Betrayal is like a train wreck that you never see coming. There are many circumstances that could be considered betrayal, from a friend turning on you in your time of need to a romantic partner carrying on an affair behind your back. Eventually, for the good of your own mental and emotional health, you should forgive the person who betrayed you. Start by healing yourself emotionally and surrounding yourself with people who care. If you wish to rebuild your relationship, you can do so after forgiving the person.
- Deciding to Forgive
- Healing Yourself So You Can Forgive
- Fixing Your Relationship
Understand what forgiveness is. Forgiveness does not mean excusing or accepting the betrayal. Rather, forgiveness is the act of freeing yourself of the anguish and anger that you’ve felt towards the person who betrayed you. Forgiveness means letting go of your grudge against the other person.
- Even though resenting someone who betrayed you seems like an appropriate response, in fact the only one you’re hurting when you refuse to move on is you.
- If you do not forgive others after a betrayal, you will always in some sense remain tethered to the person who wronged you, and won’t be able to live your own life to full capacity.
Decide why you want to forgive. There are two primary reasons why you might forgive someone. One is to stay true to the value system you believe in. The other is to help you overcome the emotional pain caused by betrayal. Both are valid, and can work in tandem.
- Religious traditions, especially, encourage forgiveness.
- The second reason you might choose to forgive is to move beyond the pain and misery caused by the person who betrayed you. When thinking about this motive, you use forgiveness as a tool to help you work your way through the sadness of your betrayal.
Don’t force forgiveness. Making an explicit decision to forgive is important, but actually experiencing forgiveness and being free of the pain can take time. Forgiveness is a process and won’t happen overnight. Even slight betrayals can take time to stop hurting; however, if you actively maintain forgiveness as your goal, you will eventually get there.
Decide the future of your relationship with the betrayer. Some betrayals are so awful that afterwards, you are unwilling or unable to recover the relationship. Even when you forgive someone, you might feel that the relationship is not one you want to salvage.
- Think about your relationship with the person who betrayed you. Are they an integral part of your life? Can you imagine life without them?
- Analyze the person’s character. Someone is only worth rebuilding a relationship with if they demonstrate sincere sorrow for what they did and are actively working to regain your trust.
Acknowledge your emotions. If you’re sad, ashamed, or angry about being betrayed, that is perfectly natural. Try to find positive ways to deal with these feelings. Accepting how you feel is an important step toward emotional recovery, which is the first step toward forgiveness.
- You might also feel resentment, contempt, and disgust at the person who betrayed you.
Write a letter to the person who betrayed you. Writing a letter is therapeutic because it allows you to express yourself in an honest, thoughtful way. After a few days, go back and re-read the letter, reflecting on its contents. You don’t need to send the letter, though you could. Alternately, you could choose to burn the letter afterwards in order to help you exorcise the negative feelings the letter contained. Writing a letter can provide emotional healing for you, moving you further along in the process of forgiveness.
Talk to a trusted friend or family member about the betrayal. Getting support from those who care about and love you is an important step in recovering emotionally after a betrayal. Explain the betrayal to your friend or family member. Once you’ve talked through the betrayal with someone, you’ll feel better, and be more willing to forgive.
- You could also talk to someone you trust about methods they used to help forgive someone who betrayed them.
- If you do not feel comfortable talking to someone within your social circle, you could consult a therapist. Therapists are trained in helping people deal with conflicted, painful feelings, including how to cope with betrayal.
Recover a sense of power. When you’re betrayed, you might feel an intense pain and sense of powerlessness. To restore a sense of power to your life, you need to think of yourself as someone who does things, rather than as someone who endures or suffers from things done to them at the hands of someone who has betrayed you. Unless you feel a sense of autonomy in your own life, it may be difficult to forgive anyone else or heal fully from the betrayal.
- Use positive self-talk to reclaim power in your life.
- For instance, say to yourself, “I value myself and others. Others value and love me in return. I will show attention, affection, and love to people who make me feel safe and loved.”
Stay positive. Shift your attention away from the betrayal and the pain it brought you by using restorative images. Restorative images reinforce positive thinking and healthy values by keeping you focused on safety, happiness, and your own future instead of looking backwards toward the pain in your past. With positive images in mind, you’ll be able to see the process of forgiveness as a healthy step on the road to your own healing.
- To tap into the power of restorative images, simply imagine a scene that embodies something positive that you value. For instance, perhaps you identify love as one of your positive core values. Think back on your life to a time when you felt truly loved. Perhaps you will assign the restorative image associated with love to your childhood, where you were raised by a loving mother and father.
- Restorative images can be drawn from your own life experience or imagined.
