Forgiveness is a difficult, and somewhat touchy, topic. It’s something we are ‘told’ that we ought to offer others. But ask anyone, and you’re likely to hear that forgiveness is a struggle if you’ve been hurt and betrayed. And perhaps its not surprising that this should be the case.
Here are some of my thoughts on the matter.
- Feeling that it’s hard to forgive and start again (even if, in your mind, you really want to forgive) is a primal, instinctive, self-protective response. The reason’s not surprising: if we let the barriers down and open up our heart, then our trust could be betrayed. So our brain seeks to protect us from further injury.
- We fear that forgiveness – or too quick, or forced, forgiveness – could have the effect of minimising the betrayal, and the extent of the damage and the pain that it has caused. Irritations and annoyances don’t really damage us so it’s relatively easy to move on, and let those go. But betrayal devastates us, and changes who we are. It’s a wound that’s hard to heal, and a serious injury.
- When we’ve been wounded by betrayal, it is not a single wound. Yes, there’s a major breach of trust; but there are other losses too. There’s the loss of hopes and dreams, of reputation and respect, the loss of peace of mind, and the life you thought you had. Also, there may be serious risks to health due to unwanted STDs, to PTSD, or stress-related illness. So the losses can feel endless – which makes them hard to forgive. It can feel too overwhelming when you’re in a fragile state.
- Related this, there are triggers we are battling, and which stop us in our tracks. They remind us of the fact that our healing’s NOT complete.
Although being able to forgive is liberating in the end, as it means we’re less attached to the emotional pain, it’s ridiculous to think that it should happen “just like that!”
It’s going to be a journey, and will take a lot of time, and it won’t mean that the anguish won’t resurface constantly.
Let me finish with some final thoughts from the book Out of the Doghouse:
“Forgiveness is a process, not an event. It doesn’t happen all at once, and it is usually given only when earned, rather than when it’s requested. So if you want forgiveness, you can apologize a million times hoping it will appear, but you won’t get it until you’ve earned it … Forgiveness is not something you should ever expect or demand from anyone, let alone your betrayed spouse. Forgiveness will come when she has done hating you and when trust is restored.
For you, forgiveness may mean, ‘Phew. She loves me again and we are moving on.’ To her, though, it means letting you back into her heart that once again puts you in a position to either love or hurt her. That’s a pretty big difference … You will have to feel the pain you have caused, experience your consequences without becoming defensive, and become rigorously honest in all aspects of life. If you can do that, she will eventually forgive you.”
Maybe …. Hopefully …. Eventually.