There is nothing worse than being betrayed by the one who promised to never betray you or to be hurt by someone that is supposed to love and care for you.
So when the unthinkable happens and your spouse cheats on you or your family member abuses you, how do you heal? How do you move on? And, if the one who wronged you is both remorseful and repentant, how do you reconcile?
To tackle this difficult subject, we’ll look at the most common questions (pitfalls) that arise when contemplating forgiveness:
Why should I forgive?
This question comes up often, and for good reason…because when one has been hurt to the core of their being, they are going to need some motivation to walk through the process of forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the path to freedom. Not only have I experienced this myself, but I hear it all the time. When one truly forgives another a huge weight is suddenly lifted off their shoulders.
This is why forgiveness is sometimes associated with releasing, in that you release the wrongdoer from the anger, wrath, and punishment you’ve been holding over their head.
You can imagine that carrying around such intense feelings would be a heavy burden. So set yourself free and forgive!
Forgiveness has now been scientifically proven to boost your health. Sure you can eat organic foods, exercise, and take those much needed vacations, but until you release any anger and bitterness bound up within you, your body will be like a shrub in the desert that has not seen a refreshing drop of rain in months or even years.
More and more studies have been coming out in recent years, all pointing in the same direction–forgiveness is our healthiest option. ABC News put out an article stating, “mounting research shows that the stress hormone cortisol that fuels your anger can literally tear your blood vessels.”
Compound this with another study conducted at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, that revealed a rise in blood pressure and heart rate to be associated with a lack of forgiveness, and you soon realize this is no joke!
Forgiveness is the most powerful catalyst to true change. Think about it.
When you’ve done something seriously wrong and forgiveness is extended to you, it leads you to a sense of selfless love that you hadn’t experienced before, and suddenly you find yourself with a new and improved attitude and outlook.
If you want the wrongdoer to change their ways or lifestyle, offer him or her forgiveness. It is not a guarantee, but it truly is the best chance you can give them.
How do I forgive something so terrible?
How to #1:
You don’t do it lightly. There is no such thing as cheap forgiveness, and I would never advocate such a thing. I tell my clients this the first day they are in my office.
Also, it is a process. Often the deeper the pain, the longer the process. Remember, when you forgive, it should be sincere, and it should be from the heart.
How to #2:
You should realize that forgiveness never excuses the behavior. We must realize that granting forgiveness does not mean that the injustice wasn’t grievous.
When someone apologizes to you, have you ever said, “It’s okay?” I know I have. And that’s normal to say when you are dealing with minor infractions.
But when someone abuses, cheats, lies, steals, etc., these things are not simply “okay” just because someone apologizes for them. In these situations, things may never be okay again between you and that individual, but you can still forgive, while knowing that what they did was wrong and may carry many serious consequences with it. This brings us to our next point.
How to #3:
Know that forgiveness does not negate consequences. Let’s say I lie to my wife, but then feel guilty and apologize for lying. While she may forgive me, it doesn’t mean that she trusts me.
The natural consequence of my action is a loss of trust; therefore, for my wife to trust me again, I must earn her trust back. This has to do with justice, which can be pictured as en evenly balanced scale.
So, if I broke trust, I must earn trust. If I was to break the law, I may still have to do the time for my crime, even though those I victimized may have forgiven me.
How to #4:
Don’t listen to those who may say you just need to forgive and forget. If you’ve read this far, you already know that there is no such thing as “just forgiving.”
It’s not so simple; it’s a process, and it’s your choice. With this in mind, there is also no such thing as to “just forget about it.” Anyone who tells you this is greatly lacking in empathy and understanding for your situation, and they obviously don’t have a true working knowledge of the human brain.
When traumatic events occur, many chemicals flood the body (especially the brain) as a survival technique in order to help us in a variety of ways such as diminishing pain, dissociation, and keeping our bodies from going into a deadly shock.
When these chemicals flood our system, they also create strong emotions. [At this point, I’d like to take a moment to lend you compassion, and hopefully you can lend that same compassion to yourself. If you’ve struggled with thoughts and feelings of hatred, anger, shame, depression, etc., it is now time to reach out with a gracious (and symbolic) hand to yourself and stop beating yourself up for it. When terrible things happen to you, you should rightly expect that the emotions and thoughts tied to such an event are also going to be terrible. However, where we make the mistake is in letting such an event control us and manipulate our lives for years to come. This is where forgiveness comes into play and why it is so good for you. When you choose to forgive, you release, and a heavy burden is literally lifted off your shoulders.]
Now, back to those emotions. While they are challenging to deal with, they also serve a purpose. When something is emotional, it gets strongly imprinted in our memory. Thus, it is again bogus for someone to tell you to forget about it.
But the benefit of this, is that in remembering something you will be much more likely to avoid it in the future–thus enabling you to survive and guiding you to a better future.
How to #5:
Know that forgiveness is an ongoing choice. Even though you may choose to honestly forgive the wrongdoer, feelings can arise that will want to lead you back to vitriol and bitterness toward the violator.
When this happens you will need to remember your choice to forgive and often make the choice again, within your heart and mind, to forgive the one that violated you.
Closing remarks: I wish you all the very best in your journey toward forgiveness and hopefully reconciliation. In no way do I make light of any situation that has victimized you; instead I simply want the best for you.
About the author
Jordan Hall, M.A. Is a psychotherapist in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the founder of Rock Your Marriage, which is a counseling outreach for couples based out of Colorado Springs.
He counsels both couples and individuals via face-to-face, phone, or online Skype sessions.
To learn more about Jordan or Rock Your Marriage visit his web site at www.rockyourmarriage.org or call (719)362-0796.
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