“We may not know how to forgive, and we may not want to forgive; but the very fact we say we want to forgive begins the healing process.” – Louise Hay
I’ve never been one to hold a grudge. This is not to say, however, that I haven’t been deeply wronged by a friend whom I trusted implicitly, unconditionally and without hesitation. Over the years others have asked me how to deal with the aching hurt of knowing your best friend betrayed you, what specifically to do and why it matters to do anything at all. I’ll share here the same advice I gave then and today to anyone who needs it. The key takeaway is you act to forgive a friend who wronged you, not allow the wound to fester. In fact, forgiveness is so important that your future growth may well depend on it.
How do you begin the forgiveness process?
First, acknowledge the pain you feel from being wronged by your friend. The longer you’ve been in the friendship, the greater the likelihood that the hurt feels like a personal betrayal. You may think you’re incapable of forgiving this person, yet to hold on to the resentment and pain only plunges the ache deeper. You must identify the words or deeds your friend said or did that precipitated the hurt before you can proceed to the next step in the forgiveness process. Indeed, knowing what hurts is paramount to crafting your subsequent behavior.
What’s better: to ignore the hurt or say something about it?
Ignoring negative words and behavior – particularly those directed toward or that personally affected you – is never recommended as a coping method. For one thing, you’re avoiding the issue and that does nothing good for your mental health and well-being. For another, it’s possible that your friend who wronged you did so innocently or was and remains unaware that his or her words and/or actions hurt you. It’s also possible that it was done intentionally. Without saying something about it to the wronging party, such behavior may continue and wind up hurting others.
When is the best time to address the issue with your friend?
This is no doubt a sensitive topic, one that both you and your friend should speak privately about. As such, let your friend know via a call or email that there’s something you’d like to discuss in person and in private. Arrange a time and place to do so that is mutually agreeable and convenient. If, however, you have any security concerns, such as a fear that your friend may react badly, make the arrangements for a public place, even if it’s a quiet corner of an outdoor café or in the back of a coffeeshop. Do keep your voice low so that your conversation cannot inadvertently be heard by other patrons or passersby.
What if your friend gets angry, denies the wrongdoing, accuses you of blowing something out of proportion?
The normal reaction of someone who’s confronted about wrongdoing may include surprise, disbelief, or an inability to recall having done so. On the other hand, someone who is guilty of the wrongdoing and doesn’t want to admit it may become angry, issue vehement denials or say you’re just making a big deal out of nothing important. In any case, take a cue from your friend’s body language, choice of words and tone of voice to detect if he or she is attempting to deceive you. It’s important to let him or her know the specifics of the event where you felt wronged, including how it hurt you. Suppose, for example, you told something in confidence to your friend and later learned that this conversation was shared with others, either in person, in writing, via voice, text or social media. You cannot allow such a betrayal to go without consequence. Your friend must be confronted about it – even though this may be the last thing you want to deal with.
When and where does the forgiveness come in?
Sometimes it’s necessary for the wronged party to let sufficient time pass so that the hurt doesn’t sting as much. Addressing the issue for yourself, however, acknowledging to yourself what it was that hurt you so much is paramount, no matter whether you’re ever able to directly talk to your friend about it or not. You can forgive your friend for his or her hurtful words and deeds and gain the mental health benefit from such forgiveness. Indeed, you must do so in order for you to be able to move on and take this negativity from your thoughts. If you can find it in yourself to forgive your friend to his or her face, this is also a positive way to cope with the wrong. As long as you’re earnest in your forgiveness, it doesn’t matter whether your friend accepts the forgiveness or not. You’ve extended the kindness and begun the healing process. Your words and actions will help you heal, independent of the other person’s ability to accept responsibility for the wrongdoing and/or your forgiveness of it.
What if the friendship ends over the confrontation?
If your friend lashes out and reacts badly when you talk about the wrongdoing and how it hurt you, threatening to or actually ending the relationship – “I can’t believe you’d say this! I never want to see you again!” – this person was and is not your friend. Real friends care about each other and don’t want to be the source of pain and hurt. Sure, it is tough to admit you’ve wronged another, and everyone has likely experienced hurt on both the giving and receiving end. Yet, the only way to heal the wound and move on is to be forthright and proactive. The friendship may indeed need to end. If you lose a friend in the process, take comfort knowing you’re the better person. Find a new friend or spend time with other friends you know are more trustworthy. After all, friendships are a strong source of psychological well-being.