How can you forgive someone that really hurt you especially if it is someone close, and the trust between you has been shattered?
Forgiveness is not a single action that you begin and complete in a short time. Forgiveness is a multi-layered process and a long journey where we slowly progress and move towards the goal.
In an essay on the topic, the Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that there are three levels of forgiveness:
1) We don't wish the person any harm and we even pray for their wellbeing. At this basic level of forgiveness we might still be upset, feel hurt or even angry. Yet we find it within ourselves not to hope for the person's downfall and not feel the need for revenge.
Forgiveness is not a single action that you begin and complete in a short time2) We stop being angry. At this second stage we might not be ready to relate to the person as we did before, but we are able to move on and let go to the point where we no longer carry feelings of anger and resentment on any level.
3) Restoring the relationship. At this final stage the forgiveness is complete. Not only have we forgiven the individual but we have totally understood and reaccepted him or her. We are now ready to be as close to the offending person as before.
The Talmud explains that even if someone has hurt us terribly, it is expected of us to find the strength to forgive them at least on the first level. Absence of any forgiveness whatsoever is a sign of cruelty. Wishing badly on someone and the desire for revenge represents a weakness of personality that requires rectification.
A more difficult form of forgiveness is the second stage, where we cease to feel hurt or anger. If we have been hurt or betrayed we might need time and hard work to rid ourselves of negative feelings. It could be a long process of healing and soul searching, until the feelings of resentment actually disappear from our heart and soul.
The ideal form of forgiveness is the third level where we restore the relationship. However, it must be pointed out that this is not always possible. Some relationships are so toxic that the responsible thing is to walk way from them. But we don't need to take an "all or nothing" approach. If restoring the relationship is impossible it is not always necessary to terminate all contact or become antagonistic. We can still achieve a more basic level of forgiveness by wishing them well. We can still cease being angry and give them basic respect. We can still greet them when we see them and give them the dignity that every human being deserves.
Every small improvement in our relationship is significant, has a profound affect and generates happiness. Take the first step now.