ladipo

    November 3rd, 2013 at 5:51 PM

    If you or your boyfriend feel suicidal then you should contact a crisis center immediately. The National Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-8255) offers 24-hour assistance.

    Therapy can also help you and your boyfriend individually and as a couple. A good therapist will help you identify your individual needs and needs as a couple. And then they will help you take the necessary steps to move forward. This doesn’t mean that you will be advised to end the relationship but to find ways to take care of yourself as well as each other.

  • Manu

    Manu

    December 29th, 2013 at 2:37 PM

    I forgave my ex-boyfriend for what he did. He cheated on me. Had a fiance and kid for at least two years of our 4.5 year relationship.
    I have no feelings for him anymore. I don’t care about him anymore.
    I feel I forgave him.
    However, I cannot forgive myself. How could I have loved and trusted someone who is so bad? How did I not see what happened? What did I do to deserve all this?
    This all is causing severe problems for me. I dated. Briefly and a lot. The moment I sense that a guy is interested, I run. He will hurt me anyway. I’m easy with engaging in sexual relationships. Once that require no commitment, but, at least for a while, make me feel desirable. I long for real commitment, but the moment I sense that it could work, I panic, make sure the other person knows I don’t care and know men cheat and ruin everything.
    It all escalated when I went on a few nice and normal dates with a guy who seemed to have a real interest with me. I couldn’t take the emotions, I felt horribly uncomfortable and turned it into something that I knew how to handle. So I pretended all I want is fun and that I don’t care what he does, that I am aware he will have other girls on the side and completely spoiled the whole thing.
    I’m messing up my own life!
    How can I break this cycle? I know I am doing this because I am afraid to trust. The kind of men I end up getting involved with is the untrustworthy kind, since we have very casual relationships. So I unconsciously strengthen my belief that “all men are the same.” I’m aware of all of this, but I can’t control myself. It’s as if someone else takes over. I panic, the switch turns, I become a heartless men-eating bitch.
    How did this happen to me?

  • Peter

    Peter

    January 29th, 2014 at 8:40 AM

    Wow; congrats to you all who have had the courage to reveal all the hurt, confusion and frustration that you have written about. Lot of words basically to say: Thank You! I too have felt betrayed, hurt and fearful of this idea of forgiveness. At first I was totally baffled, ‘i didn’t do anything wrong, so why should I forgive myself??’ It took me a while, say about 8 months of blaming, anger, searching, and talking until I started to understand that stuff happened, I was a part of that mess, and that I was actually much better off and it was time to live my life as it actually is, not how it was. This sounds a bit like it’s time to move on, and as I said, it took a fair amount of exploration to realize all this. Because it is no small thing to expand one’s sense of self beyond the previous situation. It’s hard, takes a long time, but actually very worthwhile. Be patient and gentle with yourself.

  • CJ

    CJ

    March 2nd, 2014 at 12:12 PM

    Manu: I am right there with you. I too am at a point where my distrust for men is causing me to sabotage a potentially lasting relationship. My ex lead another life from what I knew. As soon as I found out, I investigated and became instantly aware of how deep the betrayal went. He would profess to “love me dearly”, and would say frequently, even in front of my family, that he wanted to marry me and have children with me. It was devastating when I found out that he had been unfaithful with his ex-girlfriend, while I was out town visiting my sister. I had been supportive of their friendship but would often request meeting her since she was soo important in his life. I never did meet her and I should have known better than to trust a situation with an ex that wasn’t supportive of our relationship.
    So fast forward to today, I am with someone that is faithful and trust worthy but I know that before we got together he was still pretty caught up on his ex-girlfriend, and that was two years after they broke up! He (still) has a box of old photos of the two of them together, love notes, etc. He even had naked pictures of her on his computer up until the beginning of our relationship, again, after two years of being apart from her. I found note books with passages professing how “she is the most amazing, beautiful person” and how “he will be with her again someday, they will marry and have love each other forever”, “his love for her is deep and unending”, etc. I want to be supportive of their friendship but I am in over my head here. His admiration and love for her is pressing my panic button. We have been together for 2 years and he says I have nothing to worry about, and that all of this was the past and that he is in love with me now but that he will always love her. I have met her and she is nice. But I can’t shake this feeling that I shouldn’t trust him and that he is still in love with her. And because of my last relationship and his ex, and how that turned out… Im just numb. Do I stay or do I get out before I get hurt again? I have tried to accept and get past his past but it hurts. I just don’t know if his love for me will ever be as much as it is for her,

