Many 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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