Throughout our lives, many of us will experience hurt, harm, or broken trust as the result of someone else’s words or actions.
Sometimes the pain will be directly inflicted on us. And at other times, we will hurt as we witness the suffering or loss of a loved one who experienced the suffering.
Should we forgive and forget?
Regardless, of whether the occurrence impacted you personally or actually impacted someone you care about, many times there is a desire for revenge.
We hurt so we want the perpetrators to hurt as much as if not more than we do. The feelings of hurt and anger can overwhelm us and take over our lives, disrupting relationships and our ability to handle what used to be routine activities.
As a result, our joy, zest for living, drive to accomplish dreams, capacity to be a comfort to others are thwarted. If we are to move forward and live out our true destiny and experience favor in our lives then we need to regain control of our existence.
We need to recover a sense of normalcy and return to a positive state of mental and emotional functioning. An important part of our self-recovery as we attempt to move forward from these occurrences, hinges on a few important questions: Do we forgive? Do we forget?
Culture of forgiveness
From a spiritual, religious, and socially moral perspective, we are taught to forgive – turn the other cheek. At an early age, we learn that if someone does us harm or wrong we should not seek to return the same to them. We should not seek revenge and we should not shun them.
Instead, we should pardon them, forgive them, and move forward pushing the event out of our minds and hearts. If we seek to go after those who hurt us we are deemed vigilantes – self-appointed judge and jury to the actions and necessary punishments.
Additionally, from a purely psychological and emotional perspective, we often hear that forgiving will allow us to let go of the hurt and pain. The thought is that if we forgive then we will heal (emotionally).
As such we can avoid a downward psychological spiral that could otherwise lead to depression, acting out negatively, and loss of self-confidence, pride, and dignity.
That said it would seem that the thing to do in all instances is to forgive and forget. Let the past remain in the past, and move forward to new experiences and better times. But as complex and the human mind, psyche and emotions are, for many, forgiving and forgetting are not that simple.
What does it mean to forgive?
1. An excuse for bad behavior
To some of us, forgiving is seen as excusing bad behavior or actions? If we forgive, then we are condoning what was done and absolving the perpetrator of any guilt, responsibility or punishment.
We see forgiving as allowing those who did wrong an opportunity that they did not allow the victim of their bad acts. We see forgiving as letting them get away with no penalties or repercussions. And, if this is allowed then what incentive is there for change?
Under this definition, forgiving is too easy and is certainly not a deterrent to stop any of us from taking some action that causes harm or saying something to another that is hurtful or mean.
2. An act of compassion and leniency
To others forgiving is not about excusing the behavior. Forgiving is about showing compassion and leniency. It’s about acknowledging the wrong that was done, but finding the courage, unbelievable kindness, and tolerance to allow those who did wrong an opportunity to make a change in their lives; and, hopefully, demonstrate this by living a life that is positive and void of wrongdoing or harm and hurt.
3. A complex decision blended from experience, emotion, justice, will power and the desire to strive and not simply survive
However, while true and useful forgiveness should not excuse bad behavior. It should not focus primarily on the extent or level of punishment.
No, we should not allow others to take harmful actions or say negative words without incurring any reprimands or chastisements. But our own healing demands that we look at more than how to get them back!
Forgiveness should not be totally emotional focused, where compassion drives us to feel we must show extra kindness or put ourselves in a place that may be uncomfortable because we are trying so hard to show that we do not hold any harsh feelings against those who have done wrong.
We do not have to go back to having the same relationship as we did before with someone who hurt us in order to say we have forgiven them. We can move away from the relationship, but wish them no harm and not look for ways to cause them harm – in so doing we are still acting in forgiveness.
So, forgiveness should be those actions that we need to take to heal our own internal, emotional, and mental states. Without a doubt, we should stay away from anger and a vigilante mindset.
To forgive we must release the person and not worry about or focus on how they will pay for their bad acts. To forgive, we must acknowledge the act for what it was, but find the strength and courage within ourselves to move forward.
We don’t have to choose to be friends with, exchange kind words with, or do kind things for the perpetrators. But if we choose to do so we should not be criticized or looked at with disdain.
The important thing in forgiveness is that each of us takes the steps needed to heal and repair our hearts, minds and emotions while staying away from acts that could reverse our place and land us in the role of the perpetrator of some bad or negative behavior.
Is forgetting a requirement of forgiving?
Growing up we all heard the term, forgive and forget! Well, we quickly recognized that it is much easier said than done. But whether it is easy or not the real question is whether or not there is a requirement to forget when we forgive.
Are the two tied? Is forgiveness dependent on forgetting? If we do not forget does that mean we have not forgiven? Well, here again, it is not as simple as the definition of forgetting – failing to recall, remember, or think of.
The fact is that it is quite difficult as a human being to literally forget – wipe things out of our memory at our own choosing. There are many physical, emotional and mental occurrences that can promote forgetting, but those are not typical of our own choosing.
Therefore, from a literal perspective, no, forgetting is not tied to forgiving. We are not required to act as though the experience never happened in order to say we forgive.
As it relates to forgiving- forgetting – really focuses on letting go. This means making a conscious effort to not dwell on the event. We are allowed to remember the event or occurrence even though we are forgiving it.
Yes, a memory may come to us based on activities or things we hear, but the key is that we do not allow it to linger and take us to a place of emotional negativity. In so doing we are demonstrating forgiving and forgetting.
The bottom line
Forgiving and forgetting requires some level of examination of the situation in order to determine how to move forward. But that examination and action should be more focused on easing the pain of the recipient of the bad acts.
It should be a method for them to move forward with their lives in a positive manner rather than be a panacea or act of absolution for the perpetrator.
Acting in a forgiving manner does not have a requirement for us to return to the same level of relationship or interaction with those who carried out the harmful acts against us or our loved ones. But it is required for our own need to thrive and soar.
And forgetting doesn’t mean turning a blind eye or pretending something never happened, it just means releasing it and not allowing it to take over our minds and our emotions.
By taking these steps to remove the literal meaning and representation of the term forgive and forget we can develop tools to weather the storms of life and march forward with hope for a better tomorrow.