I can't tell her she hurt me but I want to forgive
I was wondering if you’d be able to give me a formula or practical ideas on how to forgive someone who badly hurt me.
It’s not somebody who I could approach to tell them that; it’s inner work I have to do, and I’m having a hard time with it.
To answer this question, let’s imagine that the following scenario occurred: Earlier this year both you and your sister-in-law Leah were looking for a new job. After a long search, you had a promising interview and, lo and behold, after you mentioned it to her, Leah sent the company her resume. She quickly got an interview, an offer — and then she took the job. Afterward she acted all innocent, claiming she didn’t realize you were seriously considering it, she didn’t think you’d be interested in that sort of position, the employer was pressuring her to sign, blah blah blah...
You didn’t want to start a family feud. This is your husband’s sister. And your husband reminded you of what you know to be true: “We have to let it go. The job wasn’t bashert for you. We’ll find the right one at the right time.”
And so, with the correct Torah mindset replaying in your frontal cortex day and night, your wounded feelings took up lodging in the emotional centers of your brain. Your anger locked all the exits. You couldn’t forgive.
This left you trapped with negative feelings. Desperate to rid yourself of them, desperate to heal body, heart, and soul, you searched for strategies that could release emotional pain. Eventually you found the following effective remedy and you share it here with us:
The first step involves naming the pain. Sit down with pen and paper and write down at least ten (more if possible) single words that describe the injury. Search on Google for a “feeling-word list” to help you. In the sister-in-law scenario we’ve described, you might find words such as: hurt, betrayed, disappointed, deceived, angry, shocked, disgusted, disrespected, crushed, confused, infuriated, stupefied, disillusioned, and trapped. Finding the right words is crucial as it allows the feelings to be “seen and heard” and commences the process of release.
The second step is to describe the impact of the injury. In our job-hunt scenario, now that your own family members have acted this way, how has it changed you? Perhaps you’ll write something like: I’ve been robbed of my innocence; I can no longer trust anyone. I’ve been robbed of my open, happy nature as this incident has made me cynical and bitter. I’ve been robbed of faith in humanity as this episode has shown me that it’s “every man for himself.” I’ve lost a good friend as I can no longer look at my sister-in-law the same way as I once did.
Naming the injuries in this way exposes the harm that was done, names it, and compartmentalizes it: This is what was affected. This is what I must come to terms with in the aftermath of the experience.
The third step is to find value in the experience. We never know why Hashem allows us to suffer, but when it happens, we know it’s for our good. What can we learn from the experience? How can it atone for our own sins? In this case, perhaps the incident will strengthen your resolve to improve your own interpersonal behavior. Perhaps it will remind you that you’re not perfect either and encourage you to beseech mercy from Hashem.
Finally, in the fourth step, you must make a decision to let go. Forgiveness means that you’ve honored your own suffering (by completing the above steps) and are ready to turn your attention away from the injury and toward your present life. In order to do this, you’ll first gather all of the hurt and other emotions, lessons learned and resolutions made, and put them into an imaginary box. You then seal the box with a lock, attach it to an imaginary air balloon, and release that balloon up into the atmosphere. Be sure to watch the balloon drift away until it’s completely out of sight.
From that moment on, you’ll maintain a mental distance from the issue. The incident has served its purpose, and you’ve finished your work.
Have a question for Mrs. Radcliffe? Send your queries about parenting or personal growth to email@example.com
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 764)
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