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.