Forgive, But its Not Healthy to Forget
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Forgive, But its Not Healthy to Forget

Forgive, But its Not Healthy to Forget

Is it realistic to forgive and forget? I don’t believe so. In fact, I don’t even think it’s healthy. I know that sounds harsh, but stay with me…

As you read this, I want you to be mindful these concepts can apply to forgiving and forgetting your own actions, as well as from others.

Let me start by clarifying that I do believe forgiving is realistic and healthy. My two favorite definitions of forgiving are:

  1. Accepting that the past can’t be any different than it is. In other words, acknowledging what happened can’t change.
  2. Letting the boot off of somebody’s neck. Taking back the energy you have been putting into resentment, anger, and possibly punishment and channeling that energy back into something healthier for yourself. Let this individual stand up and try again. You get to choose if they try again with or without you in their life and with what boundaries, but you no longer feel obligated to hold them down.

Forgiving yourself or others requires compassion and empathy. It doesn’t mean that you are justifying, agreeing with, or saying that their negative behavior wasn’t hurtful. It means you can imagine there are factors that person was struggling with (sometimes beyond our awareness) that must have contributed to the poor decisions.

For an example, you are disappointed in how you spoke to your spouse during last night's argument. You can have some compassion and empathy for yourself by acknowledging that you have been under a lot of stress, maybe healthy conflict skills were not modeled well for you, or maybe something they said or did triggered past trauma for you and you became defensive. 

None of these reasons excuse your behavior, they don’t change the fact that your spouse was hurt by your words, but they help make sense of the behavior. Endlessly punishing yourself will lead to nothing good, but taking time to understand the behavior and making the choice to seek the help and resources you need to do better allows you an opportunity to do better. 

If the roles were reversed, you might have a hard time seeing the factors that contributed to the negative behavior. In these times, I suggest taking a curious approach. Commit to taking time to understand or consider the possibilities of what might be happening beyond the surface.

An important skill to learn is to take nothing personal. I’m not suggesting you be a doormat.  You have a responsibility to clearly and respectfully communicate your feelings and uphold healthy boundaries. We will discuss that in the next section, but even if you have to let someone go, you can find peace with forgiveness while accepting they are battling something within themselves.  

What I don’t believe in, is forgetting. I don’t believe that it is even possible. Trying to forget, in my humble opinion, is unhealthy because it deprives us of the opportunity to learn and do better.

What if the mistakes we have made, the hurt we experience, and traumas we have suffered ultimately could serve a positive purpose in our life. It can be hard to imagine in the moment, we are in the midst of a crisis or overwhelmed with embarrassment or shame. But with time and healing, these experiences can help us grow.

Let’s consider the examples above.

If you choose to forget the harsh words you used with your spouse, how do you learn from that experience to do better? It’s important to first acknowledge and apologize for your wrong doing. Then you must put the work into understanding what got you to that point in order to attempt to prevent it from happening again.  

It is wise to share this journey of healing and gaining insight with your partner to help gain trust that you are committed to protecting their feelings in the future. 

So, if you do the work and you are genuinely practicing better communication, why should you not forget? Because, if months or years down the road, you have a setback and repeat the negative behavior, you can continue to use the past experience as a frame of reference.  

How was the current experience similar to the last experience? What do you need to do to resolve that issue for yourself? These are good questions to reflect on to get yourself back on track.  

Why not forget someone else’s negative behavior once they genuinely seem remorseful and trying to do better? Well, there are a few reasons based on the circumstances, including:

  1. There might be things for you to learn from your own behavior in the situation. Not that you caused or deserved to be treated disrespectfully for any reason, but is there something you are unintentionally saying or doing that is triggering the other person? How can you support the person in their own journey? Please keep in mind, their negative behavior is not yours to fix. Supporting someone implies they are doing their own work, as well.  
  2. Recognizing patterns. In time, if someone demonstrates repeated negative behavior (despite remorse), this may be an unhealthy situation that requires different boundaries.
  3. Sometimes, going through these challenging times helps us have a new perspective on life, our needs, our expectations, etc.  

The examples I’ve shared refer to a relationship conflict, but they can certainly be used in a variety of situations. These concepts require us to set aside our pride, be willing to be vulnerable, while also using our wisdom to know when to stay and when to leave.


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