Rebuild your self-confidence. Self-confidence refers to the idea that your life has value, and that you are capable of learning from and overcoming challenges. Following a betrayal, you might find you are not very confident in yourself since you have been hurt and may feel your sense of worth shaken. Rebuilding your self-confidence requires recalling your past victories at work, school, or in your personal life, or creating new victories for yourself in those realms. Once you’ve rebuilt your self-confidence, you will feel empowered to forgive the person who betrayed you.
- Positive self-talk is also useful for rebuilding your confidence. For instance, if you’re plagued by the idea that, “I deserved to be betrayed because I was dumb,” counter this inaccuracy by telling yourself, “I did not deserve to be betrayed, and the person who betrayed me was wrong to do so.”
- Learn to challenge negative self-talk so that you will be able to respond in a constructive way.
- Do things you know you’re good at. If you’re a talented musician, join a band or write some songs. If you’re a strong athlete, join a community sports team. Doing things you’re good at will help you feel more confident.
Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness refers to a suite of abilities, each of which can help you move recover emotionally from the betrayal you suffered. Staying mindful means being objective when thinking about your betrayal and acting in a thoughtful, deliberate way. Live in the moment and remember that the betrayal is in the past. This will give you the necessary perspective on the betrayal to think about in less reactive ways like seeking vengeance or wishing to harm the person who betrayed you.
Engage in self-compassion. In the context of forgiving a betrayer and healing yourself, self-compassion is the understanding that sometimes life is painful, but through your pain, you are connected to the rest of humanity. Think about others who have been betrayed by someone, even if it’s someone fictional. Thinking about the fact that your situation is not unique and that others have overcome betrayal in their own lives will help you feel less isolated and alone. By gaining new perspectives on your betrayal and your feelings through self-compassion, you will be better equipped to forgive the betrayer.
- For instance, you might remember how Lando Calrissian betrayed Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back, but they were eventually reconciled when Han forgave Lando.
Be loving toward yourself. After being betrayed, we have a tendency to blame ourselves or beat ourselves up. Instead, recognize that there was no way you could have known you’d be betrayed. Remember that while you have no control over the actions of others, you do have control over yourself, and can choose to love yourself. Forgiveness is, at its core, an act of love, and it will be difficult to love or forgive anyone else unless you can love yourself.
- Love yourself in tangible ways like spending time with friends and family, going shopping at your favorite store, or relaxing in a warm bath.
Give meaning to the betrayal. While the betrayal you experienced may seem senseless and random at the time, step back and try to give the experience value. Instead of thinking of it as a completely terrible event without any beneficial aspects, you could think of ways in which you might actually be thankful for it. The meaning you take from the misery of betrayal can bolster your emotional strength, which you can then use to forgive the person who betrayed you.
- For instance, if your partner was cheating on you, you might feel glad that you discovered the betrayal when you did, thus ceasing a potentially ongoing cycle of betrayal.
- You could also think about the betrayal as something painful that you had to endure, but like a sword forged in flame, you have emerged stronger for having passed through the betrayal.
Admit how you’re feeling. Being honest with the person who betrayed you can be extremely difficult. You already feel vulnerable with the person who let you down, and revealing more about yourself or your emotional state might seem impossible; however, if you want to fix your relationship with the person, you must take the risk and open up to him.
- Stay calm when confronting the person who betrayed you. While it may be tempting to yell, scream, and accuse him, the mature response is to speak calmly in an even tone and be direct when talking about how you feel.
- Use “I” statements when expressing your feelings. For instance, you could say, “I feel very hurt by your actions.” Avoid accusatory “you” statements like, “You are a rotten person and do not deserve to be happy.”
Rebuild trust between yourself and the person who betrayed you. A large part of rebuilding trust is for the person who betrayed you to acknowledge she did something wrong. The person who betrayed you should be aware of your emotions about the betrayal and try to understand why you feel betrayed (if it isn’t obvious). If both of you are interested in making things right again, you can move deeper into the process of rebuilding trust.
- Empathy on the part of both the person who betrayed you and yourself is crucial. Try to understand why she did what she did without excusing her behavior.
- Explicit forgiveness — speaking the exact words “I forgive you” to the person who betrayed you — is actually not necessary to rebuild your relationship; however, it could help.
Try couples therapy. If you were betrayed by a partner or spouse, you could consider attending couples therapy. Couples therapy involves talking to your spouse and a therapist who is specially trained to act as a mediator.
- The therapist will work with you and your partner to discover the underlying causes of the betrayal, help you cope with the pain, and prepare you to forgive your partner.
- The therapy session provides a safe space in which you and your partner can work out your feelings about the betrayal in order to decide how to proceed in rebuilding what you had.
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