REPAIR OR RELEASE?
When someone you love has deeply hurt you, what does the journey to forgiveness look like?
We will all hurt another and be hurt by another in our lives. This is part of our human experience. Pain in relationships is a given. Mark Banschick reflects that “as long as there are relationships, there will be a need for forgiveness”. This can be really hard to accept as we would like to believe that we can experience relationships where we are safe from pain. The realisation that someone you love can hurt you through dishonesty, infidelity and selfishness tends to provoke difficult questions. Should I stay or should I go? Must I forgive or hold a grudge? Should I repair the relationship or release it?
The journey to forgiveness begins with saying “You hurt me”. Forgiveness cannot happen until you have fully felt all the emotions as a result of the pain that you experience in your relationships. It is important to give yourself the time you need to work through your emotions.
Instead of coping with the difficult emotions that pain evokes in you, it can sometimes seem easier to prematurely ‘forgive’ and deny these difficult emotions. Sometimes other people may put pressure on you to deny your emotions and move on. You may even give in out of fear of losing the relationship. You may say “I’m okay, I forgive you, I don’t even think about it anymore” before you are ready. If you’ve pushed any difficult feelings out of your awareness, they are likely to resurface again.
Is anger okay?
If someone hurts you, anger is an appropriate response to that pain. Anger’s purpose is to let you know that something is not right. Anger also serves to let others know you have been wronged.
Holding onto anger can feel protective: “As long as I am angry at you, I won’t let you close enough to hurt me again”. While this might create distance between you and the person who hurt you, anger can push other people away who want to support you. Also, the cost of holding onto anger is that it intensifies negativity and isolation. Anger can easily turn into behaviour that hurts others and this is not okay. Hurting another person because of unprocessed anger is bringing more pain into relationships. While revenge often feels like the best path to follow, revenge is acting out anger in a way that prevents healing and promotes harming for everyone involved.
The loss of safety
As something is lost when you are hurt in your relationships, grief and despair often accompany pain. You may lose the belief that your relationships are safe spaces. The fantasy that the people you love are not capable of hurting you is lost. Sometimes what you lose is your belief in yourself as valued, good enough and lovable. You may falsely believe that you are responsible for someone you love hurting you. You believe that if only you did something different or were better in some way, the person you love would not have hurt you. The problem with self-blame is that you identify with your wound, negatively impacting on your future relationships and sense of identity.
Choose what is best for you: repair or release?
When someone has deeply hurt you, you have a choice to make: give the person an opportunity to make amends or walk away from the relationship.
Repair the relationship
If you decide to stay in a relationship with the person who has hurt you, repair will be necessary. Two people have been pushed apart by the hurtful actions of (at least) one person. Repair generally involves the person who is responsible for the hurt acknowledging the hurt, asking for understanding, and accepting the consequences. Most importantly, this person has to take action to restore safety in the relationship. This means that the decision to repair the relationship has to be taken by both people in the relationship and the responsibility for reconciliation is in the hands of the person who caused pain.
Release the relationship
Forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same thing. Even if you have forgiven someone who has hurt you, reconciliation means that the person who has done the hurting takes on the responsibility of earning back your trust through consistent reparative behaviour. In some cases, the person who hurt you isn’t able, available or willing to work on repairing the relationship. In other cases, you may make the decision that the repeated hurts in the relationship due to dishonesty, infidelity and selfishness mean that it is time to walk away.
Everyone has the same capacity to hurt others, intentionally or unintentionally. I hurt you. You hurt me. I need to be forgiven. I need to forgive. However, this does not mean that we are not responsible for the pain we cause others. We are all responsible to repair the damage we cause. We all should face the negative effects of what we have done. Forgiveness is not saying “it’s okay to hurt me”. Forgiveness is saying “I understand”. The wounds we inflict on others are most often due to the wounds we have not healed in ourselves. Forgiveness can heal these wounds and frees us to focus on ourselves, instead of focusing on our wounds and those who have caused us pain.