Joyce learns that her husband has had an affair with a coworker. Trish, the woman Barbara thought was her best friend has told others sensitive information that was shared in confidence. Without her knowledge, Cathy’s brother Peter talked their 88 year-old mother into mortgaging her house and, under the pretense that he would invest the money for her, took the funds and gambled them away.
Perhaps you haven’t experienced such violations of trust and the hurt that results. But chances are you have had people violate your trust at some time in your life, resulting in you feeling angry, resentful, and damaged. It is the rare human being who hasn’t been wronged.
Carrying around the resentment resulting from the offense can produce many of the harmful effects of stress and affect your health. In essence, the negative impact of the original offense can continue to produce negative effects for a long time. So what are you supposed to do?
When you forgive you release the negative emotions that you’ve been carrying around and change your attitude about the offense. This isn’t to imply that you forget the offense, condone it, or make excuses for it. Instead, you take control, making the decision to limit the negative impact, and freeing yourself to move past the transgression.
In order for the forgiveness process to begin it can help to confront the person who offended you. This needn’t be in an ugly or angry manner. Just calm and direct, sharing how the offense made you feel.
“John, I always trusted you and am torn apart to learn of your affair with Linda.”
“Several people have told me that they found out about my legal problems from you, Trish. I told you about this because I thought we had a special friendship and that I could confide in you.”
“Peter, you gambled away all of our mother’s money. I’m confused and angry that you would have so little consideration for her welfare.”
You can follow this with your suggestions on the actions that would heal the situation. For example, you can tell your unfaithful husband that you want to know if he is committed to the marriage and if so, that you want to seek marital counseling; you can tell Trish that you want an apology and that she will need to regain your trust; you can tell your brother Peter that you want him to develop a plan for repaying the money he took from your mother. The other parties can then take responsibility, hopefully apologize for their wrongdoing, and take actions to restore the trust in the relationship.
There always is a chance that the offending party won’t be interested in taking responsibility and healing the relationship. John may tell you that you are lousy wife and he wants a divorce, Trish could deny sharing your secret, and Peter can inform you that as he would have inherited this money in the future anyway he sees nothing wrong and has no intention of chalking up any money. Forgiveness may not be possible. You then know where things stand and instead of harboring anger, can begin focusing on your future plans. You may be hurt but you know where things stand. Trying to understand what motivated the person’s action could help. You can choose to forgive the person while making the choice to move away from the individual and reduce the power he or she has to impact your feelings. Let it go.
And it’s not only others that are recipients of your forgiveness: forgiving yourself has considerable value. Chances are you have behaved in some less than ideal ways and done things that have produced negative results for yourself or others. This can cause you to feel full of shame, guilt, regret, embarrassment, and sadness. It can help to approach the person you wronged, admit to your wrongdoing, ask forgiveness, and correct the wrong. If that is not possible, work on accepting that you, like everyone else, are an imperfect being and cut yourself some slack. Not forgiving yourself will only eat away at you and reduce the richness of life that you can bring yourself and others.