by Joan Miller, Ph.D.
It’s common to feel bitter and resentful when you have been hurt by another person. The emotional pain may last for years. You may be waiting for the other person to apologize to begin to repair the damage; but an apology may not happen. Maybe you hope that some other event will correct the wrong that was done to you; but that rarely occurs. It may seem like you’re being untrue to yourself if you forgive someone who hurt you so much. It may therefore seem impossible to move on with your life and be happy.
Time frequently doesn’t “heal all wounds.” Over time, you may intensify the resentment, becoming even more upset, cynical, or detached. You might direct your bitterness onto other people who don’t deserve it. As reasonable as it seems to feel hurt over the event, you may also notice how painful it is to continue to be mired in the misery without any relief in sight. You might, therefore, feel victimized and hopeless.
Eventually, you might notice how toxic and damaging resentment has become. Your longing for relief may increase. Although it’s much harder to heal if the other person doesn’t apologize, fortunately you can create a healing process without receiving an apology. “Getting over it” definitely doesn’t mean that what had happened is all right. Rather, as you re-contextualize the hurtful events, you can understand it and learn from it, let go of the toxic resentment, and refocus you attention on a more enlightened and enjoyable future.
To begin the process, refuse to minimize or blame yourself for other people’s inappropriate behavior, acknowledging that you were hurt by their behavior. Realize that you didn’t deserve the disrespectful behavior; and that you can be more aware of an escalating hurtful event and learn how to be better protect yourself emotionally in the future. At the same time, you can accept any part that you might have played in the creation of the hurtful experience, knowing that you did the best you knew at the time, and that you can learn how to make wiser choices in the future. You can forgive yourself for not knowing how to have handled the situation better. Replace your position of being a victim with that of being a survivor.
The most difficult step is to recognize that hurtful people, ironically, act in the best way they can, given who they are and what experiences they have had in their lives. It’s helpful to realize that they probably would have acted differently had they had more constructive experiences in their lives, had they learned better coping strategies, and had they developed more wisdom and empathy. You can begin to resign yourself to living in a world of flawed human beings who sometimes do hurtful things. As you begin to make sense out of how hurtful experiences occur, you can learn to better prevent yourself in the future from being hurt or being hurtful.
By completing the healing process, you can experience the amazing gift to yourself of being able to forgive the other person for not being enlightened and wise, because they weren’t. As you release your resentment, you’ll have more energy for joy and compassion. If you’d like more information of the process and power of forgiveness you can read the book by Suzanne and Sidney Simon called Forgiveness: How to Make Peace With Your Past and Get On With Your Life.