Witnessing the Anguish

Victims need to feel they are being heard and affirmed. The best way to do this is to not argue the facts of their stories or the ways they are hurting. If your spouse says you lied last Wednesday, and you lied to them last Thursday, it will not help rebuild the trust by arguing the date of the offense. If your child says, “You did not show up to my football game, and you are never there for me,” it does not serve a healing purpose for you to counter with all the other football games you have attended as irrefutable proof you are there for your child.

When people are hurting, they cannot be cross-examined out of their pain. We all want our pain to be acknowledged and understood. We all want to feel safe to express our hurt feelings in all their various forms and textures. If you argue with the person you have harmed, that person will not feel safe, nor will that person feel understood. When someone is hurt, that person wants his or her pain to be understood and validated. Without that understanding, the forgiveness process will stall and you will both remain trapped in an endless loop of telling the story and naming the hurt. Empathy is the gateway to forgiveness for you and for the one you have harmed.

— Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu, The Book of Forgiving, p. 178-179