Throughout our lives, many of us will experience hurt, harm, or broken trust as the result of someone else’s words or actions. Should you let go and forgive and forget?
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.
Regardless of whether the occurrence impacted you personally or 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. These negative emotions can take over our lives, disrupting relationships, and our ability to handle what used to be routine activities.
As a result, we experience less joy, zest for living, drive to accomplish dreams, and capacity to be a comfort to others. 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. We should push the event out of our minds and hearts. If we seek to go after those who hurt us, they deem us vigilantes—self-appointed judge and jury to the actions and necessary punishments.
From a purely psychological and emotional perspective, we often hear that forgiving will allow us to let go of the hurt and pain. If we forgive, then we will heal (emotionally).
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. However, the human mind, psyche, and emotions are complex. For many, forgiving and forgetting is not that simple.
What does it mean to forgive?
1. An excuse for bad behavior
To some of us, we see forgiving as excusing bad behavior or actions. If we forgive, then we are condoning what was done. It might seem like we are 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 we allow this, then what incentive is there for change?
Under this definition, forgiving is too easy. It 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.
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. Forgiving means finding the courage, unbelievable kindness, and tolerance to allow those who did wrong, an opportunity to change their lives.
Hopefully, we show 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, and willpower.
However, 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 incurring no reprimands or chastisements. But our own healing demands we look at more than how to get them back!
Forgiveness should not be based solely on our emotions. Compassion drives us to feel we must show extra kindness or put ourselves in a place that may be uncomfortable. We do this because we are trying so hard to prove that we do not hold any resentment against those who have done wrong.
Forgiveness does not mean we do not have to go back to having the same relationship as we did before with someone who hurt us. We can move away from the relationship without wishing them harm.
Forgiveness benefits us
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 perpetrator’s role 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 or not it is easy, the real question is whether 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 attempting 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. We are showing forgiving and forgetting.
The bottom line
Forgiving and forgetting require some level of examination of the situation in order to determine how to move forward. But that examination and action should be focused more 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 our loved ones or us. But it is required for our own need to thrive and soar.
Now, 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.