Forgiveness may qualify as one of life’s greatest challenges. In terms of difficulty, letting someone off the hook for doing you a dirty, whether it’s cheating, lying or betraying a confidence, has to be up there with summiting Mount Everest and figuring out why they keep making episodes of Jersey Shore.
Forgiveness isn’t easy, clearly — if it were there would be no divorce courts and Judge Joe Brown would most definitely be out of a gig. But challenging or not, letting go of the anger caused by betrayal is essential to continued well-being. Studies suggest that forgiveness has powerful emotional and physical benefits, from lowering blood pressure to reducing the risk of depression.
Here are six tips for learning how to forgive, forget and move on from the pain of betrayal.
1. Tell your story
Forgiveness is a process rather than a miracle, so start the process by acknowledging the real source of your distress say researchers at Stanford University’s Forgiveness Project. Are you mad at your friend for betraying your confidence or just embarrassed that now everybody at yoga knows you didn’t lose your virginity until you were 28? Tell your story from soup to nuts, and establish how you feel about what happened. If you feel comfortable, tell a close friend or family member about your experience.
2. Decide to move on
Forgiveness isn’t forgetting — it’s an act of will that allows you to move forward. Unfortunately, you’re never going to forget how your boss completely sold you out at the corporate conference. But you can decide to put that information in your “older, wiser file.” Now you know what you’re dealing with. Your boss is a coward who can’t be trusted. You can protect yourself in future.
3. Surrender your anger
Anger is a type of self-inflicted punishment. But forgiveness is the “gift you give yourself,” a form of emotional freedom says Danine Manette, author of Ultimate Betrayal: Recognizing, Uncovering and Dealing with Infidelity. Freedom doesn’t come without a price, however. The cost of admission into the hall of happiness: surrendering your anger and “giving up your right to revenge.” Letting go of the idea that revenge will right a wrong is a small price to pay for being able to sleep at night.
4. Make your own ‘closure’
It would be wonderful if all the people who hurt you formed an orderly line and one by one acknowledged their wrongdoing and offered a sincere soothing apology. But they won’t. Ever. So stop waiting for an external motive to move on and reclaim the momentum for yourself. “The choice to forgive comes from within and only from within, therefore it is always ‘one-sided,’” says Manette. Take a side — yours. Let the jerk who had you then dumped you continue to flail around in benighted self-delusion. He deserves it. You don’t.
5. For god’s sake, get out of the house
Occasionally life throws us a real doozy — our spouse has an affair, a parent or sibling sells us down the river. Sitting at home stewing about what happened isn’t going to make you feel any better. So get out of the house (and your head) and get involved in activities that promote positive energy rather than feed negative feelings, she says. Run, dance, swim, and spend time with people who love you. Join a book club, anything that “utilizes mental and preferably physical energy, and lowers stress levels,” explains Manette.
6. Channel the offender’s perspective, really
It’s natural, and possibly part of the process of forgiveness, to start out by demonizing the offender and establishing yourself as victim No. 1. But it’s natural to evolve your perspective too, and research suggests there’s no better (or more difficult!) way to do that than to put yourself in the offender’s shoes. Your partner, who lied when he said he quit smoking again, may not be the calculated liar he seems from a distance. In fact, when you don his suspiciously smoky cardigan (metaphorically speaking) you might discover he’s just a poor sap in the throes of a powerful addiction. Once empathy is established, the divisions of victim and offender start to dissipate and so too do the negative feelings.