Discover the power of forgiveness and how it can rebuild trust in the most fractured relationships.
In the chaos of everyday life, it’s not uncommon for misunderstandings, disagreements, and hurtful actions to leave a lasting impact on our relationships. Over time, these unresolved issues can build up, causing deep emotional fractures that strain the very foundation of our connections with loved ones. Sadly, these fractures evolve into decades-long grudges, creating an insurmountable barrier to rebuilding trust and finding lasting resolutions.
A man I knew who had a contentious divorce became estranged from his adult daughter after she testified against him in court. Occasionally, I suggested that this father try to contact his daughter and apologize. He didn’t have to buy into her reality, but he could have mustered enough empathy to understand her perspective. And isn’t eating a slice of humble pie worth it if you can reconnect with your family?
But every time, his answer was the same. Seeing himself as the aggrieved party, he insisted she call him and apologize. He would not make the first move. Their standoff persisted for decades, and even when the man was dying in hospice, neither could bring themselves to let go of their grudges, locked in a cycle of hurt from which neither could break free.
Lessons From the Story of Joseph and His Brothers
The emotional journey of Joseph and his brothers mirrors the struggles many of us face in our own lives. As far as betrayals go, the story of Joseph is about as bad as it gets - deep conflicts manifesting through envy, betrayal, false accusations, and slavery.
And yet, the same narrative later blossoms into an incredible tale of forgiveness, unity, and enduring love. After all the deception, treachery, and familial discord, Vayehi concludes with profound lessons of reconciliation and forgiveness, suggesting that navigating difficult relationships is possible, making them even stronger and more cohesive.
The Power and Importance of Forgiveness
After years of separation, Joseph rises to a position of power and reunites with his brothers. Instead of seeking revenge or holding on to past grievances, he forgives them, recognizing that their actions were part of a greater divine plan. In what could be considered the first case of cognitive therapy, Joseph reframed the narrative. Joseph saved the civilized world from starvation; it was not the brothers who sold Joseph into slavery but God who sent him on a mission, thus reducing the brothers to bit players in the grand scheme of things.
Years later, when Jacob was on his deathbed, the brothers wondered whether Joseph was merely waiting for their father to die so that he could take revenge. Once again, he reassures his brothers like before: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
And this is an important point – forgiveness does not mean ignoring the wrongs done to us. Instead, it signifies recognizing the person's actions, understanding their impacts, and then releasing lingering resentment and emotional baggage that serves no constructive purpose but to fuel animosity and perpetuate the cycle of conflict.
Breaking the Cycle
In an article entitled “The Day Forgiveness Was Born,” the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains how Joseph’s act of forgiveness transformed the human situation, where we are no longer condemned endlessly to repeat the past.
“When I repent, I show I can change. The future is not predestined. I can make it different from what it might have been. And when I forgive, I show that my action is not mere reaction, the way revenge would be. Forgiveness breaks the irreversibility of the past.”
Comics and shrinks promulgate the stereotype of Jewish guilt.” And they are right – but only to an extent. Says Rabbi Sacks, Judaism brought a new paradigm to the world: “a guilt-repentance-and-forgiveness culture, the first of its kind in the world.”
7 Steps to Rebuilding Trust in a Relationship:
1. Start by acknowledging your emotions and allowing yourself to feel them fully. This may involve journaling, talking to a trusted friend or therapist, or simply reflecting on your feelings.
2. Take time to understand the person's perspective and the motivations for their actions. This can help you humanize them and see things from their point of view.
3. Consider writing a letter to the person who hurt you, expressing your feelings and needs. You don't necessarily need to send the letter, but the act of writing can help you clarify your thoughts and emotions.
4. Practice self-compassion and self-care. Forgiveness can be a difficult and emotionally taxing process, so taking care of yourself along the way is important. Rebuilding trust takes time. Being patient with yourself and the person who hurt you is essential. Healing wounds and rebuilding trust requires time to develop. Make self-care a priority, focusing on activities that bring you joy, peace, and healing.
5. When you're ready, have an open and honest conversation with the person who hurt you. Clearly communicate your feelings and needs and work together to establish boundaries and expectations moving forward. Rebuilding trust requires consistent actions by the person who caused the betrayal. They must demonstrate remorse, sincerity, and a commitment to change their behaviors. This involves being accountable, transparent, and reliable in their words and actions. Trust is rebuilt through a series of consistent and trustworthy behaviors.
6. Remember that forgiveness is a process, not a one-time event. Forgiving someone fully may take time and effort, and that's okay. Be patient with yourself and the other person and focus on making progress rather than achieving perfection.
7. Finally, be willing to let go of your resentment and anger. Holding onto negative emotions can be toxic and prevent you from moving forward in your life. By practicing forgiveness, you can release these emotions and experience greater peace and happiness.
Rebuilding trust after it has been destroyed is a difficult and tumultuous journey. While it may never be the same as before, a new, stronger foundation of trust can be based on the strength and resilience of forgiveness.
Internalize and Actualize:
Think about a relationship in your life that has been fractured by unresolved issues. How has this impacted your trust in that person? Reflect on how forgiveness could potentially rebuild that trust.
Reflect on your own understanding of forgiveness. What does it mean to you, and how do you currently navigate forgiveness in your relationships? Are there any changes or adjustments you would like to make?
Journal about the potential benefits of self-forgiveness. How might releasing resentment and anger through forgiveness bring greater peace and happiness? Visualize the positive impact self-forgiveness could have on your well-being and your relationships.