A Holy Response to Heartbreak: 4 Considerations for Dealing with Betrayal
The pain of betrayal is a very real struggle for many of us. For some of our non-Catholic brothers and sisters, perhaps the easy response to being hurt by a loved one or even a spouse is hatred or thoughts of revenge.
But, as if the very circumstances of being betrayed in such a way weren’t hard enough, Christ calls us as Catholics to something even more challenging: forgiveness.
How can we ever forgive someone who has brought us to a misery we didn’t know existed? Especially when, in the midst of our pain, even a little bit of healing seems so far away? Not to mention the kind of healing that would seem necessary to get us to a point where we could forgive.
It’s obviously not an easy problem to deal with, and like a lot of demands of being a Catholic, it might even seem impossible. So here are four considerations to help get us started on the seemingly impossible task of a holy response to deep heartbreak.
Don’t Be Afraid of Grief
When a loved one hurts us, leaves us, cheats on us, or completely disappoints our legitimate expectations in some way, it’s quite natural to grieve. We might feel things like disbelief, anger, or sadness. And it’s important to realize that these feelings are okay.
The fact is that you’re in pain is because what you desired – a healthy, normal, and loving relationship – was a good thing. You probably had legitimate expectations that your relationship would be lasting and fulfilling. If it was a marriage, it should have been until death.
So when we’re disappointed at a completely opposite outcome, it is more than natural for us to grieve over the loss of such a good and desirable thing.
Avoiding your feelings or pretending you don’t feel them won’t help in the long run. It’s much better to embrace the pain, acknowledge that it’s real, and give yourself permission to feel it.
Be Conscious in Your Effort to Start the Healing Process
The pain of betrayal and the grieving process can make us feel lethargic, and we might be daunted by the task of ever finding a way to move on. And while it is important to let ourselves grieve, it’s also important that we take purposeful steps to head toward healing.
What does this look like concretely? It can take many different forms, including talking about it with trusted friends or family members, perhaps with a priest or religious, or even with a counselor if you need it.
Beyond that, it might also be very helpful to take some “me time.” Now if you’re anything like me, you might flinch a little at the phrase. It can sound selfish, egotistical—narcissistic even—on the surface.
In reality, though, occasionally taking time for ourselves in something enjoyable is useful for all of us, but especially when trying to move on from betrayal.
When others hurt us, we often feel unlovable or worthless. Giving in to this feeling can lead to some serious spiraling and make it much harder to get back up onto the path to healing.
So even if you don’t feel like it, set out purposefully to do something that makes you feel valuable and lovable. Perhaps it’s hanging out with friends, getting a massage, taking a hike, or some other outing that you love. Taking care of yourself and blowing off steam are both important in regaining a feeling of normalcy.
That Illusive Thing Called Forgiveness
It’s important to make a distinction in what we mean by forgiveness when we talk about betrayal. Because a lot of times, I think we assume that to forgive someone means to pretend nothing happened and that everything is hunky-dory again. And that’s often not realistic—or healthy.
There was a time when I was struggling deeply with what it meant to forgive a certain person in my life, and a priest told me there are actually different kinds of forgiveness.
There is psychological forgiveness, which is pretty much like I described above – you can more or less forget the hurtful thing ever happened. This one is often kind of difficult to achieve and sometimes not totally possible. In a lot of cases—I’m thinking especially of abusive situations or spouses with continual infidelity—it wouldn’t even be healthy to try and achieve this.
But then there’s spiritual forgiveness. This one, my priest told me, is more important and a lot simpler to figure out: just pray for the person who has hurt you. If you can sincerely ask God to bless the person, even just asking God to help the person figure their crap out, then that means you don’t hate the person and don’t wish them to go to hell. That, he told me, is what spiritual forgiveness is.
Spiritual forgiveness might still take some serious effort, when we’ve been hurt at our deepest. But know, if you’re struggling to forgive, that you’re not being asked to forget everything as well.
Meditate on Christ’s Betrayal
When all seems bleakest and most difficult, try to remember that Christ has walked the same path Himself. His closest friends left Him to die and betrayed Him deeply.
So try spending some time in Adoration, reading Scripture, or speaking to Him about your pain. The Lenten season in particular is a great time to meditate on His Passion and Death. Bring to mind His words on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing,” and ask Him for the grace to forgive as He did.
Ask Him for grace and strength to move on, in a holy and a healthy way.
Adrienne Thorne is a Catholic wife, mother, screenwriter, and blogger. She blogs about TV and Movies from Catholic perspective at Thorne in the Flesh: A Faithful Catholic's Guide to Netflix, Hulu, and More.