When a loved one hurts you or betrays your trust, it can be extremely difficult to extend forgiveness. True forgiveness isn’t about “being the better person.” In fact, anything that puts you in a one up position relative to the other person is the opposite of forgiveness. What are the keys to genuinely forgiving someone you love?
Suppose my friend stops by my house and steals money from my wallet. Until I’m confident that I can earn more money to refill my wallet, it’s going to be very difficult to forgive this person. I need to be coming from a place of financial abundance before I can let go this financial issue with my friend. Likewise, if your romantic partner cheats on you, you have to be willing to address your own insecurities. No matter how much someone else atones for his or her “crime,” you still have to work on you. Loved ones may trigger your deeply buried, long-held feelings of scarcity or insecurity, but resolving these personal issues is ultimately your responsibility.
Recognizing Hidden Benefit
As long as you experience another person’s actions strictly as a loss, it is incredibly difficult to authentically practice forgiveness. The key is to dig deep and recognize the ways in which this person’s hurtful behavior somehow benefited you–even, or especially, if he or she did not intend to benefit you in any way. How do I benefit from my friend stealing from my wallet? Maybe this teaches me to be more careful about where I leave my wallet. But the benefit may also be more subtle. Maybe my friend’s mistreatment of me allows me to feel superior or self-righteous. This is its own kind of “benefit,” even if it’s one that quickly wears thin. Once you genuinely recognize and come to terms with whatever hidden benefit, you may even discover that there is nothing to forgive.
Before you can forgive someone else, you have to forgive yourself. You can take responsibility and learn from your past mistakes without judging or torturing yourself. Consider that you are doing your best, but you are imperfect. Despite your very best efforts, you are going to make mistakes. Sometimes you are going to hurt those that love you the most. Having compassion for yourself allows you to extend the same to others.
That said, sometimes true forgiveness – which is really nothing more than honest, open-minded awareness – requires that you move on from whatever relationship. But rather than moving on out of resentment and anger, you move on from a place of understanding and insight. You see the bigger picture, and you’re aware of the role you played in allowing this issue to grow over time. You forgive yourself for your own blindspots. You forgive the other person for his or her blindspots. You move on without needing to assign blame or make someone else “wrong.” You move on, and in time maybe you even feel gratitude toward the other person for allowing you this opportunity for deep self-reflection.