Is it possible to forgive the hurtful aspects of betrayal that all too often impact women? It’s not only possible; the act of forgiveness improves our health and well-being. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Center say the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health, lowering the risk of heart attack, improving cholesterol levels and sleep patterns, and reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression, and stress.
Forgiveness, the researchers say, is not just about saying the words “I forgive.” Rather it is an active process in which you make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the object of your forgiveness deserves it or not. This is the difficult lesson that Jan learned as she struggled to recover from her husband’s betrayal.
“Betrayal. Where do I begin?” asks Jan. “Of course, I never thought he would cheat on me. That only happens to other women. One friend who had been married for thirty-nine years found out when she got a text message from her husband who was working in another city. In his text, he hoped she had gotten home safely and told her that he missed her. She thought it was odd, since she was at home. Soon another text arrived. It said he loved her and couldn’t wait to see her again. Then she got it. Another friend told me how she checked the messages on their home answering service only to find her husband talking to another woman, completely unaware that their conversation was being recorded! When she confronted him about the other woman—he denied it. She held up the phone as proof.
“For me,” Jan remembers, “I got an email addressed to Janet. Because my name also begins with a ‘J,’ I think that, in haste, he simply hit that send button and the email came to me. He told Janet that his marriage was over and that he wanted to see her again. When I read the email, I think all the blood rushed out of my body. I could feel my face get red-hot, yet the rest of me felt ice-cold. I knew our marriage was going through a rough spot. Looking back, I should have been wiser to all the signs.”
Jan recalls that her first instinct was to do what she thought she should do—save the marriage. “I agreed to marriage counseling. The psychologist said he had seen many marriages go through one spouse cheating and yet the couple came back together and remained strong. We went through four months of counseling, together and separately. It was a waste of money and my time.
“During those four months, I was a wreck. The depth of hurt felt as if there was no bottom. I was crushed and mangled; I lost every bit of self-esteem I had ever had. I questioned whether I was a good wife. What did I do wrong? What can I do to make this work?
“Jackie looked at me and told me I was acting like an abused woman. I was so taken aback by her words that I replied in utter self-defense: ‘Me? No, I’m not!’ Of course, I was. To be clear, there was never any physical abuse, but emotional and verbal abuse, yes.
“It’s been ten years since I got my final divorce papers. Some days, the sting of betrayal rears its ugly head. Some days, I can dismiss it. One day, I hope it won’t matter.”
Eva Mozes Kor has been making the conscious decision to forgive for over half a century. When we first met Eva, we were struck by how small and fragile she appeared. When she spoke, however, all that frailty disappeared. Eva is a survivor of the Holocaust who emerged from a trauma-filled childhood to become the embodiment of the human spirit’s ability to overcome and forgive.
Growing up in the only Jewish family in a small Romanian town, Eva was sent to Auschwitz as a ten-year-old child. She and her twin sister, Miriam, were separated from the rest of their family and became part of a group of thirteen pairs of twins who were subjected to experiments by Josef Mengele during World War II.
“Living in Auschwitz was a full-time job,” Eva observes. “Dying was very easy. In order to survive Auschwitz, in my opinion, people needed two things: a lot of luck, and an unbelievable will to live. If you didn’t have both, you would die.”
In an act that is symbolic, Eva returns to Auschwitz every summer to host tours for those interested in educating themselves about the Holocaust. On every tour, she reads aloud letters of forgiveness to her tormentors.
“I discovered that I had the power to forgive,” she explains. And it made me feel unbelievably good that I, the little victim, even had the power to forgive the angel of death of Auschwitz.” For Eva, anger is a She advises us all to forgive even our worst enemies, because it heals us.
It costs zero. It’s not a very expensive thing to do.”
From Victim to Leader
Earlier Michealene introduced us to Betty Makoni, yet our book would not be complete if we didn’t tell more of Betty’s story, as she is truly a woman who lights up a dark sky. Makoni grew up in Zimbabwe where she has worked most her life to protect her country’s young girls from sexual abuse. In Zimbabwe, where the HIV virus is rampant, men with the virus believe that sexual relations with a virgin will cure the disease. This myth has resulted in some of the worst cases of sexual abuse in the world.Through her Girl Child Network she has helped rescue 35,000 girls from abuse.
Raped at age 6, Betty said her mother wouldn’t allow her to report it. “She said, ‘Shh, we don’t say that in public,’” Betty remembers. In that moment, Betty said she realized the potentially deadly consequence of a woman’s silence.
Betty procured a piece of land and opened the organization’s first empowerment village, designed to provide a haven for girls who have been abused.
“In the first seventy-two hours, a girl is provided with emergency medication, reinstatement in school, as well as counseling,” Betty told us. It is important to her that the girls are in charge of their own healing.
But for Betty, taking action came with a high personal cost. She was forced to flee her native country. Betty said: “I left Zimbabwe because my life was in danger as a result of my project being interpreted politically.” Today, she lives with her family in the United Kingdom and her work in Zimbabwe shows no signs of slowing down.