Forgive and Forget Redux

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.


forgive and forgetSomeone 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.

27 thoughts on “Forgive and Forget Redux

  1. James Pyles August 17, 2018 / 7:21 am

    This sort of conversation comes up a lot in Christian circles. Christians, by definition, believe their sins are forgiven by God and we are also commanded to forgive others. In fact, “the Lord’s Prayer” suggests that we can’t be forgiven if we don’t forgive others, and in Judaism, before Yom Kippur, a person must ask for forgiveness from any person they’ve offended or injured before they can ask forgiveness from God.

    However, forgiveness means neither forgetting or reconciliation. A friend of mine is a Christian woman who has survived domestic abuse. There’s some question in the various flavors of Christianity about when/if you can get divorced. My view is that there’s nothing in our faith that says we must continue to suffer at the hands of an abuser just because they are our spouse. She did, fortunately, divorce this fellow many years ago, and while she has forgiven him, he is still a dangerous person and reconciliation is not in her best interests. Obviously, she hasn’t forgotten, either.

    Of course, depending on the circumstances and the people involved, it is possible to forgive and reconcile. In fact, I don’t think long-term human relationships would be possible without that ability. It’s not always easy, and there’s usually a period of hurt and anger that has to be managed first. Sadly, some people choose to remain hurt and angry, but fortunately, we can also choose to move on.

    I’ve read some recent news stories about another round of scandals involving Catholic Priests sexually abusing children, and the church covering it up, as well as a six-year-old African-American boy being turned away from his first day at a private Christian school for violating the dress code by having dreadlocks. One of my Facebook friends who swings left and really hates Christians for some reason, had a field day with the latter, but just because some religious people choose to behave badly, doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with God or His standards. It just means that Christians ar people and can choose to go haywire just like anyone else.

    Do we forgive these Christians? Sometimes I have a hard time with that, and there are times I choose to walk away from a hurtful situation or painful news and let God deal with it. Forgiveness, like repentance, is a process, sometimes a very long one.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fandango August 17, 2018 / 7:59 am

      Marilyn, in her post, and you, in your comment, make references to God and religion and their roles in forgiveness. As an atheist, I am, without the “benefit” of believing in a supernatural deity or being under the influence of any religion, can embrace the concept of forgiveness. So I suppose, contrary to what I’ve been told, atheists do have compassion and a moral compass! 🤔 And I agree with you that forgiveness is a process that can take a very long time. Now what is this thing you call “repentance”?

      Liked by 2 people

      • James Pyles August 17, 2018 / 8:22 am

        A conversation about either a societal driven or internally driven sense of morality vs. morality driven by a Higher Power would exceed the scope of these comments, so I’ll refrain. Might be a topic for another blog post, and probably a very interesting conversation.

        I can’t tell if your question about repentance is serious or not, but just in case it is, assume that I can be fallible and make mistakes, either hurting another human being or otherwise disobeying the will of God (I know you are an atheist, but let me roll with this for a minute).

        Like forgiveness, repentance isn’t just saying “I’m sorry” and then moving on (although I know more than a few Christians who do just that). In Judaism, it’s called Teshuvah (I’m a very unusual Christian in that I “resonate” more with Jewish theological thought), and it generally involves four steps:

        1. Regret. To regret what we have done wrong.
        2. Leaving the negativity behind. To stop dwelling on the transgression in thought and action.
        3. Verbalization. To verbally state the transgression
        4. Resolution for the future. To be determined not to let the transgression happen again.

        Unlike Catholism, Judaism has no “priest” (well, they do, but only when there’s a Holy Temple in Jerusalem, but that’s another story), so step three is verbalization to yourself, to God, and if anyone else is involved, to that person. These are all supposed to be permanent steps. If you go back to whatever bad behavior you’ve repented of, then it’s not really repentance, it’s just lip service.

        However, it doesn’t mean you aren’t sincere if you “backslide”. For instance, for recovering alcoholics and drug abusers, part of recovery can involve backsliding. It’s not always easy to change something about ourselves, even if we know we don’t want it (and we’ve discussed the problems with change before).

