John has been caught cheating on his wife, Mary. She's been a dedicated wife and a wonderful mother, and John has been having sex with her best friend. Now contrite, John admits that Mary is supportive, loyal, and loving and he cannot justify his infidelity. When Mary stumbles on evidence of the affair, she's blindsided and her whole world shatters. Even John admits that he made a huge mistake and acknowledges that what he did was inexcusable. After an emotional breakdown, Mary decides to file for divorce.
She is filled with anger and hurt but recognizes the need to move on and let go of the negativity and pain she carries. Over time, she comes to accept what transpired, but still cannot bring herself to forgive her ex-husband.
Mary accepts her situation but cannot forgive the unforgiveable -- she didn't deserve this. She comes to the realization that she doesn't owe her John anything, let alone forgiveness. Friends and family are divided about whether she's doing the right thing; some feel that it's a healthy response and Mary has every right to withhold her forgiveness, while others feel that her attitude is unhealthy and self-destructive. They believe that by withholding her forgiveness, she's retaining toxic emotions and will never come to peace or achieve closure. Which viewpoint is more valid?
The Pressure To Forgive
Religious, psychological and societal values endorse the virtue of forgiveness. Victims are confronted with the pressure to forgive those who caused them pain. They are told that forgiveness is an essential ingredient for the healing process. There's a widespread assumption that without forgiveness, victims will never move past their trauma or achieve self-empowered freedom that conquers their sense of victimization.
When it comes to the need for victims to forgive, two questions need to be asked: First, do victims really need to forgive to overcome their ordeals? Second, is it fair to expect victims to forgive and exonerate their perpetrators?
There is a saying: "Resentment is the poison you swallow hoping the other person will die." The implication here is that resentment is detrimental for the victim but doesn't really have an impact on the perpetrator.
While we may all agree that a continued and permanent state of bitterness about the past is never a healthy mode of existence, it's fair to question whether forgiveness is the key to escaping a state of negativity or whether acceptance -- without forgiveness -- is enough to move beyond suffering towards peace and achieving resolution.
The Upside of Anger
When victims succumb to the pressure to forgive, they may feel that they're being victimized once again because in a way, forgiveness can negate the agony they endured and their right to be angry. In fact, there are times when anger is a healthy response. Acquiescence is never an appropriate response when your trust and dignity has been violated. When someone humiliates and hurts you, anger serves as a protective mechanism because it signals that something is wrong. Anger tells you that this type of behavior is unacceptable because it's damaging to your self-worth. The absence of anger in a scenario like this leaves you vulnerable to abuse.
Anger Is Only One Letter Short Of Danger
Absolving someone you loved deeply and trusted from the devastation they caused you may come at the expense of your integrity. Sacrificing the value of your dignity to let someone off the hook for their intentional betrayal isn't always worth the forgiveness they may desire to lessen their sense of remorse and regret. However, when anger becomes an all-consuming desire to punish the person who hurt you, the consequences can be tragic. The sense of disempowerment is one of the strongest factors that characterizes and contributes to feeling victimized. In order to regain their sense of power, victims sometimes try to assert their power over the aggressor by using some form of retaliation. This is especially true when it involves children who are caught between the hostility of their divorced parents.
Poisoning children against a parent is one of the worst ways to punish an ex. Parents should have the maturity to realize that although hurting an ex-spouse may feel good, it's detrimental to and victimizes their children. The love for your children needs to exceed your acrimony for your ex.
Eight Constructive Tips For Overcoming Betrayal:
1. Know that it's not your fault. Your marriage may or may not have been in trouble, but having an affair is a volitional act. It violated your trust.
2. Acceptance is necessary to move on; you need to acknowledge and come to terms with the unfortunate reality and injustice of your situation.
3. You're entitled to withhold your forgiveness from your ex. But you're not entitled to use your children to victimize or punish your ex.
4. You can also forgive if it works for you. A bad therapist will push forgiveness. A good one will help you find the best way of coming to terms with the betrayal.
5. Although anger is appropriate initially, eventually you must let go of the negativity. You deserve a future free of anger.
6. Don't fall apart publicly to show everyone what's been done to you. You're entitled to grieve, but don't become a victim of your victimhood.
7. Consider the consequences of your actions. Don't have indiscriminate sex as revenge, or do something you'll regret just to make you feel better.
8. It's true: the best revenge is living well.