Whenever we have been wronged by someone that we trusted, there’s always a flurry of emotions ranging from disbelief to hurt to anger eventually we find ourselves at a crossroad- forgiveness or revenge?
Often the emotion that’s readily available is anger, and in the heat of the moment we recall the saying, “give them a taste of their own medicine.” Hurt them the same way they hurt us so that they understand just how we felt. In short, take revenge. But the question is, will it help us heal?
Revenge and It’s Consequences
The thirst for vengeance isn’t a new concept. Most of our history books wouldn’t be filled if humans didn’t act on this impulse. The tricky thing about revenge is that most of the time, it’s a farce. It’s a temporary feeling of victory, but at the end of the day it fuels more negative emotions rather than aiding in the process of letting go of the anger and healing.
Revenge may seem like a way to get closure, but that’s a myth. Closure is when we wrap up the loose ends or when we see a problem through. The problem here is unresolved anger and hurt. Revenge is just a way of reinforcing that anger, rather than working through it. This is mainly because working through the emotions requires vulnerability, which is nowhere seen in the act of vengeance. Let’s take the example of a war. One country strikes the other, which makes this country angry and then it retaliates. The first country gets even more enraged and then hits back a second time. This goes on and on, and turns into a cycle until one of the parties have been fully destroyed. In short, the wound is reopened over and over again.
To Forgive Does Not Mean To Forget
People have very wrong notions about forgiveness. It doesn’t mean being a doormat or a pushover. It most certainly does not mean letting your self respect take a hit. Forgiveness merely means to let go of the anger, resentment and pain that has been inflicted upon us. Forgiving someone is not equivalent to forgetting the injustice that has been caused to us. It’s taking that injustice into account and modifying the way and amount we interact with this individual. It also determines the amount of importance we should give to this individual in the future. The goal of forgiveness is to take the burden of the negative emotions off your back, without compromising on our self respect, morals and values.
Phases of Forgiveness
Forgiveness isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s a process, and it happens in four different phases.
- The Uncovering Phase: In the first phase you will explore the injustice that has been inflicted upon you. What happened? How did it happen? Why did it hurt me?
- The Decision Phase: In this phase, you will make the decision on how to forgive the individual that has caused you pain. Remember forgiveness comes in different forms. Depending on the individual, you’ll make the decision whether you want to move forward with this relationship or you want to put an end to it. Cutting ties is not revenge if it’s helping you let go. It’s just going your separate ways for your own benefit.
- The Work Phase: In order to forgive someone, you must adopt a compassionate approach, and see where the offender is coming from. They may not be entitled to the compassion, but it’ll help you see the offender and the situation from a different perspective, rather than just from your subjective feeling of pain. You can understand the person without believing that their actions are acceptable.
- The Deepening Phase: This last phase is an opportunity for you to reflect and introspect on how forgiving the offender has not only benefited you but helped you grow as a person. Has it helped you be more resilient? Has it changed your outlook to your own emotions?
Martin Luther King Jr once said, “The old law of ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind.” Revenge isn’t a solution, it’s a catalyst for a chain of problems. But at the same time, keep in mind, forgive but don’t forget.
Until next time,
(M.A. Clinical Psychology, PGD Counselling)