The Secret To Moving Past Betrayal
You have been through a lot of pain. A massive level of betrayal rocked your world, and life has changed.
Now, some time later, the pain isn’t as sharp, but it’s there. Just reading the first paragraph of this blog makes you more aware of it than before you started reading.
What happened to you was wrong. It was unjust. It should not have happened.
But the worst part is that you are not free from it. The pain still lingers in your head and heart. It has dulled you. You are not your full self. In an attempt to avoid being hurt like that again, you’ve shielded your heart, but unbeknownst to you, in the process of shielding your heart, you’re losing the ability to enjoy things fully.
So, it’s a double loss. First, the original betrayal, and in coping with that, you are letting yourself be robbed of your very enjoyment of life.
In two decades of counseling, I have seen my fair share of clients who have gone through massive amounts of betrayal. The worst came from those closest to them--a spouse, parents, children, siblings, a really close friend, a respected boss.
Most of these clients did not come for help right away. They waited. Those who did come in sooner discovered something that saved them from a life that was bound to be less than fulfilling. Those who came later made the same discovery, but they had a harder time implementing it--for three big reasons:
They had grown used to the pain and were using it to gain some other end, like getting attention
They were using the pain to exact revenge, at least in their heads, against the offender
They were trapped, and did not know how to free themselves from the pain
The secret to being free from the pain is forgiveness.
Now you might think you’ve heard that before. You might even think you’ve already forgiven, but the pain is still there. Maybe you don’t want to read another word of this blog. But before you stop reading, let me ask you something.
Do you know what forgiveness is? Do you know what it looks like truly to have forgiven someone?
Forgiveness is letting go of the justice your heart feels like it deserves.
Forgiveness is not saying that what was done to you was “ok.” It was not ok. It was wrong.
Forgiveness is not giving someone a pass for a wrong they did. If you notice, the other person isn’t even mentioned in the definition of forgiveness. Forgiveness is letting go of the justice your heart feels like it deserves.
When someone wrongs you, it is as if they stole from you. The pain from what they did stole more than you can say. You were consumed with just the thought of what they did. You struggled to sleep well. You were depressed. You cried a lot. You felt anxious.
Somehow you had to push aside that pain and still go about your life. Work didn’t stop for your pain. You still had to fulfill your obligations. Your children still needed to be cared for. Other responsibilities couldn’t be put on hold. You used a lot of energy trying not to negatively impact them, or even fail at the responsibilities you had. But the second you didn’t have to put on a face for others, the pain was right there, consuming you.
Notice that with all that is stolen, a debt is created. There is a feeling of “You owe me!”
Now here is the problem. Can the offender ever truly pay you back for what they did? Or look at it like this: If you spent every moment of every day for the rest of your life trying to get back at them for what they did, could you ever accomplished that?
Personally, I have been emotionally, verbally, and sexually abused. I was abused through neglect. A couple of times I was physically abused. The closer I was to my abuser, the more pain I felt. You see, I gave them my heart. I truly loved them, and they betrayed me. In some cases it completely rocked my world.
How could they ever make up for the abuse they gave me? By buying me something? That would have been insulting. Could what they bought ever compensate for what was stolen from me? My heart would still have longed for the justice it felt it deserved. It would have never said that what they bought me was enough to cover the debt they owed.
If I tried to spend the rest of my life getting back at them for what they did, I would die a bitter old man, knowing I had not even begun to scratch the surface of the injustice that was done.
Since they can’t make it up, and I can’t get enough revenge to satisfy my heart, something else has to happen before I can be free.
Forgiveness is the answer.
Now, you might be thinking “But:
They have not asked for forgiveness”
They are not changing”
They don’t want to change”
They have done it to so many others”
They don’t deserve to be forgiven”
They deserve to be punished”
They have died”
I don’t want them to be in my life any longer”
If I forgive, it will reduce me to being a doormat”
Please show me in Scripture where you can withhold forgiveness from someone for any reason. If you look at the original language and put Scriptures in context, you will see that Scripture commands us not to wait for the offender to do something to merit forgiveness.
Moreover, a reason why God says, “Vengeance is mine” (Dt 32:35; Ro 12:19) is that we cannot mete out justice the way He can. We will never nail it. In the process of trying to mete out justice, we will do things that are unjust to our offenders. He is the only One who knows how to mete out justice in a just way.
Instead of seeking justice, God calls us to forgive:
Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
Forgiveness is the only thing that will remove that pain from your heart.
If you think you have forgiven someone but still sense the pain in your heart, then know that, at best, you have forgiven in part, but not in whole. Still more forgiveness work needs to be done.
Forgiving is often a process. It is not always easy. It means facing things that we don’t want to face. The bigger the offense, the harder it is to forgive, and frankly, the more we need others to help us, because it is hard to face painful things. We can find ten million excuses not to forgive thoroughly. We need others to support us in this journey, so we don’t feel alone facing the things we don’t want to face. We also need help not to run away.
I was so embarrassed and ashamed of the occasions of abuse in my life. There was no way I wanted anyone to know about them. When friends witnessed it, I was even more humiliated. I tried on my own to forgive, but I never got deep enough. I needed godly friends who were willing to sit with me in my pain so that I could get to the root of it and forgive it (See Job 2:11-13. The three friends of Job did a fantastic job of helping Job--before they spoke). Frankly, I also needed professional help, in addition to my friends.
However, the process was so worth it! Fully forgiving was so incredibly freeing. Forgiving those who had abused me greatly changed my life, but it also had a ripple effect on those around me - my wife, kids, friends, clients.
How do I know that I have fully forgiven? Usually there are clear signs.
For me, I know I have fully forgiven when:
I no longer feel raw when talking about the event
I no longer crave justice
I no longer argue with my offender in my head
I no longer replay details of what they did in my head, or continually talk about it with those who are close to me
I no longer talk about them in a condemning way
I no longer feel higher or better than they (“I would never do what they did...”)
I no longer even need for them to apologize in order to heal the wound. The wound is gone. (I might need an apology for reconciliation, but reconciliation is separate from forgiveness)
I’ve set appropriate boundaries that could lead to a healthier relationship
I see them as an equal to me. (I am aware of things in my life that, if left unchecked, could do similar damage in someone else’s life.)
I see the good in them, not just the bad, and can speak of both in ways that are not gossiping
I feel free from the pain of what happened
I can talk about the episodes and even cry because they were painful, but not because I am still raw from them
I feel relieved (often I feel a 100lbs lighter)
I learn from the event and can even see what I may have contributed to it (not false guilt, but the real role that I played in the event)
I don’t use the same abuse on others
My relationship with Christ is even stronger, and I appreciate His forgiveness of me all the more
If you’ve made it through this blog, know that you can be free. Forgiveness is the key. Don’t wait to forgive. Jump right in.
“But how do I forgive?” you may be asking. Check out my next blog, where I will give some practical tools.
Chew On This:
Who do you need to fully forgive?
Ryan C. Bailey, M.A.C.C. is President and CEO of 1st Principle Group (1PG). 1PG provides a unique Gospel-centered approach to counseling, coaching and training for the specific needs of each client.
He meets with clients live at his office, over the phone or webcam (i.e. Skype, FaceTime, etc.)
*This blog is an amalgamation of a few different clients. No one single client is being singled out.