by Cynthia M. Braden, MFT
In talking about betrayal, philosophers and therapists usually describe 'forgiveness' as a way to heal. However, I would say that forgiveness that is expected, automatic or forced is rarely deep and authentic.
If you are struggling with a situation involving forgiveness, it can be difficult when you want to forgive your someone, but still find yourself feeling resentful and angry. You can't will yourself to like brussels sprouts if you really hate them. You can't make yourself forgive someone even though you may want to, or think it's a good idea. It is similar to trying to force yourself to be in love with a person you are supposed to be in love with, or not in love with a person who is 'just a friend.' The opposite and complementary problem of course, is trying to force yourself to hate things you should not like, which may happen to be your actual and true favorites!
You can't automatically will yourself to forgive someone who has caused you pain and humiliation, just because you decide you should forgive that person and move on.
As much as you think you should forgive someone, and as much as you might try to force yourself to forgive that person, it can be hard to feel free and truly forgive. If you're not totally successful at being in a forgiving attitude all of the time,, you may succumb to beating up on yourself and feeling guilty because you believe you should forgive.
"Now I'm a bad person for not forgiving that person who did that to me in the first place... and messed up my life... and now I feel weak because I'm still feeling resentful and angry about what happened. And how did I get myself into this mess... and why can't I get over it, and get my life back to normal."
How can genuine Freedom occur (and in this context I would like to call Freedom and Forgiveness synonyms), if right now you are in a position of anger, disgust and utter revulsion? Here is an example of one way that a natural feeling of forgiveness can emerge.
A hurt partner may often feel very alone in their pain and suffering. Everything they believed about their world may have been shattered like a priceless crystal goblet. The unfaithful partner will need to listen, provide information, tolerate restrictions and questions, and empathize with emotional outbursts for awhile if the relationship is to be salvaged.
This is like looking at the shattered crystal shards on the floor and just being sad about the fact that the goblet is destroyed without trying to sweep it up, promise to buy a new one, explaining how it got broken, or that it's not my fault that it got broken.
Feeling understood is where the seeds of forgiveness are germinated. It may take many repeated experiences of seeing the unfaithful partner's sadness about the betrayal for the hurt partner to start to feel understood. You can't turn back the clock and erase what happened, but if the hurt person can feel understood and accepted in that place of anger and suffering, partners can start to feel close again.
If the unfaithful partner is willing to listen and understand how mad and completely upside down the world has become, the hurt partner will start to heal. This will take time. Patience and unplugging defensiveness is required to establish trust and safety. If you are expecting healing to take a month or six, that's probably not a realistic expectation.
Instead of encouraging my clients to forgive or use forgiveness as a goal, I help them find the tools to accept and communicate their True feelings whatever they may be. In that place of vulnerability we learn self-acceptance, and it becomes natural to forgive and re-harmonize relationships. This is one way a relationship can heal after betrayal and a relationship can be inoculated against repeat occurrences. Fill out the Contact Form if you would like help with getting more Freedom from negative emotional cycles.
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