Dear Therapist:

I was recently treated very hurtfully by a relative. This relative had known confidential information about me, and the way he treated me left me feeling betrayed, and I lost the trust in our relationship. This was especially painful as I had invested a lot in this relationship, and really wanted to be close with this family member. I would like to have a good relationship once again with him, but every time I think of him, I am filled with a sense of disgust, and hurt. I tried thinking about it...[forgiving him]...but I still have terribly negative feelings toward this relative, which I would like to get rid of. I don't think he realizes he has done something so bad. He keeps calling and acts as if we are as close as before, leaving me confused. Did he mean to hurt me? Does he feel bad, maybe he didn't realize how painful it would be? 

Please note that I don't think I am exaggerating - whoever I have spoken to was shocked that a person would act this way. 

Please help me really forgive. 

 

Response:

Of course, it can be very hurtful when you feel betrayed by someone whom you trust. This hurt can be especially intensified when the offending party is someone with whom you have a close relationship. Feelings of betrayal can be exacerbated by a sense of loss. It seems that you may be conflicted between these two factors.

You feel hurt and betrayed, leading to other feelings, like disgust. I think that most people would understand and empathize with your basic feelings of hurt and betrayal. The question is whether there are other feelings (like those of loss) that are masquerading as feelings of betrayal.

When we have multiple issues affecting us at the same time, we often associate feelings related to one problem with thoughts related to the other. This is especially true when the catalyst for both emotions originated with the same source.

You suffered both a betrayal and a loss. It appears that what is most prominent in your mind are your thoughts about the betrayal, and the way in which you were betrayed. Undoubtedly, a large portion of the hurt that you feel is directly related to this. However, it seems that some of your feelings of loss may have become associated with your thoughts about the betrayal. If this occurred, you may be feeling more strongly than you think you should about having been betrayed, while feeling less strongly than you believe you should about the loss of your relationship and sense of trust.

If you believe that there is a discrepancy between your thoughts and feelings, it is important to identify those issues that have “excessive” emotions associated with them, and those issues for which your emotions are muted. If you can appropriately “assign” emotions to their associated issues, it becomes easier to deal with and resolve them.

It sounds as if you really want to be able to forgive your relative, and continue to build the relationship with him that you had. It can be difficult to forgive someone when they appear oblivious to their transgression. When this occurs, we can start questioning the character of the other person, their investment in the relationship, and the feelings that they have about us and our relationship.

As in any relationship, communication is key. I don’t know what kind of connection you had with this relative, and I don’t know to what extent the two of you shared emotional aspects of your lives. If this is something that you have done in the past, having a discussion about your feelings can go a long way toward helping each of you understand the other’s thoughts and feelings. Perhaps he truly doesn’t realize that he hurt you. Or perhaps he is afraid to bring it up for fear of reopening a wound or being forced to acknowledge his indiscretion.

Regardless, if you were to openly discuss your feelings, you would be able to gauge his reaction, and perhaps gain some insight into his thoughts about what he did. Hopefully, he would be open as well, which could lead to a better understanding of one another. Who knows? If properly handled, this might ultimately strengthen your relationship, and bring to it a previously absent emotional component.

-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

  psychotherapist in private practice

  Woodmere, NY

  adjunct professor at Touro College

  Graduate School of Social Work

  author of Self-Esteem: A Primer

  www.ylcsw.com / 516-218-4200