On a human level, experiencing LOVEvolution happens through a process known as individuation. Becoming spiritually individuated means to move from being unconsciously united with God, to becoming separated from God and developing individual consciousness or awareness, and then rejoining again with God as a conscious, aware, separate Being. [Read more…]
In the throes of a betrayal, it may seem impossible to even think about forgiveness. You may feel as though your heart has been broken and that you can never even be close to your betrayer again. This initial reaction is a normal part of the grief process that accompanies any betrayal experiences. Once the anger stage of the grief process passes and you move toward acceptance of the betrayal, you can begin to think about forgiveness.
Compassionate forgiveness can help you heal accumulations of past physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual wounds from previous betrayals and other kinds of developmental trauma. It can also help you open your heart again so that you can begin rebuilding the fracture in your relationship. The goal is to repair the trust, empathy, reciprocity, and love you once had with this person. However, your motive for wanting to forgive should not be to help the other person. It should be about helping yourself and freeing yourself of the anger and resentment that can, if not healed, continue to hurt your body and mind. Weinhold and Andresen (1979) wrote, “Forgiveness is basic to all change and growth.” The tension from self-judgment and judging others produces a chronic level of stress in your body that depresses your immune system and causes illness (Borysenko, 1996). You have the power to end this kind of destructive cycle by moving beyond the acceptance stage of grieving and work toward forgiving your betrayer and yourself. Forgiveness is a attitude that only sets the forgiver free. The healthiest choice in a betrayal trauma is to forgive yourself and the other person for creating the betrayal situation.
The word forgive is often misunderstood. To some people, it means to rise above your feelings or to deny or passively condone the act of betrayal. To forgive actually means to “give back, give before, or for-give.” What are you willing to give back or take back in a betrayal situation What responsibility do you have in this betrayal This approach will help you give back or take back your projections and misperceptions about the other person’s behavior. You may find the other person feels shocked to hear your perceptions about them or the situation. Perhaps you were not fully truthful with the other person in ways that contributed to his or her misperceptions about you. Perhaps you need to give back the full truth to this person. You may also have unconsciously set up the betrayal by pretending to like something the other person said or did, when in truth you didn’t like it. Compassion is a companion tool to forgiveness. Both are necessary for clearing betrayal traumas.
Compassion doesn’t necessarily help the person who betrayed you, but it will surely help you heal your own wounds. If you cannot feel compassion for those who betray you, you may continue to draw people into your life that play into your pattern of betrayal. To heal your developmental traumas and stresses related to betrayals, it is important to practice compassion toward yourself. An excellent way to develop self-compassion is to eliminate the word mistake from your vocabulary. Mistakes imply judgment and failure, that something went wrong, and that you or someone else is bad, all of which can create intrapsychic splitting.
A more compassionate framework is to see everything, including your betrayal traumas, as learning experiences rather than as mistakes. Learning how to heal your developmental traumas and stresses involves you in the process of discovery, exploration, and adventure, all of which are fun and exciting. When you try something new and it turns out the way that you expected, you probably dont learn very much. Rather, it just reinforces your previous learning. When you try something new and it turns out to be different from what you expected, you have an opportunity to learn something new. This unexpected turn of events stimulates your thinking, activates your curiosity, and promotes more exploration and discovery. An attitude of learning fosters synthesis or unitive thinking and increased self-esteem, which help immensely in being able to move on.
Borysenko, J. (1996) Seventy times seven: On the spiritual art of forgiveness. Audiotape, Boulder, CO: Sounds True.
Weinhold, B. & Andresen, G. (1979). Threads: Unraveling the mysteries of adult life. New York: Richard Marek Publishers.
Make a list of the significant betrayals in your life. You can make the list chronological, starting with the earliest one you can remember, or you can arrange your list from the most significant down to the least significant. You only need a few words to describe each event: “The time when _____ happened.”
After you have listed all these events, go back and examine each betrayal using the following questions:
- What were the predominant feelings you had then and have now
- Which sterile choices did you make in dealing with this betrayal
- What illusions, misperceptions, or expectations contributed to the betrayal
- What other choices could you have made in this betrayal situation
- What new choices still exist for you in this betrayal situation
- What lessons did you learn as a result of this betrayal
- What, if any, important benefits came out of this betrayal experience
- Have you had similar kinds of betrayals If so, what were the common elements in these betrayals
- How do they form a pattern
- Which betrayals do you feel you have successfully resolved
- How did you do that Which betrayals have you not healed
- What opportunities still exist to heal or resolve these
After you have answered the above questions, make a second list of the times when you were the betrayer. Answer the following questions as honestly as possible:
- What were the most prevalent feelings involved in your betrayals
- How did you deal with each betrayal
- What were the short-term and long-term effects of the betrayal on you
- What were the short-term and long-term effects of the betrayal on the other person involved
- What could you have done instead of betraying the other person
- What, if any, benefits did you receive as a result of the betrayal
- What, if any, unfinished business do you think still exists with each of your betrayals
- What actions do you still need to take to clear any unfinished business left over from any of your betrayals
In our recent book, Conflict Resolution: The Partnership Way, (2009), we suggest a process and steps to use in forgiving others.
