Is it really forgive and forget?
Growing up, some well meaning older ladies in town would stress a few points about human relationships. While these pieces of sage advice sounded comical, one stood out as controversial.
The conversational advice went along these lines… (highly paraphrased)
Men have to learn to forgive and forget. Or else their hearts will break from stress. Women forgive too much and should never forget. That way they’re not left hurt by any man over and over.
These points didn’t sit well with a lot of the church going youth of that era. If we’re being taught to forgive and forget, then why are grown-ups talking about selective memory?
The Role of forgiveness
When a person forgives… according to Google… they stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flow, or mistake.
From a biological position, it’s important to forgive. All those stress hormones flowing because one remains angry or resentful is really bad news for the cardiovascular system of a person.
Those who can’t forgive can eventually calm down… if the object of their anger/resentment is not in regular close proximity to them… serving as an anger trigger.
But… when dealing with friends, family, and lovers… it’s more complicated. Just the sight of them refreshes the memory of the offense that triggered the anger/resentment in the first place.
So, in love, not forgiving means allowing the negativity to roll around our hearts. We all heard what happens to growing resentment, it will eventually destroy love.
When we forgive, we pardon, excuse, exonerate, and/or absolve the person who offended us. Then, from the position of forgiveness, we can move forward with life free of the burden of resentment and anger. Some even go far as reconciling and restoring the relationship/friendship ties.
We don’t have to wait until someone asks for forgiveness to afford them forgiveness. It helps, but is not necessary that they ask. It is easier when they ask and put in the effort to get our forgiveness… but too many people wait for an ask that never materializes.
The role of forgetting
Thanks to search engines, people are finding it harder and harder to have their past forgotten. Ask the person who couldn’t land their dream job because the employer did a search and found out about that party twenty years ago when the cops were called.
In love, it’s important to be able to forget. Ok, no one wants to forget the good memories. However, humans have an ability to let memories fade. It helps in so many ways.
How does this ability relates to love? Imagine being done wrong by your lover and not being able to let that go for a life time?
Quite frankly, not forgetting fuels the risk of resentment. People who can’t forget will often remind their significant other of the ‘crimes’ committed.
Nothing derails a debate like a reminder of what happened in 1988 as proof of current sins. People get very angry when their past is constantly brought back to the present. Especially when reparations was done to restore the relationship.
In time, this wears a person down and they prefer to leave than to stay.
Part of the mechanism that allows resentment to bloom is the ability to recall detailed precision of the wrong that was done. The image plays over and over… especially when the need to recall the past hurt comes up.
In full disclosure, this blog is not asking you to forget wisdom and be in denial of past hurts. A person who was cheated on or abused does not need to have amnesia about their hurt. It would be foolish to ignore mounting evidence of patterns of hurt/abuse.
What this blog is saying… when forgiving someone… as time passes, let the memory of that past hurt fade gradually away.
People who have been friends with each other for many decades often put it the following way:
“Sure, you may remember what happened 50 years ago, but you don’t put the same value and weight on the significance of the memory… once you’ve forgiven them”. “If you can’t let go of the past hurt feelings, you can’t move forward in creating new wonderful memories”. “At some point, you’ve got to understand that the incident is in the past. Stay in the moment”.
Turn off the fuel for anger and resentment by placing the memory of the hurt in it’s proper context.
If you stole my pen in fifth grade and I said I forgave you… I shouldn’t be quick to remember the pen anytime you ask for a pen… or anytime I’m upset with you about something else. I will, however, remember that pen if… every pen I give you, you don’t give back. Then, I’ve learned you’re not sorry and you will continue to take my pen. I just won’t give you any pens. And you’ll understand that well before we leave 5th grade. It won’t be an issue in modern adulthood either.
When we forgive and we forget, we are free emotionally from the weight of the initial hurt. Forgetting gives power to forgiveness.
Maybe a better word needs to be invented for this, as we’ve not wiped away the memory. We’ve just made a decision to no longer hold that memory as top priority.
It gives a new slate. A new chance. A new beginning. It also gives the safeguard of retrospection. We can still pull back the memory without the loading up of negative feelings. We can evaluate historical data more objectively if we need to.
When we mix forgiving and forgetting, we open ourselves up to more going forward. It is not easy. It is not the preferred practice today, as many will seek to destroy a person who they feel has wronged them. Just look at how people are treated online to see examples of not forgetting and not forgiving.
While love is touted as conquering all, it can’t thrive in a hostile angry situation. Love needs cooler heads to prevail. A relationship will eventually tear itself apart if past hurts keep resurfacing and garnishing capital level punishment each time.
No one wants to be punished very hard. Fewer still want to be punished repeatedly for the same offense perpetrated one time. In order to keep nurturing romance, a degree of healthy forgetting while forgiving is necessary.
If you’re thinking about past hurts someone done to you as you’re reading this, don’t shove these feelings back down or into a vault. Act on them and ask yourself if you’re able to get past those feelings.
If the answer is yes, then… forgive the person who has hurt you and start the journey of forgetting the past hurt. This is especially true if the offender has changed their ways and is no longer or has not hurt you since the initial offense.
If the answer is no… then figure what path your journey needs to take to get to the point of forgiving and eventually forgetting. Your heart and health will thank you.
This blog understands that it is very hard to approach an offender and have a conversation about forgiving them. Most would prefer to be approached. That makes sense and is understood. However, we can’t control how others will act. So, do what you can within the area you control, yourself, and make the best moves you feel you must do.
Yes, this blog is aware that there are some people one can successfully forgive and forget past offenses without keeping any relationships with such a person. That’s fine. Wisdom often requires that we keep a healthy distance from certain offenders as an insurance policy against future pain.
When those situations come up, understand this… we can forgive and forget and live without such an offender. We can be civil, polite, even recommend positive things for them without having to be friends. The words “cordial” and “respectful” and “civil” comes to mind to describe this phenomenon. We can also be civil and respectfully not engage such persons as well.
To conclude this Motivation Monday post on Relationship Monday, the ability to forgive and forget is a skill as much as a gift. Cultivate the skill so you, your love, and those you care about, can benefit of the gift.
P.S: this also applies to forgiving oneself (see the post written on another blog…). It’s just as important to forgive yourself as it is to forgive others. If one can’t let go for oneself… how realistic is it to expect to forgive and let go for others?