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Extinguishing the Flames of Resentment

Sarah Chana Radcliffe M.ED., C.PSYCH.ASSOC.

Your best friend betrayed you, and you can’t bring yourself to talk to her. Or maybe you still hear the stinging words of your sister years later — or your father, your daughter-in-law, your husband. Those closest to us have the ability to hurt us more than anyone else. But by withholding forgiveness, we risk harming ourselves even more. Learn why — and how — to let go and finally heal.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

During this season of forgiveness, we ask Hashem to forgive us for all of our transgressions, flaws, and failings. Because we know He loves us, we trust that He will grant this forgiveness so we can move forward with a clean slate and a fresh start.

Sure, the days leading up to the formal moments of forgiveness are rife with guilt and anguish. But the resultant introspection is what helps us make resolutions for positive change. And fortunately we don’t have to punish ourselves forever. Despite our human weaknesses, we can do teshuvah and come out of this season feeling whole and good.

Not so for our personal enemies. We don’t let them off the hook so easily.

People hurt each other in so many different and painful ways: betrayals, insults, lies, slander, gossip, judgment, rejection, abuse, abandonment, neglect, and more. We’ve all gone through it. But when we’re the guilty ones, we know it was unavoidable, accidental, or understandable. After all, we’re good people.

When someone hurts us, however, we know it’s because he’s defective or evil and wants to hurt us. Not only do we seek to protect ourselves from future harm, we often seek revenge as well. The “nicer” ones among us would never inflict direct injury, but we might pass the assignment along to Hashem, announcing that “Hashem will take care of it.” It’s hard for us to let go. Forgiveness feels like weakness, opening us to future attack. It feels wrong.


Impossible to Forgive

Certain offenses seem unforgivable, even for those who are naturally forgiving. Beverly Flanigan, author of Forgiving the Unforgivable identifies five major characteristics of an “unforgivable crime”:

1. It starts with a single event that is a betrayal.

2. The offender is an intimate member of the person’s relationship circle, not a stranger.

3. It is a moral wound — that is, it runs contrary to our principles of right and wrong.

4. It assaults a person’s most fundamental assumptions and beliefs.

5. It is deeply personal (and therefore uniquely experienced).

Leah’s story typifies an “unforgivable” offense:

My husband and I had been married for 20 years when I developed cancer. I always thought that our marriage was a good one. To say I was shocked at what happened is a huge understatement. As I was preparing to leave for a chemotherapy treatment one day, he turned to me and said that I was a drain on his energy and resources and he was moving out. And just like that, he was gone.

Leah’s experience shattered her world. She felt like she didn’t know anything anymore. How could her husband become someone she didn’t even recognize? How could he turn on her and abandon her when she was already so vulnerable? It was too much for her to process and certainly too much for her to recover from


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