How To Forgive Even The Deepest Betrayal So You Can Finally Move On With Your Life

Do you have to forgive to move on?

How To Forgive Even The Deepest Betrayal So You Can Finally Move On With Your Life unsplash / Siyuan

Poet Alexander Pope wrote, "To err is human, to forgive divine."

Few things feel more heavenly then when someone really “gets” how they’ve hurt you. It’s easy to forgive them when they honestly apologize, make amends, and genuinely do things differently because they’ve learned the error of their ways.

In that case, forgiveness is easy.

The hard part is figuring out how to forgive when someone you love deeply lets you down, betrays you, leaves you, or hurts you in unspeakable ways.


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What may complicate your pain more is this idea that’s been drilled into the collective culture stating: you need to forgive and let go of the past in order to move on in your life.


But is that really true?

That depends on how you define forgiveness.

In the modern sense of the word, forgiveness has come to mean not allowing the one who hurt you to take up too much space in your head.

Many self-help gurus politely proselytize this by saying: “Don’t give that person power over you,” or “Keep the focus on you and let go of what you can’t change.” Easier said than done!

While that truly is well-intended advice and makes sense for certain stages of your grief, it’s actually not always the best advice for other stages.

Grieving can be a complicated process. Trying to streamline it with overly simplistic anecdotes such as you need to forgive, and let go of the past so that you can move forward in your life, often ends up being an empathic failure towards the one in pain.


People can then end up feeling like there’s something wrong with them when they just can’t leg of their pain and move forward.

Instead, they ended up feeling deep shame over the parts of them then obsess, panic, cry, rage, hope things will change or numb out.

What if trying to override those parts of you so that you can heal, let go of the past and move forward, actually stymied your grieving process?

Better yet, what if there was a way to be with those parts of you that weren’t totally overwhelming? And this, in turn, allowed you to learn so much about you that you never knew?

Well, there is. And if you're willing to roll up your sleeves and take the time to do it, you’re relational capacity with yourself and others will grow by leaps and bounds.


Here are some simple steps you can try to learn how to forgive on your own time:

Start by taking time each and every day to close your eyes and connect with your breath.

Then see if you can find compassion for all the shattered parts of your broken heart. Parts such as your: rage, panic, obsessing, numbness, sadness, fear, etc.

If you can’t find compassion, get curious about that. Ask your heart why it won’t open toward yourself?

If you still can’t find self-compassion, then see if you can simply be calm and curious. Then close your eyes and see where you feel/experience these different parts of you in or around your body.

Try getting even more curious about those parts of you and how else they show up in your life. You can even silently ask them if there’s anything they want you to know? Then listen to whatever answer or insight comes to you. It may come through a thought, intuition, sensation or even a daydream.


Take some time to journal about your experience.

Do this every day for twenty-eight days and take note of how different, even if it’s a nuanced difference, you feel inside.

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By not rushing to forgive the one hurt you and let go of the past, and by honoring your grieving process, you can actually gain insight into your experience. Insight into how these shattered pieces of your broken heart may actually be trying to help you.


You may discover:

  • How your hurt, anger, and resentment may actually help you to get the space you need from the person who hurt you so that you can begin to heal.
  • How your obsessing and panicking parts may protect some core vulnerable parts of you that have beliefs (that you were unaware of) about your self-worth that isn’t true and need unburdening.
  • How your numb and checked out parts give you the necessary time you need to rest, restore and renew.

Understanding this may help you find the courage to dig a little deeper into learning why you may have chosen this person to remain in your life. Then you may become aware of any repetitive relational patterns with past partners. And these patterns require your attention and compassion so you can heal.

You may also discover that you ignored the little red flags you saw early and why you may have done that. This will help you not do that again. It may also help you understand some of the choices you may have made that you now regret so that you can make peace with yourself.

If you become overly focused on the belief that you need to forgive and move on, then look at all the potential insight and wisdom you could miss out on.


And when you really think about it, asking yourself to forgive someone who hasn’t proven themselves worthy of your forgiveness is a herculean task. It’s also a potential set up to get hurt all over again.

This is true because many try to forgive the one who hurt them because they still have some small piece of hope that things might somehow miraculously workout. “Forgiveness” in this way serves to protect people from taking in the awfulness of what happened and the finality of the loss.

To forgive or not to forgive can sometimes feel like an impossible dilemma.

On the one hand, people still love and miss the one they lost. One the other, the awfulness of what happened may feel too unacceptable for reconciliation.


Sometimes, it can be helpful for people to take a few steps back and give themselves permission to either “Un" forgive the one who hurt them or not to feel any pressure to forgive at all.

This allows people to focus on their own healing and stay true to the parts of them that hold their hurt, anger, and sense of betrayal. They then get to really process through the pain that scarred their soul.

When they make time and space for this, they can then come to understand that it's normal to find themselves cycling through the memories of what happened and the wishing and wanting of what could have been.


When people proactively heal their wounds, grieve their losses, and learn their life lessons; their lives begin to transform. Then they are able to begin to let go of the past and move forward.

In time, the void of loss organically creates a vacuum that draws in new people and situations that are better suited for them and their new phase of life.

Through their hard-earned and newfound wisdom, they are more prepared than ever to have a partner this time around, that they wish they got the last time.

Then, the person who once hurt them doesn’t matter so much anymore. They don’t take up so much space in their head or have any power over them. The winter of their obsessing, resentment, anger, and discontent, begins to melt away into a new season in their life; one with renewed hope and promise.


This happens not because they forgave the one who hurt them, but because they stay true to their process and all the complex parts of themselves they discovered as they were learning to let go.

And when this happens, many people find the courage to make the biggest, boldest and bravest choice of all: They choose to forgive themselves.

RELATED: How To Forgive Someone (Even When They Don't Really Deserve It)

Maura Matarese, M.A., LMHC, R.Y.T. is a psychotherapist, author and yoga teacher practicing in Sudbury, M.A. If you're struggling with whether or not you can forgive your ex, check out her new online course: Finding Hope After Heartbreak: Learn The Secret How To Start Feeling Better Now, which will help you learn more about what it means to forgive and let go of the past so you can move forward.