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A woman wants to know if she is obliged to forgive the person who betrayed her and her kids for many

09 Jan
A woman wants to know if she is obliged to forgive the person who betrayed her and her kids for many years, is still alive and well, able to seek forgiveness, but doesn’t..
Before one can forgive, don''t we first need to be asked for forgiveness? The person who has betrayed me and my children for many years is still alive and well and able to seek forgiveness.... but doesn''t. If I forgive him in my mind, how does it help me? I have long gone on with my life and am happily remarried, so it''s not getting in the way of my living. Aren''t there situations which simply can''t be forgiven?? Thank you for your time and knowledge.
Sincerely, Jill

Dear Jill,
Thanks for writing. This is such an important question, I’m grateful to you for asking it and giving me a chance to think out loud about it. I’m assuming that what catalyzed your question was some well-meaning person telling you that you must forgive this man, lest your psyche (or soul) risks being tied up in knots forevermore, yes?

So first, let me say that I don’t think we can make a blanket statement, that it’s always necessary to forgive, even though it’s a liberating and beautiful thing when we can forgive and it’s genuine. But a forced, rote, disingenuous or untimely act of forgiveness will feel like further violence is being done to us, and we don’t need to add insult to injury. More on this in a minute...

Second, I agree with you that it certainly makes a huge difference when the person who injured us asks us for forgiveness. And if they ask with genuine, palpable remorse for what they’ve done, it can even be surprisingly easy for us to forgive them, even when we’ve been furious and horribly hurt.

But the timing must be right. Sometimes - usually, even - devastation and fury have to age and season before we can forgive. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel right to let go of the injury, because it feels too much like there would be a continuing threat and we must stay somewhat vigilant. We have to respect that feeling too.

But I do think that, generally speaking, genuine forgiveness, when possible, is a good thing to do, with or without the offender asking for it, and with or without his/her being involved at all. All we need worry about is our end of the equation.

If, for instance, (as you mention did not happen to you), your life got stuck at the time of the injury, and you’d been unable to go on with normal progress, it would be very important, for the sake of your own healing, growth and happiness, to work towards forgiving the offense and the offender in your own heart. And if you were filled with stuck feelings of anger, resentment and depression, which were effecting your ability to experience joy, or which were impairing your kids’ ability to thrive, then this would be an important thing for you to do, for yourself and your kids, not your ex.

Even still, you couldn’t force it; all you could do would be to just work on it, slowly and steadily, and hope for incremental gains (although sometimes forgiveness really does come with a blast of grace in one glorious shot!). The worst thing you could do to yourself would be to ‘fake’ or force forgiveness!

Most important, listen to your insides and respect your own internal sense of readiness - that will guide your next steps. And don’t let yourself be pushed around by the pious pronouncements of well-meaning advice-givers!!

I hope this helps.

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award