Trust is tricky – it’s hard to gain and easy to lose.
It’s also one of the biggest cornerstones of any relationship. When lost, the person betrayed may feel extremely devastated because it can completely alter the path of the entire relationship. We’ve all experienced some form of hurt or betrayal, but to what extent? The nature of the relationship, as well as the level of hurt we feel, will probably determine whether or not we’re willing to forgive the person who betrayed us.
It’s important to remember that forgiveness is a choice, and essentially the only person who has to live with the repercussions of whether or not you choose it is you. When it comes down to it – holding a grudge is a tempting and easier option, but this decision will not serve you in the long run. The following are a few brief benefits of choosing forgiveness over a grudge:
- Lower stress levels
- Healthier heart
- Lower blood pressure
- Stronger immune system
- Better sleep
- Less anxiety or feelings of anger and depression
- Healthier relationships
Forgiveness is easier said than done, and while there are consequences to holding a grudge, it’s not easy to choose forgiveness right away. It’s important to take the time to process and understand the situation before you delve into forgiveness.
So how do you choose forgiveness?
The first step in even considering whether or not you’re ready to forgive is to reframe your definition of it. Many people mistake forgiveness as “giving in” or condoning the actions/words of the person who betrayed you. Some people think it includes claiming that their actions actually did not have an impact on you. Forgiveness is NOT admitting that you were in the wrong when you aren’t. It does not mean you have to continue maintaining a negative relationship that doesn’t serve you.
Try reframing your definition of forgiveness to mean this:
- Realizing that you’re better off once you do it
- Refusing to replay painful situations over and over again in your head
- Realizing that grudges don’t serve you but forgiveness does
- Freeing your time and putting your energy towards something that does serve you
- Making peace with your past
Once you reframe your definition of forgiveness, it’s a lot easier to acquire. It’s also important to look for the lesson in forgiveness. By focusing on gratitude you can figure out what you can learn from the situation instead of what was stolen from you.
What if you can’t forgive?
It’s a common myth that there are only two options once you’ve been betrayed: to forgive or to harbor a grudge. This is actually not the case. Full acceptance is a third, lesser-known option you can choose. You cannot force yourself to forgive unless you are emotionally ready. In a sense, acceptance is the step prior to forgiveness. By utilizing acceptance, you come to terms with the wrongdoings of the other person. Instead of seeking revenge or obsessing over the betrayal, you search for a reason behind it. Accepting without forgiving is still a big part of moving forward.
Part of what makes forgiveness and acceptance so difficult is that once you’ve achieved them, you no longer dwell on what happened. You have officially made the decision not to continue mulling over, bringing up, or discussing the issue. As mentioned earlier, one of the benefits of forgiveness/acceptance is moving on and experiencing growth from the situation. This doesn’t mean completely forgetting about what happened to you, but learning from it and protecting yourself in the future. Instead of seeking revenge, seek to live your life the best way by moving forward.
Ellen Rohr, M.Ed. is a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern at the Relationship Counseling Center of Austin. She works with couples and individuals, helping them to have happier, more satisfying relationships. She is clinically supervised by Fred Tucker, M.A., LPC-S. Contact her at 512-270-4883, ext. 103.