By Paula Lau
Recently, a client came to me in tears. She had just found out that a rape she had experienced a couple of months ago had resulted in a sexually transmitted disease. She was angry and distraught saying that she now felt as if she had been violated not once, but twice. As a spiritual person she was struggling deeply with the concept of forgiveness. She knew that, in her case, to forgive her perpetrator was going to be a necessary part of her healing, but she honestly did not see how that could be possible.
When we are deeply wronged by others there is a very natural part of ourselves that cries out at the injustice of the situation. We shake our fists at the sky and the anger we feel can become debilitating creating depression, bitterness and a deep sense of insecurity at the unfairness of life. This is especially true when we see the person who hurt us as seemingly untouched and going about their business as usual.
Many people recognize they need to forgive, but struggle with how to forgive because they don’t feel like forgiving the person who has hurt them. So how do we handle it when we need to forgive and just don’t want to? There are a number of steps that I walk my clients through when it comes to this issue. It’s important to recognize that forgiveness is good for you. In fact, Stanford University has engaged in extensive research denoting the benefits of forgiveness for your mental, emotional and physical health. It’s important to recognize that you may never feel like forgiving. Forgiveness in its most pure sense is an act of our will. We forgive not because we want to, but because we know that for our own good, we must. I explain it to my clients like this: “Many times, when my alarm goes off in the morning, I don’t feel like going to work, but, as an act of my will, I do because I know it’s good for me.” Forgiveness does not have to be accompanied by warm, sincere or fuzzy feelings. Over time, with enough repetition, your feelings may begin to change — or they may not. But the important thing is that you have made the decision to forgive.
Remember when forgiving that forgiveness is a one-way street. Even though you may understand the tremendous amount of emotional energy it took for you to extend forgiveness, it may not be valued by the other person. This, however, does not change the value of it for you.
Another stumbling stone when it comes to forgiveness is that many people believe that once they have forgiven they are expected to return to some kind of relationship with the person who has hurt them. Trust is a two way street. When you have been hurt or harmed by another, it is critical that you evaluate whether or not a relationship should continue or end. Forgiveness extended does not mean that you make yourself vulnerable to be hurt again.
It’s in understanding these principles that we also begin to recognize that vengeance is not our responsibility either. The days, hours, and years people lose in trying to think up the perfect payback for that person who has hurt them could never be measured. A Chinese proverb states, “He who seeks vengeance must dig two graves: one for his enemy and one for himself.” In forgiving and letting go of our need for vengeance, we can begin to direct our energies in a positive way. We can reclaim the life that someone tried to take from us. After all, the sweetest vengeance of all is a life well lived.