Feeling hurt, angry and not ready to forgive the person who treated you so horribly? Perhaps you experienced a situation where someone you trusted (and perhaps loved) did something that was unforgivable? Or perhaps a stranger violated you, your home or took away the things most precious to you? Adultery, rape, abuse, betrayal, assault, theft, and burglary—these acts sadly happen far too often. In their wake are people left feeing vulnerable, hurt, angry, lost and sometimes vengeful. In these situations, can you forgive the perpetrator? Or do you find that you’re not ready to forgive them? Perhaps you never will for it was a boundary too far! They were in the wrong. So why should you forgive them? They should be the one who is being punished for what they have done, or at least saying sorry or begging your forgiveness.
Today I’d like to explore the thorny issue of forgiving someone who has hurt you.
“And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us”
At primary school, our morning assembly always ended with the Lord’s Prayer. I said the words by rote not really understanding them: my family are not religious and the words were foreign to me. It took me a long while to realize that ‘trespassing’ wasn’t just about ignoring the sign in a local farmer’s orchard! Although my parents encouraged me to say sorry when I stepped out of line, forgiveness wasn’t part of my life until decades later when I started to do my own self-development and healing. During this time there was a brick wall that I kept hitting: in counseling, coaching and healing I was being asked to consider and explore forgiving someone who had abused me as a child: and for many years, I simply didn’t want to. I couldn’t begin to understand why I even should.
Forgiving someone is not the same as excusing them for what they did
When I talk to people about forgiveness now, it tends to evoke strong reactions. Some see it as a weakness—believing that it simply lets the person off the hook. Others can’t get past what was done to them – especially if the perpetrator did not face any justice for what they did. Finally, there are people who see that forgiveness is not about excusing the person, but freeing themselves. And today, this is what I try to help people do too.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu describes this so very well. He says: “When I talk of forgiveness I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred. Remaining in that state locks you in a state of victimhood, making you almost dependent on the perpetrator. If you can find it in yourself to forgive, then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator. You can move on, and you can even help the perpetrator to become a better person too.”
This is part of his story that appears on the website: www.theforgivenessproject.com. Here dozens of people from around the world share how they found a way to let go and forgive.
Why did the person do that to you?
When people have been betrayed in some form, they tend to see their perpetrator as the wrongdoer, the evil one, and “the baddie” of their story. The bigger the betrayal, the more blackly they are painted. It’s rare for people to try and understand why their betrayer acted in that way.
There are so many reasons why someone crosses a line. For some people it is maliciousness. But I believe the vast majority don’t start from this place. Poverty, neglect, abuse and addiction lurk behind so many betrayals. And yet the number of people who struggle through life in less than ideal situations and actively choose not to lash out and hurt others is to me, a testament to the innate goodness of people.
If you have someone to forgive, I encourage you to look at your perpetrator through curious eyes. What may have lead them to the place where they could do that to you? What acts/situations have they suffered that they were capable of doing this?
How you feel when you have not forgiven someone?
Desmond Tutu’s words of being “…chained to the perpetrator” is a key part of understanding how forgiveness helps you – not your perpetrator. Consider for a moment what happens to you when your heart is full of anger, resentment, hatred or fear? How does this impact on your life?
On an emotional level, if you are still filled with all of these emotions, then you are still connected back to him/her. If you have not been able to let go, these negative emotions stay in your body. They cloud parts of your life that are meant to be joyful and happy. On a physical level, the stress, worry, anger and anxiety overloads your immune system, which can lead to all kinds of illnesses. Muscles in your body remain tight – ready to fight and they too can cause all manner of ailments.
To me, forgiving your betrayer is not about condoning what they did, it’s about seeing them as a human being again. It’s seeing that their words and actions are of someone who is lost, hurt, angry, addicted and suffering. Often these people are in dire need of help – and yet they frequently don’t get it. But more importantly, it is about releasing your connection to them. If you can let go, you step back into your own power. Then you are no longer the victim. You no longer allow your betrayer to have power over you and nor impact your life. You can move forward. And there is also the possibility that your betrayer will also change too.
One of the hardest parts of forgiving my abuser was to realize that I also needed to forgive myself. Initially, I could not understand this. He was an adult. I was a child. What did I have to forgive myself for? Of the abuse itself, nothing. But of the fact I knew it was wrong and yet too scared to tell anyone – yes, I needed to forgive myself for this even though I can see that at that age, keeping the secret was the only way I could cope with what was going on. But most of all, it was forgiving myself for all the guilt I carried around with me for decades. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t the guilty one: I still felt it. I was still carrying it around with me – and so in time I forgave myself as well as my abuser.
What do you need to forgive yourself for? And whom do you need to forgive?
How to forgive someone
How big is the betrayal? How long have you carried it with you? Are you ready to let go? How has it / is it impacting on your life?
There are many different ways of forgiving someone and letting go. For smaller acts, sometimes you can talk it through with the person involved, or you can talk about it with friends or family members. Sometimes writing a letter to your betrayer helps. This is not a letter that is sent; rather it is one you write and rewrite it until you feel everything has been said. Then ceremoniously burn the letter in your garden and let all of the feelings go. For the big betrayals, then I strongly advise you seek professional counselor, healer or therapist who specializes in this area. Letting go in these cases needs a gentle, experienced hand to guide you through the layers of letting go.
Am I one of those people who can help you? In some areas, yes: in others no. One of my specialties is communication in intimate relationships. I have helped a lot of people who felt they were betrayed by their spouse/partner by adultery, abandonment or an unwanted divorce. In these cases I can perhaps help you with EFT, Empathic Healing and an exercise I call Forgiveness Circles followed by life coaching. It is important for you to find the right person to help you. Talk to me and if I believe I can help you I will: and if in my opinion someone else would better serve you, I will help you find them too.
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