  • Heather

    Heather

    October 18th, 2014 at 9:34 AM

    I don’t know what your situation is at this point, but I would be wary of my significant other keeping things related to his ex-girlfriend. Being friends is one thing, but adding the other stuff on top of that…yikes. This is just my opinion. I think you should get out of this relationship, & truly get to know yourself. I’ve been in a similar situation. It was hard to let go, but in the long run it has been worth it. I may feel lonely sometimes, but I believe in a Higher Power & have supportive friends. Good luck!

  • Rose B.

    Rose B.

    October 18th, 2014 at 11:23 AM

    My husband, the father of my daughter, killed himself two years ago and left a letter blaming me. He even used my meds and did it so that I and our three year old daughter are in the next room. I found evidence he had planned it for almost a year. He originally had planned it the week before for my birthday, but delayed it due to me being hospitalized for a heart attack. He spent that week I was in the hospital with our then three year old daughter 24/7. It is bad enough what he did to me. What I cannot understand, let alone forgive, is how could he spends that time with our daughter then turn around and do that to her. I am struggling with forgiveness and closure. I have a new man in my life and my daughter is already calling him DADDY. But this haunts me 24/7. Please help…how can I understand and forgive this heartless act by the man I loved and adored?

  • Jasmine

    Jasmine

    December 9th, 2014 at 12:42 AM

    Such a traumatizing and tragic experience for you and your family. Mental illness, depression, is real. I pray that the Spirit of God hovers you and your family with comfort, peace,and healing. May you be able to regain strength and fly up and forward with wings of eagles. May your lives be filled with joy someday and tell your story with a sense of victory of how you were able to overcome this tragedy, as a means to witness and testify to others, be an example of hope to others who need it. You are a pillar of strength and courage. Darkness is the absence of light, fire up your flame and shine bright. In your time frame I believe that you will be healed of all your troubles. Believe in goodness, as confusing and conflicting your situation may be.

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    December 9th, 2014 at 12:18 PM

    We received the comment that you submitted on our blog earlier today. Thank you so much for visiting GoodTherapy.org. If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, in danger of hurting yourself or others, feeling suicidal, overwhelmed, or in crisis, it’s very important that you get immediate help! You can do one of the following immediately:

    • Call your local law enforcement agency (911);
    • Go to the nearest hospital emergency room;
    • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TTY:1-800-799-4TTY)

    The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is equipped to take a wide range of calls, from immediate suicidal crisis to providing information about mental health. Some of the reasons to call are listed below: • Call to speak with someone who cares;
    • Call if you feel you might be in danger of hurting yourself;
    • Call to find referrals to mental health services in your area;
    • Call to speak to a crisis worker about someone you’re concerned about.

    If you are a victim of domestic violence, you can call your local hotline and/or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) (TTY 1−800−787−3224)

    RAINN provides support for sexual assault victims and their loved ones through two hotlines at 800.656.HOPE and Online.RAINN.org. Whether you are more comfortable on the telephone or online, RAINN has services that can guide you in your recovery.
    • The National Sexual Assault Hotline: If you need support, call 800.656.HOPE, and you will be directed to a rape crisis center near your area.
    • The National Sexual Assault Online Hotline: is the first secure web-based crisis hotline providing live and anonymous support through an interface as intuitive as instant messaging.
    • For more information visit http://rainn.org/get-help/national-sexual-assault-online-hotline.

    Warm regards,

    GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Tonya Ladipo

    Tonya Ladipo

    October 19th, 2014 at 8:10 AM

    Rose, you may never understand his actions but unfortunately you and your daughter are impacted by it. When people are hurting it can be easy for them to lash out and hurt other people. Of course this isn’t an excuse but perhaps a starting point on the journey of forgiveness.

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