How do you let go of the hurt that another person has inflicted on you?
Robin grew up with an older brother that sexually abused her for years, when their parents were sleeping or not home for the evening. Erik, 15 at the time of the first episode, was left to care for his 12 year old sister. He warned her that he would call her a liar or worse if she ever told. For almost three years, until Erik left home, Robin endured his abuse. No one ever found out until she came to therapy.
Almost three months into our work together Robin hinted about something terrible that happened to her as a teenager. She began to trust our relationship and finally one day shared this painful story. Robin told me she had kept this secret for almost 20 years and felt like it was running interference with having a healthy relationship with men.
Robin desperately needed to tell her story and learn some tools for dealing with these complicated feelings. She had difficulty sleeping and sometimes concentrating, although she performed extremely well at work.
Her story took months to unfold. Along the way I taught her skills in abdominal breathing and meditation to help diminish her anxiety level.
She still saw her brother occasionally over holidays, which was always painful. Her parents never learned the truth. Robin was adamant about never sharing her story with anyone else. She felt too much shame and humiliation and wanted her story to remain private.
Over time we began to talk about forgiveness. Robin insisted she could never forgive her brother for ruining her life.
I explained to her that forgiveness is about letting go of anger, hurt and resentment. When you are deeply injured you can never fully heal until you forgive. “Forgiveness is not about forgetting, reconciling, ignoring an injustice or removing consequences.” I told her.
“Forgiveness is not something we do for other people. We do it for ourselves to get well and move on with our lives.”
Some of the benefits of forgiveness include:
- Lowers blood pressure and heart rate
- Reduces stress and chronic pain
- Diminishes anger and feelings of hostility
- Lowers risk of alcohol or substance abuse
- Lessens anxiety and depression symptoms
- Improves relationships
- Heightens sense of well-being
- Improves psychological health
Learning to forgive
We continue to meet weekly. In additions to our conversation, Robin now uses affirmations daily, keeps a gratitude journal and practices exercises for strengthening her capacity to forgive.
One of these forgiveness exercises is the following:
- Pay attention to your anger
- Observe and reflect carefully on the situation
- Keep your thoughts flexible and compassionate
- Practice abdominal breathing when the pain or anger arises
- Choose to forgive – remember this is where the healing occurs
- Commit to forgive and letting go
Robin continued to share her story with me and opened her heart up to the idea of letting go of her long standing anger. She understood she was doing this for herself in order to lead a more balanced and happier life.
What can you do to forgive someone who has hurt you or let you down?