Dr. Guterson: Should I forgive someone who has abused me? This is a great question and is connected to this week’s blog as well as to the video last week entitled “To Forgive”. I greatly appreciate your bringing up this vital theme. Forgiveness is not a single act. It has many layers and is deeply complex, especially when one has suffered horrific abuse. In an article I gleaned from a Rabbi Michoel Gourarie, I learned about three levels of forgiveness: (1) at the basic level, we don’t want to take revenge toward the one who has hurt or abused us. We may still feel upset or angry, but we don’t wish them any harm. (2) at the second level, we stop feeling angry. This is because we have moved on. We are no longer a victim and carry no resentment. In a sense, at this level we have also forgiven ourselves. (3) the third level involves restoring the relationship. We have reaccepted them, totally. In cases of abuse, the expectation is to at least get to the first level. But the second level, if you can truly get there, is phenomenal. It usually requires a long hard process of soul searching, but the sages say it is achievable. And incredibly liberating! In cases of sexual or physical abuse, the 3rd level of forgiveness is usually not possible. Nor should it be. When a relationship is toxic, it’s best to walk away. And simply wish the other guy the best.
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