That day and every day thereafter, I prayed that same prayer. Nearly four years passed before I was truly able to forgive him — or myself. Over the past months, I've been working with Aimee Hartstein (LCSW) on a series of articles intended as a road map for those grieving due to a divorce, breakup, betrayal, or other relationship fallout.It's clear to both of us that forgiveness is the cornerstone for a new and better life after this kind of loss. So, in this post, we've outlined eight illuminating truths about the nature of forgiveness. I hope they help you on your journey.
1. True forgiveness takes time.
There is no shortcut to forgiveness. In fact, I would caution against handing out pardons too quickly. They may be inauthentic.
In my case, I needed time to grieve. I sat (for what felt like eternity) with the uncomfortable emotions of denial, rage, and sadness. Once I had accepted that where I was now would be my new normal, I could begin the work that forgiveness demands.
2. Forgiveness does not mean that you condone the action.
“Forgiveness is a release of all anger and resentment against the person who hurt you. It means that you pardon your transgressor, not the transgression,” said Aimee the relationship therapist.
While I still lament the manner in which my ex-husband ended our marriage, I harbor no ill-will towards him. In fact, that painful chapter was a blessing that changed my life for the better. I now choose to live my life on my own terms — and not in reaction to the wrong that was committed against me.
3. Forgiveness makes you beautiful.
Want a beauty secret more powerful than the world’s most expensive elixirs? Let go of resentment.
Several years ago, I knew a woman who was holding onto resentment about her ex-husband five years after her divorce. Her ex-husband had remarried, but she remained stuck — complaining (to anyone within earshot) about his poor character, sexual infidelities, and stinginess. I used her as a template of what I hoped to never be.
“Many people hold on to anger because it’s a way to keep the relationship alive,” said Aimee. “But letting go of that anger is freeing. Gone are the worry lines, frowns, upset stomachs, tense shoulders and other physiological effects of living in a state of negativity.”
4. It's best to leave retribution to the universe.
Karma is the belief that we are agents of our own happiness and misery. Do good and you'll create your own heaven. Do bad and you'll design your own hell.
It’s not your job to teach your transgressor a lesson, so let go of vengeance and spite. Likewise, be wary of engaging in schadenfraude — or delighting in your tormentor’s pain. This also promotes negative energy.
“You might not be able to control being cheated on or treated badly, but you can decide your reaction to it. The best revenge, ultimately, is going forward to live a happy and productive life,” said Aimee.
5. Have faith that the Universe is conspiring to deliver your best life.
Deepak Chopra’s Seven Laws of Spiritual Success espouses a theory of detachment: “Today I will commit myself to detachment. I will allow myself and those around me the freedom to be as they are. I will not rigidly impose my idea of how things should be.”
As much as we may want to dictate another person’s behavior or a desired outcome, we must cede control. Trust that every heartbreak serves a greater purpose. Perhaps your ex wasn’t a good match after all? Perhaps a soul mate who shares your values awaits in your future.
“Healthy people realize that life is not guaranteed, but every circumstance, no matter how bleak, gives an opportunity to evolve to one’s highest potential,” said Aimee.
6. Forgiveness sows the seeds for empathy.
Finding empathy for those who have hurt us is a wonderful — and admittedly challenging — practice. In his book, Open Heart, Open Mind, Buddhist teacher Tsoknyi Rinpoche writes about “empathy meditations," in which you imagine another person’s experience fully to understand their suffering. In furtherance of my quest to forgive my ex-husband, I embarked upon this meditative practice.
In the beginning, I was loath to extend compassion to him. After all, I was the one who had been harmed! So, I resolved to meditate in this manner for two minutes a day. But, with each session, my time meditating (and tolerance) grew.
When I allowed myself to feel his struggles, the anger dissipated. I realized that those who hurt are usually hurting. Before I knew it, I was ready to extend the olive branch.
7. Forgiveness is a two-way street.
While it's easy place blame on others for the ways we’ve been “wronged,” life is rarely this simple.
“Many of my clients who have been hurt also struggle to forgive themselves — for making a bad choice, ignoring the obvious, ‘failing’ again, loving too much, staying too long, or allowing themselves to be mistreated,” said Aimee. “When they have explored all the facets of their grief, they are ready to heal.”
8. Forgiveness is freedom.
Four years after his disappearance, I wrote my ex-husband the following:
“Almost a year ago, you reached out, offering an explanation. I was not ready to hear what you had to say, and still feel that rehashing the past is unnecessary. I do wish, however, that we could forge peaceful forgiveness between us, as hard as that may be.”
In writing this letter, I felt an enormous weight lift off me. For the first time in years, I felt free from my past and ready to step fully into the present.
9. Forgiveness is contagious.
Forgiveness spreads like wildfire when undertaken authentically.
My family and friends harbored anger and resentment towards my ex-husband. Their hatred of him was a malignancy that I feared would undermine their health and happiness. If I was no longer upset — and could express compassion and empathy for my ex-husband — who were they to continue to harbor ill-will? I convinced them to let go of resentment and we collectively looked towards the future with hope and optimism.
10. Forgiveness paves the way for true love.
Approximately a month after I had finally, fully forgiven myself and my ex, I met the man I believe is my soul mate. Coincidence? I doubt it. My heart was finally ready to feel an intimate connection with another person again.
“It is nearly impossible to move forward until you let go of blame and rage. Healthy relationships are born between healthy people. I advise people to sever the bonds of negativity that keep them tethered to the past,” said Aimee.
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Aimee Hartstein, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist with 20 years of experience. She specializes in relationship and couples counseling.