It happens to all of us. We want to forgive someone and we find that we can’t. All we can do is think about the wrong that has been done to us— and each time we do, we’re as hurt and angry as the day we were betrayed.
If you’re like most people, when you’ve been betrayed, every waking hour can be filled with your outrage. Every song or movie, every sunset, every time someone says the word “love” or “friendship”, a switch flips inside you and there you are, once again, all worked up and upset.
People will spend years— or a lifetime— replaying and reliving the details of their injury, failing to recognize the toll it takes on their life.
Forgiveness is difficult, but it isn’t impossible, especially when you know what forgiveness is and what it is not.
If you’ve been struggling to forgive and find yourself stuck, it’s likely that you’re carrying some common misconceptions about forgiveness and it may be time to look at things from a new point of view:
Forgiveness is not a denial of hurt.
Forgiveness in no way absolves the “wrongdoer” of the need to be accountable.
Forgiveness does not require forgetting.
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. You do not have to come face-to-face with the person who hurt you in order to forgive.
Forgiveness has nothing to do with whether or not the person deserves your forgiveness.
Though some people believe there are offenses too grievous to be forgiven, forgiveness is possible, no matter what has occurred.
Consider this alternative model for forgiveness:
Forgiveness has nothing at all to do with the person who hurt you. Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself because you value the quality of your own life. People choose to forgive because they want to set themselves free.
It has been said that harboring resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Forgiveness is a process by which we turn our attention away from the poison of our betrayal and turn, instead, toward what is life-affirming and good.
Forgiveness begins with accepting that we cannot change the past. Forgiveness is about coming to peace over painful things that have happened and cannot be undone.
Forgiveness does not require that we like or condone what happened, but in order to forgive we must fully accept that the past cannot be revised. As a friend of mine says, “You can’t unscramble eggs.” When we stop protesting the facts, we can then go about the process of letting them go.
Forgiveness also requires that we accept the unpredictable and sometimes disappointing nature of life.
Letting go is about acknowledging loss. Whatever rage or heartbreak or sadness or shame you feel, allow yourself to feel your feelings. Full on. Then be prepared to find a nice, quiet place for those feelings to rest while you get on with living your life.
Practice staying in the present. Remember: running your grievance story over and over in your head hurts only you. No matter how awful the offense, you owe it to yourself to stop replaying it. Forgetting what happened is impossible. However, there is nothing to be gained by dwelling on it or losing sleep over it or making yourself sick.
Think of the story of your betrayal as a dangerous neighborhood in your mind. Out of habit, when tired or hungry or not paying attention to where you’re going, you inadvertently wander across the city line. Rather than stay there, I suggest that, for your own well-being, you walk yourself out.
Embracing the good. Take a moment to think about something that makes you feel good. The sunset in Maui. The eyes of your child. The smile of a dear friend. Think of this image as your safe harbor, the place to go in your mind when you find yourself caught in the painful events of the past. Feel the good feelings your positive image evokes.
Forgiveness cannot be rushed. The process of letting go is not a one-time event. Most people find that it becomes easier, over time, to pause and then shift their attention to something that makes them feel safe and whole when they’re starting to get worked up. Still, don’t be surprised if, now and again, you find yourself back at square one, reliving your past hurts and needing to retrace your steps; needing to remind yourself that what’s done is done, that you have a choice in the present to live a good life.
Why spend your life caught up in pain and distress when you could choose freedom, health, vitality… when you could choose life?
If you found this post helpful, please share it with others.
To receive notice of future posts via email use the sign-up button located to your right.
Favorite books on forgiveness:
The Sunflower — Simon Wiesenthal
Forgive For Good — Fred Luskin