Sometimes in life, we feel hurt by the actions of others. In fact, sometimes these hurts feel like such betrayal or the pain runs so deeply that we get stuck in our negative emotions about people, places, or events.
I recently experienced such a betrayal in my life. In fact, I experienced two very similar betrayals from people I thought I could trust within a period of a few weeks. I abruptly ended both of those relationships. As I looked back on them from my place of pain and anger, I could suddenly clearly see the red flags that had been waving in my face all along. Knowing that the signs were there the entire time that these people weren’t really my friends made me even angrier – at them, but even more so at myself because I had turned a blind eye and allowed myself to be blindsided.
For weeks I struggled with my anger, hurt, and sense of betrayal. I understood these feelings were natural, and I needed to allow myself to experience them instead of quashing them, but as time passed I started to realize something else, as well. Me holding on to those feelings wasn’t harming the people who had hurt me – they couldn’t care less. But holding onto those feelings was hurting me and leaving me in a negative space. It was time to move on.
Who Is Forgiveness for Really, Anyway?
When I hear many people discuss forgiveness, they describe it as an act they engage in for the good of the person they are forgiving. I think they’ve got it backwards. Forgiveness is never about anyone else but you. When you forgive another, you are freeing yourself from the burden of the pain you have chosen to accept based on the actions or words of another. When you forgive, in essence you are saying, “I choose to no longer accept pain and negativity as a result of your actions.” Abuse, therefore, is about setting yourself free by choosing to no longer allow those past actions to continue to cause pain in your life.
I once heard someone explain it thusly to an adult survivor of child abuse who was having trouble forgiving their abuser: “That person stopped beating you and causing you physical pain years ago. You’re the one who is continuing to pick up the stick and beat yourself with it.”
It may sound harsh, but it also contains a great truth. Abuse – of any kind – occurs in the moment. When the moment passes, the abuse is over. It’s what we do with it in our hearts and minds that continues that abuse on into our lives, and we become our own abusers.
Put Down the Stick
We all know forgiveness is something we should do. But often, we are unable to find a path to actually make it happen. I believe much of this arises from the mistaken thought forgiveness is about the other guy, and that by forgiving someone else, you are excusing their behavior or saying what they did was okay. When we look at it that way, it renders it difficult to come to a place where we can let go.
Often, we feel like there’s no justice when it comes to how others treat us. The fact they can behave so badly towards us and get away with it feels unjust. But we have no control over the behaviors of others. The only person I can control is me, and the only person you can control is you.
Therefore, the first step in forgiving is reframing the definition and intent of the act. It’s important to understand that metaphysically, forgiveness is an act of self-love and self-care. Forgiveness is all about you, and not about the other guy at all. You are forgiving because of the energetic impact it has on you. When you forgive, you are letting go of the hurt and anger and not allowing yourself to move into that vibrational state any longer. Instead, you are making the supremely self-loving choice of putting down the stick you’ve been beating yourself with and allowing yourself to move on with your life, unfettered by negativity.
Take Positive Steps
While forgiveness can happen in a single moment of choice, more often than not it is a process. Here are some steps to take to help you forgive.
1. Allow yourself the anger and hurt. It’s okay to feel these things in the immediate wake of abuse or betrayal. To quash them and pretend to be happy is being untrue to yourself, so you need to allow these emotions to pass through you. In fact, allowing yourself the full force of the experience helps them to pass more quickly. So in the immediate aftermath of the precipitating incident, do what you’ve got to do. Yell. Scream. Cry. Talk to a supportive friend about your feelings. Write it all out in your journal. Do what it takes to allow yourself the full force of your emotions.
2. But not for too long. Give yourself some time, but realize that at some point, the negativity becomes a destructive force – not towards the other person, but in your psyche. After you’ve allowed the full force of your emotions, start taking tentative steps towards forgiveness.
3. Expect resistance. It’s human nature to want to exact revenge; to want to hold on to your anger and resentment; to want the object of your anger to feel your wrath. So as you start to explore the concept of forgiveness, expect pushback from your ego in the form of a big “HELL NO.” This, too is natural.
4. Forgive yourself first. If we’re being completely honest, when we are betrayed or hurt by another, we always turn on ourselves at least a little. We seek to blame ourselves for the incident that has arisen. We blame ourselves for feeling angry when we should be positive. We blame ourselves for trusting. Therefore, before you can let go of your anger towards another, you must first let go of your anger towards yourself. Surround yourself with the light of love and treat yourselves kindly.
5. Love yourself. Since forgiveness is always an act of self-love, it’s important to remember as you work your way towards forgiveness that you are doing this for you – so that you can be free and move forward in your life. Forgiveness always starts from a place of self love.
6. Look for the lessons you’ve learned. In every act of betrayal, every time we are hurt, every time we are angered – there is a lesson there. So when you’re ready, look at the lessons you have learned from the acts that require forgiveness. Somewhere in there is a tiny kernel of light for you if you are willing to find it. Once you do, even though it’s hard, experiment with gratitude for the lesson you learned or the positive changes it has brought about in your life.
Help for Forgiveness
Forgiveness is a deeply personal act, and we all go about letting go in our own way. However, there are some things you can try to help assist you as you seek to forgive yourself and others.
Do It for You
Forgiving another is the ultimate act of self love. It sets you free and allows you to move on with your life without dwelling in negativity.