Suffering a betrayal of trust can be one of the most difficult and challenging times in your life. Depending on the severity of the offense, some people choose not to pursue recovery of the relationship. For those that do, the process of restoration can take days, weeks, months, or even years. If you choose to invest the time and energy to rebuild a relationship with someone who has broken your trust, you have to begin with forgiveness.
Two recent news articles highlight the role forgiveness has played in the lives of two men who violated the trust of others. In one situation forgiveness has led to healing and restoration. In the other, the lack of forgiveness is continuing to haunt and hinder the forward progress of those involved:
• In 2008 Tim Goeglein was a staffer in the George W. Bush administration, responsible for working with faith-based organizations, when it was discovered that he had plagiarized articles he wrote for his hometown newspaper in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Goeglein resigned knowing that his actions were wrong and reflected poorly on the President, and he figured that he would be treated as persona-non-grata and be ostracized from the White House forever. However, within days of the incident, President Bush met personally with Goeglein with the express intent of extending forgiveness. Goeglein has gone on to have a successful career and currently collaborates with President Obama on his fatherhood initiative.
• Thirteen years ago Stephen Glass was a wunderkind journalist at The New Republic magazine. With his career on a meteoric rise, it was discovered that he had fabricated quotes, anecdotes, and even entire articles. From 1995-1998 Glass fabricated 43 stories appearing in several different publications. Glass has reportedly straightened his life out with the help of intense counseling, received a law degree from Georgetown, and passed the bar exams in both New York and California. However, his admittance to the California Bar has been delayed the last five years over ongoing concerns about his ethical standards. Forgiveness still awaits him as he currently works as a paralegal.
As you consider forgiving someone who has betrayed your trust, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Forgiveness is a choice – It’s not a feeling or an attitude. Forgiving someone is a mental decision, a choice, that you have complete control over. You don’t have to wait until you “feel” like forgiving someone.
- Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting – You don’t have to forget the betrayal in order to forgive. You may never forget what happened, and those memories will creep in occasionally, but you can choose to forgive and move on.
- Forgiveness doesn’t eliminate consequences – Some people are reticent to give forgiveness because somehow they think it lets the other person off-the-hook from what they did wrong. Not true. Consequences should still be enforced even if you grant forgiveness.
- Forgiving doesn’t make you a weakling or a doormat – Forgiveness shows maturity and depth of character. If you allow repeated violations of your trust then you’re a doormat. But forgiving others while adhering to healthy boundaries is a sign of strength, not weakness.
- Don’t forgive just to avoid pain – It can be easy to quickly grant forgiveness in order to avoid conflict and pain in the relationship. This usually is an attempt at conflict avoidance rather than true forgiveness. Take the appropriate amount of time to think through the situation and what will be involved in repairing the relationship before you grant forgiveness.
- Don’t use forgiveness as a weapon – If you truly forgive someone, you won’t use their past behavior as a tool to harm them whenever you feel the need to get a little revenge.
- Forgiveness isn’t dependent on the other person showing remorse – Whether or not the person who violated your trust apologizes or shows remorse for their behavior, the decision to forgive rests solely with you. Withholding forgiveness doesn’t hurt the other person, it only hurts you, and it’s not going to change anything that happened in the past. Forgiveness is up to you.
- Forgiveness is freedom – Holding on to pain and bitterness drains your energy and negatively colors your outlook on life. Granting forgiveness allows you to let go of the negative emotions that hold you back and gives you the ability to move forward with freedom and optimism.
Forgiveness is the first step in rebuilding a relationship with someone who has betrayed your trust. Like the example of Tim Goeglein, forgiveness can lead to healing and success. On the flip side, Stephen Glass continues to struggle in overcoming his past breaches of trust because forgiveness has not been granted. The choice is yours. Will you choose to forgive?