What Forgiveness Is Not
Below is a description of what forgiveness is not. Because of all the misconceptions about forgiveness, it is necessary first to clarify what it is not. Here are some ideas to consider:
1. Forgiveness does not involve ego gratification. For example, someone might forgive you for doing something that the other person didn’t like (a judgment) and imply, “Oh, I forgive you because I am so great, and you are not so hot.” This is an inappropriate use of forgiveness and does little to resolve the conflict. This approach is more about arrogance than forgiveness.
2. Forgiveness does not condone the other person’s ignorant or deceitful behavior. This is the most common misunderstanding of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not letting others off the hook. They still have to address their own behaviors. People who have been grievously wronged by others, however, may need to release their anger or rage toward those individuals before they are ready to even begin to think about forgiving them.
3. Forgiveness is not associated with any specific behaviors. Perhaps someone was abused by his or her father as a child. The form of forgiveness depends on the situation. This person might forgive his or her father and never speak to him again. The person also could forgive and then develop a good relationship with his or her father.
4. Forgiveness is not a “spiritual bypass.” Forgiveness is not a way to avoid doing your own emotional and psychological work.. Even if you are able to forgive someone, you still have to resolve the issues related to your deep grief and anger. You still have to find ways to heal your developmental traumas and move forward in your personal growth. Some people use meditation, prayer, or affirmations in order to bypass doing this deeper kind of spiritual work. It generally isn’t very effective. Emotional and psychological work can be difficult and painful, so it is understandable why people want to avoid it. If you try to avoid healing your developmental traumas by doing the deeper spiritual work, it is likely that you will drive the energy of the wounds deeper into your body where the tension from them can somaticize into life-threatening illnesses.
What Is True Forgiveness
Forgiveness is a very deep psychophysical process that can hone your wisdom and raise your consciousness. Forgiveness is a complex act of consciousness, one that liberates the psyche and soul from the need for personal vengeance and the perception of oneself as a victim. More than releasing from blame the people who caused our wounds, forgiveness means releasing the control that the perception of victimhood has over our psyches. The liberation that forgiveness generates comes in the transition to a higher state of consciousness not just in theory, but energetically and biologically (Myss, 1996, p. 215).
Unless you can develop compassionate forgiveness, the original trauma or betrayal will follow you everywhere, continuing to draw new people into your life to help you reenact the betrayal trauma. Why Because your unconscious knows it is not good for you to hold onto the energy of that trauma and seeks to help you to recreate the trauma in order to finally heal it. Remember, it is the natural learning style of humans to repeat a behavior or situation until it is completely understood and integrated into your consciousness.
Where Do I Begin in Forgiving Others
The process of forgiving others begins with developing compassionate forgiveness for yourself. If you blame your betrayals on other people without looking at your contribution, you will find it difficult to forgive other people. When you can clearly identify your part in the betrayal, you have the potential for real forgiveness. People who judge themselves usually judge others. Go here to see the list of the steps in self-forgiveness and a description of each step.
Between birth to three years of age, children complete a series of essential developmental processes. The two most important, however, involve secure bonding between mother and child and the child’s psychological separation from its parents. If the bonding process is completed successfully in the first year, children feel safe enough to explore the world around them. Then between age two or three, they are able to complete the â
The Six Steps in Self-Forgiveness
Step 1: Take responsibility for what you did. Taking responsibility means admitting you contributed to the betrayal rather than blaming it all on someone. Borysenko (1996) quotes a spiritual teacher named Emmanuel on this, saying: “If you deny what is your nature, you become deeply attached to that denial. When you accept what is there in its truth, then you are released. One does not release through rejection, one releases through love.” It is truly an act of love to say, “I learned something important, and I will accept responsibility for what I did.”
Step 2: Confess to another person the truth about how you contributed to the creation of an event that hurt yourself. Mindbody studies show that when you confess a perceived wrong, it reduces the stress stored in your body. This stored stress can make you physically ill.Borysenko (1996) cites research that involved students who confessed to a shower curtain (no one was behind the curtain, although the students were not told this). The researcher followed up with these students and found they had better health (fewer colds and illnesses) than did a comparison group who didn’t confess. The Catholic church has known about the power of confession for many centuries. Therapy certainly plays a similar role in helping people become less depressed or guilt-ridden.
Step 3: Look compassionately at yourself, seeing how past betrayals are contaminating your experiences in the present. Identify how this betrayal correlates with other betrayals you have experienced. This will help you see the other person as an actor from central casting who is helping you work on your betrayal pattern. Avoid feeling guilty or depressed about the betrayal, reinforcing feelings of unworthiness. Borysenko (1996) says that the mind always takes the shape of what it dwells upon. If you dwell on your perceived failures or unworthiness, you may find it difficult to remember the good things about you. In order to balance this self-critical tendency, dwell also on some of your innocence and what is right about this particular betrayal experience.
