Unhooked: Demystifying Forgiveness

Forgiveness can be challenging topic, especially in context of sexual violation. I was recently reminded of how hard forgiving can be…

My ex-husband emailed me, and I was immediately hooked: My emotions ramped up, and my fight/flight/freeze responses kicked in. This is what it means to get hooked:  You’re living your life and suddenly someone from your past sabotages you, and you’re yanked back into the past – into the fear, the pain, the helplessness.

It’s difficult to be present when you’re hooked: past thoughts and feelings take up room in our mind and heart. But nobody teaches us how to get unhooked.

The best way I know to get unhooked is through forgiveness: it sweeps away the cobwebs of the past and clears space for the present.  But the journey to get unhooked – to truly separate from one’s perpetrator – is challenging.  Even the word “forgive” is loaded: There are many definitions, and most of them don’t reflect the idea of unhooking from your past.

Four powerful myths surround forgiveness:

Myth #1: I have to forgive.
Fact: We didn’t choose what happened to us, but we can choose whether we forgive.

Myth #2: Forgiving is a one-time deal, a destination.
Fact: Forgiveness is a messy, ongoing process.

Myth #3: To forgive, we must be reconciled with our perpetrator.
Fact: Forgiveness doesn’t mean we have to like, or have a relationship with, those who hurt us.

Myth #4: Forgiving lets our perpetrators off the hook.
Fact: Forgiveness doesn’t free our perpetrators from accountability. It frees us to hold them accountable – not from a place of vengeance, but from a place of empowered love. We forgive to free ourselves; we hold them accountable so they can free themselves.

So: How do we forgive?  I’ll share a four-step process that I use with clients. This process doesn’t replace grieving or healing; it’s not a weapon or a crutch. It’s a tool to use when you’re ready – or never, if you’re not.

  1. “I forgive ____ for ____.”

Here it’s important to be specific: Act as a witness for yourself. We must acknowledge the reality of the past in order to let go of it.

For example: “I forgive myself for staying in an unhealthy relationship for 21 years. I forgive my ex for continually sending me hurtful text messages.

  1. “I let go of ____.”

For example: “I let go of giving my power to him, of him robbing me of my happiness, of my fear of retribution, of my connection to him.”

  1. “I declare over myself ____.”

For example: “I declare that I am free and empowered to choose my own life.”

  1. “I bless ____ with ____. I bless myself with ____.”

For example: “I bless my ex with peace. I bless myself with joy and an empowered life.”

When we practice forgiving, it’s important to start small: Start with the person who cut you off on the freeway, or the waiter who got your order wrong. Practice until you can really mean it. Only then can you start to forgive your perpetrators.

Forgiveness is your choice. As Maya Angelou says “It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself – to forgive. Forgive everybody.”

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