The Art of Forgiveness: 10 Steps to Handling Betrayal With Elegance and Grace

06/26/2015 08:26 am ET | Updated Jun 26, 2016
Yuichiro Chino via Getty Images

Somehow it's easier to recover from a betrayal that comes from your arch nemesis or someone you don't respect. You almost come to expect it from them and you're somewhat prepared for an emotional assault.

It's the people who are closest to us that have the capacity to inflict the most pain. How could someone you love so dearly trespass against you so cruelly? My grandmother used to say "you see people's faces not their hearts". Occasionally you realize someone you thought was a dear friend is actually a foe, their true character finally revealed.

But how do you forgive the unforgivable? Here are my 10 steps to handling betrayal with elegance and grace.

1. Throw a pity party
Typically when you discover you've been betrayed the initial feelings will be anger and rage. It's easy to settle into the fury of anger. In a dark way it's actually quite comforting. You'll find yourself telling the betrayal story repeatedly. This is a way of trying to make sense of an unthinkable situation and also a way to start building out your "camp" - people who are going to be on "your side".

Pop a bottle of bubbly and throw yourself an epic pity party. You have to do this to get the betrayal out of your system.

This is a great time to spit vinegar. Look at a picture of the person who has hurt you and tell them all the colorful things you think about them. Nothing is off limits. It's extremely cathartic.

Try this brilliant F*ck You Exercise by Tanya Lee Markul.

This is also your time to disregard any social expectations of behavior that you don't want to participate in. Don't want to shower? Cool. Want to stay in your pajamas and cry all day? Go for it. Feel a spell of potty mouth coming on? Let it rip.

The trick is not to linger here for too long. 48 hours max so use your time wisely.

2. Stop telling the story
Now that your closest friends and loved ones know what's happened, stop telling the story. Seriously, stop. Retelling the story over and over only keeps you stuck in the problem, which keeps you in a state of victimhood. The only way out of this situation is through it, which means you have to keep things moving forward.

I also recommend limiting the number of people you tell. This is a good practice in general. You should know who the people in your life are that truly want to be there to support you, and the people that want to know what's going on because they're nosy.

Don't fall into the gossip trap. Tell your story for the sole purpose of feeling loved and supported, not to hurt the other person or bad mouth the transgressor. I believe the cream always rises to the top and the truth always comes out, so let karma work that out for you.

3. Let yourself be vulnerable
The reason why anger is usually the first feeling that comes up in these situations is because it's a good mask for the heavier feelings that are hiding underneath.

It's a lot easier to feel angry than sad. Anger allows you to turn your attention outward (I'm angry at you) versus sadness which focuses on what's happening internally (I feel sad).

Let yourself feel the emotions underneath the anger. Allow yourself to grieve and mourn.

4. Understand that everyone is always doing their best
It's hard to believe this is true but it really is. If they could do better, they would do better. Now this is not to say that someone's best is always going to be up to your standards, and that's ok. But as a principle everyone is always doing the best that they're capable of doing in that moment.

Everyone has their own story they're living. Even the most callous betrayal stems from the offender's own fear and story they've convinced themselves of, no matter how misguided they might be. This doesn't excuse their behavior by any means but it's easier to process an offense when you look at it from this perspective. After all, we're all human and no one's perfect.

5. Show Mercy
Mercy is not the same thing as forgiveness, but mercy will help you get there.

It's easy to relish in a "revenge is sweet" mentality... daydreaming about how you're going to get back at them and get even. This is just another tactic to avoid feeling your true feelings about the situation. A revenge mentality starts seducing you back into anger territory and we already know that's not a productive place to linger.

Don't get even, do better.

The definition of mercy is compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm.

Mercy is within your power. When you hold onto the hurt and relive the story of what's happened you're actually keeping yourself in victim-mode. You're focusing on what's happened TO you.

But when you show mercy you take that power back. You're making an active choice not to stoop to their level. You've now become empowered. Mercy stops you from behaving out of fear and moves you into acting out of love.

When you're licking your wounds and showing mercy seems impossible, I practice a mantra that I learned years ago:

I need nothing from you. I want everything for you.

Close your eyes and repeat the mantra out loud or silently to yourself. After about a minute you'll start finding peace. Rinse and repeat.

6. Feel gratitude
This might be seem impossible until you've had some time and space to process but it's important to find gratitude in the situation. What's the lesson this situation is teaching you? What opportunity has this situation created for you? Has this situation created freedom from something or someone you were too scared to walk away from on your own?

Sometimes you won't find the gratitude until some time has passed and you can look back and see that what you thought was the worst thing that could happen to you was actually the best thing.

"Find hope in the darkest of days, and focus in the brightest" - Dalai Lama

We've all had experiences that we couldn't comprehend but looking back we realize it needed to happen. Try to find the silver lining now instead of a few months or years from now. It will help you accept that everything is unfolding as it should.

7. Be a lady (or gentleman)
No matter what has happened, be true to your character and live up to your own standards. Don't stoop to a level that's beneath you. Keep it classy.

If people outside of your circle try to engage you about the situation, resist the urge to gossip and politely respond with something like "it's a private matter and I'm not comfortable speaking about it".

If it's a he said/she situation it's natural to want to defend yourself and explain your side. What other people think of you is none of your business. As they say, actions speak louder than words. If you've done nothing wrong your character will tell the story that needs to be told.

If you run into the person who has betrayed you or someone in "their camp" resist the urge to engage. Take the high road.

At the end of the day it doesn't matter if you're right or wrong, if you've been cruelly betrayed, or if false allegations have been made against you, what matters and what will speak louder than any word is how you carry yourself through adversity.

"A person's true nature is revealed at times of the greatest adversity." - Daisaku Ikeda

This is true of you AND the person who has betrayed you.

8. Write a letter
Write a letter to the person who has wronged you. You do not need to send it to them. Let them know in the letter that you forgive them and why. I'm a big believer in the power of the phoenix - transformation and growth through fire. Safely burn the letter and as the smoke rises imagine any residual anger you're feeling leaving you and dissipating with the smoke.

9. Forgiveness is Self-Love

Alan Cohen says:

"You have the power to take someone's happiness by refusing to forgive. That someone is you."

Forgiveness is not an approval of past wrong doings, instead it's a gift to yourself that frees you from the prison of holding onto old grudges and stories.

In nature when animals have a squabble they move on once it passes. The injustice happens once, it's dealt with, and then they move on. Many animals literally shake it off by shaking their body.

In comparison, humans have a tendency to torture themselves by suffering the same injustice repeatedly. When you relive it in your mind or heart it's like it keeps happening to you over and over again, and every time it's as if you're betrayed again.

Forgiveness is not something you give another. Forgiveness is something you give yourself in an act of true love and desire to end your own suffering.

10. Let it go
Dust yourself off and move forward. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. It's easy for a betrayal to become a part of our story and for us to point to this story as the source of our unhappiness. You can't control other people, you can only control yourself. Make empowering choices. Leave the past in the past. Don't let what's happened prevent you from moving forward and flourishing. Let it go.

Silvana Perelli is a Life Stylist and Weight Loss Coach for women who have unsuccessfully tried counting calories, juice cleanses, or any other diet on the market and are ready to stop fighting their bodies. She's the author of The Charmed Woman's Guide to Diet-Free Weight Loss: An Elegant Approach to Losing Weight Gracefully, which you can download for free on her website. Silvana is the creator of the online playground where she provides free inspiration on creating a charmed life filled with passion and magic. You can follow her via Instagram and Pinterest as she creates a life of simple luxury.