Step 4: Look compassionately at the other person and be willing to make amends. Barry remembers learning an important lesson in compassion many years ago:I was working as a university administrator and had a trusted university colleague and friend in whom I confided periodically regarding my misgivings about certain university policies and the actions of some of my superiors. Without my knowledge, he shared all this information with my superiors. One day my colleague informed me that I had been fired from my administrative position and that it had been given to him. I felt devastated and hated this man for his act of betrayal. I sought the advice of a counselor who helped me deal with my self-judgments, because I was really critical of myself for trusting this man. I was also not coping well with the aftermath of the betrayal because my betrayer was now my boss rather than my colleague. This prospect brought up intense shame. The counselor helped me see that I had done nothing wrong or shameful. I managed to keep my object constancy each day when I went to work over the following four months. Later that year, I left that job for a much better one. In my new environment, I could see the situation more objectively. Because my job situation had improved and I felt happier, I began to consider forgiving this man. I was able to release my need to see myself as a victim in this situation, while also acknowledging my part in setting up the betrayal. I saw that unhealed abuse issues from childhood were behind my blind trust in this colleague. Because I couldn’t see this shadow part of myself, it was difficult for me to see it in others. This story had a very interesting ending for me. About five years after I left this university, I returned to visit some friends who still lived in the community. They suggested that we take a drive out to the campus so they could show me the new buildings and how the campus had grown. While we were walking through the building where I formerly worked, I suddenly came face to face with my betrayer. He recognized me and came toward me. At first, I felt a rush of the old anger I had held toward him and felt my fist clench. My anger passed immediately as he began to speak to me. He said, “I am so glad to see you. Many times I have tried unsuccessfully to write you a letter and I have thought of calling you to say how sorry I am about what I did to you. I have had trouble sleeping and have had many nightmares. I want to resolve this. Will you forgive me for what I did I really need your forgiveness, so I can get on with my life.” I thought for a minute, seeing the distress in his eyes. Then I said, “I forgave you a long time ago. I needed to do that for me, not for you. I urge you to forgive yourself, because that is what is holding you back, not my lack of forgiveness.”He looked at me and seemed to take in what I was saying. Then he said, “Thank you for forgiving me. I will now try to forgive myself.” Then he told me that what he had done to me had also happened to him. He had been fired as well. He said that he normally would not have been at the office that day, but he was there packing his things to leave the university. Our chance meeting may not have been chance at all. I had the feeling that this meeting was arranged by someone wiser than us in order to give this man a chance to remove the burden he had carried for the past five years. It also gave me a chance to make amends in a way that I didn’t even know I needed to do. It was a profound lesson in forgiveness that I will never forget.
Step 5: Ask for help from spiritual realms (as you define them) in developing compassionate forgiveness. There are numerous spiritual lessons that can be learned from a betrayal. One of the most intriguing spiritual concepts is the concept of surrender. Surrender has to do with letting go of judgments toward self and others. It takes two forms, a masculine form and a feminine form. Men and women need to exhibit both forms. If you are good at one form but not the other, you may find it difficult to heal betrayals. The masculine form of surrender involves the ability to take charge of your life without guilt. Many people would rather feel guilty than be responsible and face their shortcomings. Guilt is usually teamed with resentment. If you feel guilty about something you have done to someone, you may also resent this person in some way. It is your responsibility to take charge of your guilt. This is the message Barry gave his colleague who was unable to take charge of his guilt and was waiting for Barry to forgive him so he could forgive himself. The feminine form of surrender involves the ability to receive without resistance. Perhaps you remember a time when someone said or did something that hurt you. It may have been difficult for you to experience what this person did or said. Perhaps you denied the truth of the words or deeds by verbally or physically erecting barriers against the person’s message. Perhaps you responded with some sterile choices, deflecting the impact of the betrayal. In order to learn from the betrayal and achieve some level of spiritual healing, you need to experience its impact and full meaning. Men seem to have more difficulty learning to receive than women do. On the other hand, women seem to have more problems in taking charge without guilt. If a man can’t receive without resistance, his capacity for learning from a betrayal situation can be greatly diminished. A woman who cannot take charge without guilt but is good at receiving without resistance may end up being overpowered and victimized. These twin concepts are very important in helping you learn from and heal the trauma you experience from betrayals.
Step 6: Reflect on what you have learned as a result of experiencing something as a betrayal. This might turn out to be the most important part of the forgiveness process. If you can look at the betrayal situation objectively and make a healthy response to the perceived betrayal, you have an opportunity to increase your self-awareness, heal your developmental trauma connected to it, and make sure you do not draw any other people into your life to help you experience any similar betrayals in the future. This is a form of mastery and shifts your consciousness in an important way. You will have learned that betrayals are opportunities to heal yourself and you will be more readily able to use any further perceived betrayals as tools for your own healing rather then opportunities to blame others for betraying you.
References: Borysenko, J. (1996). Seventy times seven: On the spiritual art of forgiveness. Audiotape. Boulder, CO: Sounds True.