My blogger friend, Marilyn Armstrong at Serendipity, wrote a post yesterday about forgiveness. Actually, it was about so much more than forgiveness. It was also about religion, God, abuse, domestic violence, shame, and pride. And, as she usually does, she wrote a well-crafted, provocative post that is worth reading.
Marilyn’s post reminded me of something I wrote back in June 2017 about the notion of “forgive and forget.” And since my blog was relatively new at the time, most of you probably did not read it. So I thought I’d repost my thoughts on forgiveness. It’s not nearly as good as Marilyn’s post, though.
Anyway, here you go.
Someone you know — maybe someone you love — has “done you wrong.” You’re upset, angry, and hurt. What do you do? Some of your closest friends and confidants might tell you that you’re better off without that person.
Others, though, may advise you to “forgive and forget.” I cringe when I hear someone offer that advice. It’s seriously cringeworthy nonsense.
You’ve been betrayed. A trust has been broken. Is it even possible to forgive and forget?
I don’t think so. Not both.
The unfortunate truth is that you can’t change the past. Once words have been spoken, they can’t be unspoken. Once deeds have been done, they can’t be undone. All you can do is live in the present and strive for a better future. While it may be difficult, frustrating, and even painful, it’s for your own benefit to be forgiving.
Everyone make mistakes. I know I have. I’m sure you have, too. I can say that with certainty because none of us is perfect. To err is human, right? And according to Alexander Pope, to forgive is “divine.” Yet even if you understand that intellectually, to forgive is also hard as hell.
And then there’s forgetting. Forgetting is not only pretty close to impossible without undergoing a frontal lobotomy, it’s probably not even a very wise thing to do.
How can you be expected to forget one of the most painful experiences of your life? Wouldn’t that be counterproductive? If you forget something that has caused you great pain, how can you learn from that experience? How can you grow?
You may want to forget, but you can’t. It’s really hard to not be resentful, to not dwell on the betrayal, to not replay in your mind what happened and re-experience all of the negative feelings it evoked. But if that is what you do, then you haven’t really forgotten, even though you may have convinced yourself that you have.
I’m not a psychologist and I don’t play one on TV. That said, my advice, for what it’s worth, is to accept the fact that you won’t ever be able to forget the pain and the hurt. But if you wish to salvage your relationship, you need to find a way to deal with it, and that means genuinely forgiving the person who hurt you.
As painful as it was, you really do need to let it go. And if you can’t do that, you need to walk away and not look back.
And that’s what is so hard about “forgive and forget.” That’s why I cringe whenever I hear that phrase. The former is hard to do; the latter is impossible to do. As Thomas Szasz noted, a wise person won’t try to do both.
And now I ask you to forgive me for writing such a cringeworthy post. Actually, just forget I even wrote and posted it.