Betrayal is a hard pill to swallow. Which is why the concept of forgiveness is hardly ever appealing. The question becomes, is it your responsibility to forgive? After all, the healing process should be centered around what you need.
To understand what forgiveness actually means, consider how Adam Cohen, researcher on the topic of forgiveness, defines this concept in Greater Good Magazine, “Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness.”
Through our interviews and research, we have discovered that there are two types of forgiveness. The first is spiritually driven. If forgiving a betrayer helps you attain a peaceful state of mind, then by all means, seek it. For some people, forgiveness of those who have wronged them is a deeply held religious or spiritual value. For others, the spirituality aspect is unnecessary and irrelevant. But moving forward without anger is understood to be a necessary goal in their recovery process. And for others still, forgiveness isn’t at all necessary to move on after recovery.
In either situation, it’s important to understand that your decision to forgive is about your needs, not the needs of those who have betrayed you. In addition, it is important to remember that by forgiving, you are by no means forgetting—nor are you reconciling or excusing the actions of your betrayer. You are simply helping yourself step away from the angry, negative feelings that can drag you down.
The Benefit of Forgiveness
The truth is, emotionally, forgiveness helps you heal. It closes the loop on a bad situation, and lets your psyche know it’s finally over. José Stevens, PhD, a psychologist and shaman, notes that when you do not forgive someone, you are imprisoning the two of you in the same cell. Forgiveness can help repair a relationship (if that’s what you want). And it can help restore your faith and trust in humankind.
Dr. Steven Stosny, a psychologist whose practice includes victims of betrayal, describes forgiveness in an impactful way, “letting go of the hope of having a better past.” As a result, you harness the power to create a different and better future.
What Forgiveness is Not
That future doesn’t necessarily need to involve the betrayer. In some cases, it doesn’t make sense for a continued relationship to exist. Forgiving someone allows you to build a new future for yourself; it does not however, mean the future must include a relationship with the betrayer.
Forgiveness, despite what many believe, is not a spiritual or religious decision that lets the betrayer off the hook. Instead, it is simply finding a way to free yourself from the emotional pain that can force you into an eternal dance with your betrayer. So acknowledge the pain and validate it; do not fall into the trap of endlessly reliving the pain anew because that will slow your healing process and allow resentment and rage to creep back into your life.
Remember forgiveness is about moving past the anger, not about understanding and accepting the betrayal or condoning the betrayer. It is a jumping off point to look past the faults and actions of the betrayer and to recast the relationship: moving forward with it or leaving it behind.