No one comes through divorce without feeling pain and hurt. That’s as true for people who initiate the divorce as it is for people whose spouse made the decision. That pain and hurt could be caused by our spouse, by a third party (and that’s not limited to infidelity) and we can cause it ourselves.
Without working through that pain and hurt, there’s a very real danger of becoming bitter and resentful – you know what I’m talking about. We’ve all met people who haven’t healed from their divorce.
Forgiveness is about working through that pain and hurt but it’s not easy or quick. In fact, not forgiving may be the easier path. As if the work isn’t hard enough on its own, forgiveness is often misunderstood. So what do you know about forgiveness?
Joining me for this episode of Conversations About Divorce, is forgiveness coach Emily J Hooks. emily is the author of the soon-to-be published book, The Power of Forgiveness: A Guide To Healing And Wholeness. Listen in to the podcast here or keep reading.
What Is Forgiveness?
Hooks says that forgiveness is simply, “the realization that there is nothing to forgive.” This is absolute forgiveness and from a place of pain and hurt it can seem like an impossible place to reach. In a similar vein, Oprah Winfrey says, “Forgiveness is when you can say, ‘Thank you for that experience.'”
Expanding on that, Hooks says, “When we get to a place of true acceptance, of having an experience of love and compassion for the self, we realize that everything has been for our betterment.”
As an alternate definition, Hooks offers that forgiveness is a process of self-actualization in which we choose to move through hurt feelings such as shame, anger and resentment, in favor of self-compassion, self-love and empathy.
Forgiveness Is Not About Rebuilding Trust
Connecting forgiveness to trust is a common misconception. They are actually two separate processes which can be interdependent if there is an active relationship. The difference however is that “trust requires something from another human being. Forgiveness doesn’t,” says Hooks. While forgiveness is not about rebuilding trust in another person, it might be about learning to trust yourself again.
Forgiveness Does Not Involve The Wrong-Doer
Another obstacle to forgiveness is waiting for the wrong-doer to request forgiveness or to be part of the forgiveness process. This is great if the wrong-doer wants to be engaged but otherwise Hooks says it’s giving away some of the forgiver’s power and for that reason, it’s not something she encourages.
When it comes to forgiving yourself, it’s a bit of a challenge to see the “wrong-doing you” as not involved. One way to make this concept easier is to recognize that the person who did the harm is a former self. Who you are today is not the same as who you were when the harm occurred. You’re different. You have different skills now. You have a different understanding now.
Almost all forgiveness ends up being self-forgiveness. It’s about self-love which Hooks says we don’t do a good job of teaching. We’re great at teaching how to punish ourselves for mistakes and errors. What we need to do however, is to develop a practice of compassion.
Forgiveness Is A Choice
You don’t just get to that place of forgiveness. You have to want to get there and that means making a conscious choice. It’s also not a choice you make just once but a choice you make over and over again. And with practice, it does become a mindset. You can start developing these muscles by forgiving small wrong-doings – the person who jumps in front of you in the checkout line or cuts you off in traffic.
There Are No Un-forgiveable Acts
Hooks says there are no un-forgiveable acts and indeed there are many examples of people who have forgiven their wrong-doers for acts such as wrongful imprisonment, sexual abuse, violence, even murder. “The reason for that is that forgiveness is not about the act. It’s about finding wholeness in ourselves,” says Hooks.
It’s a process that is focused on what you can do internally and that’s another reason why the involvement of the wrong-doer is not necessary.
Recognize Your Part
Hooks, like other forgiveness experts, says one of the challenging aspects of forgiveness is seeing our part in the wrong-doing. This is not about blaming yourself and or assigning fault. It is about moving out of being a victim and seeing yourself as powerless. “When we can see that we are not victims, we are primary actors,” says Hooks and that creates the path to making different choices going forward.
The hardest part in the forgiveness process can be feeling angry with yourself. Hooks says, “That’s a learned reaction to the recognition of mistakes and to accountability.” That’s not helpful and so forgiveness often involves unlearning and rethinking beliefs from our upbringing
It’s Not About You
The reason why someone harmed you, is more about them than it is about you so don’t take it personally. Hooks says that if we are primary actors in our lives, then so is everyone else in theirs. The decision to have an affair is a choice that person makes not because of you, but because of themselves, perhaps they didn’t have the skills to address the conflict in your relationship and choose instead to avoid it, for example. We fall into the trap of trying to guess the motivations of others and often times, they don’t even know their own motivations.
It’s Not Avoiding Conflict
On a practical level, conflict avoidance usually means an on-going tension. The issue doesn’t go away. It’s always there and left unresolved over time, resentment builds and diminishes trust and intimacy.
Forgiveness feels affirming, strengthening and comforting. There’s no lingering bitterness.
Seeing forgiveness as an act of weakness is another common misconception. In fact, it takes strength to forgive and the process of forgiveness empowers us create boundaries that help protect us in the future.
Hooks says,”An expression of love is to say what you need to say to another even if it’s difficult. It’s always an act of compassion to do that and when we don’t we are always responsible for the outcome.”
Are You Ready?
Forgiveness is one step in the healing process but it’s not the first. You do have to work through your grieving first. So when do you know if you’re ready to start this work? Hooks says, “When we get to the point of realizing we are giving a part of ourselves away energetically to something in the past, that’s usually the beginning of the realization that we need to forgive.”
From there Hooks likes to work with clients on understanding what a successful outcome would look like. That might be that the wrong-doing no longer impacts your current relationships or it no longer causes anxiety for you.
You’ll know when you’ve reached forgiveness. Hooks says it goes beyond just feeling neutral, it goes beyond no longer wanting the wrong doer dead. “If the first thought into your mind is a kind thought, is wishing them well, then you’ve forgiven them.”
Not everything here will resonate with you and that’s OK. Hooks likes to present her ideas on forgiveness as possibilities. You try each one and if one of them creates a shift in your thinking, even a small one then that’s an idea worth pursuing. If it doesn’t resonate, then try the next one. And sometimes this is a timing issue. So if none of these ideas resonate with you now, come back in few months and try them again.
“Don’t overthink it,” says Hooks. “It can sound complicated but if we get really quiet, and listen to our hearts, what we realize is it’s doable.”
Find out more about forgiveness at Emily Hook’s website and follow her on Twitter as @ForgiveAcademy.