        Judaism isn’t an “all or nothing” religion. According to Orthodox Judaism, the Torah or five books of Moses (plus Talmudic commentary) contain 613 distinct commandments. Not all of them apply to every Jew, and not all of them can be obeyed without a Temple, Levitical Priesthood, and Sanhedrin court system, but still, that’s a lot of commandments.

        If a secular Jew, for example, wanted to become more observant, the traditional suggestion from a Rabbi would be to start with one commandment, say observing Shabbos (Shabbat or the Sabbath, which in Judaism begins a few minutes before sundown on Friday and ends a few minutes after sundown on Saturday, and I’m oversimplifying the explanation).

        Once that Jew “mastered” observing this mitzvah (commandment, good deed), then he or she would select another, master it, and so on.

        In Judaism (and Christianity), it’s not a matter of being perfect, but in engaging in a process of constant improvement. Like any other human endeavor, it’s not a linear process, sort of like losing weight or working out at the gym. It can be one step forward and two steps back sometimes. However, the only real crime would be in giving up. We all stumble and fall in our human journey, but as long as we get back up and keep going, then we always have the opportunity to become a better person.

        I get a daily quote in a newsletter from a Jewish education website, usually something from one of the books of Rabbi Zelig Pliskin. Interestingly enough, an atheist, liberal friend of mine loves when I post them on Facebook. She’s suffering from an acquired brain injury and I think she finds them comforting. Here’s one of them.

        An honor-seeker is not really interested in self-improvement. He is only interested in gaining approval from others. Hence, he will disregard his faults as long as others will not notice it.

        On the other hand, a person who is able to forego honor is able to focus on truth. His only thought is to do the right thing, and he is willing to sacrifice his honor for his principles. Such a person will eventually receive honor, for he will constantly work on improving himself.

        I’m not as good as any of Rabbi Pliskin’s quotes, but they provide me with inspiration as well.

        Repentance is the process of turning away from our bad behavior and becoming a better human being in the eyes of God and man. Obviously, I’ve got a long way to go.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Fandango August 17, 2018 / 9:01 am

          Actually, in my question about repentance, I was being facetious. But I do appreciate your earnest respons, which I found quite interesting, so I thank you for that. And, for what it’s worth, based upon the description of an honor-seeker, I can say that our current president is someone I’d describe as an unrepented honor-seeker. (See how everything with me seems to link back to politics?)

          Liked by 1 person

          • James Pyles August 17, 2018 / 9:08 am

            Only if you let it and yes, I figured you’d see it that way. To be fair, I think there are far too few people seeking self-improvement over honor in politics on both sides of the aisle.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Fandango August 17, 2018 / 9:22 am

              Yes, I agree. Most politicians are honor-seekers, but some have more scruples than others.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Mws R August 17, 2018 / 7:49 am

    I loved this thinking post! It makes a person think.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. atticsister August 17, 2018 / 8:09 am

    To me forgetting involves rebuilding the trust that was broken and that can be the most difficult thing. Trust is earned and built over time. We do not just inherently trust everyone we meet, it takes time to learn to trust. So for me, forgiving is easy, forgetting not so much, rebuilding trust? even more difficult maybe even impossible.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fandango August 17, 2018 / 8:50 am

      Good point. Once a trust has been broken, it is extremely hard to rebuild it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. paeansunplugged August 17, 2018 / 8:54 am

    Forgiving, with passage of time, is possible. Forgetting, nah! Maybe, when you are struck by dementia.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. newepicauthor August 17, 2018 / 9:23 am

    You should write a post about being humble, because I loved the way you said, “It’s not nearly as good as Marilyn’s post, though.”

    Liked by 2 people

  6. pensitivity101 August 17, 2018 / 10:23 am

    Posted not once, but twice Fandango, and a good post too!
    Forgive and forget. I may forgive, but I never forget. I may ‘let go’ the hurt, but I will never forget who did the hurting.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Marleen August 17, 2018 / 11:05 am

    Amen, Brother… that is on the post, not on forgiving you for a great post.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Melanie B Cee August 17, 2018 / 12:41 pm

    Well one won’t forget your wise words in any case, whatever you might think of them. I’ll have to go over and sort Marilyn’s blog posts out to find what you’re referencing..links are cool…just sayin. 😉 This whole forgive and forget thing is complex. IMHO one never ever forgets, but if one can manage to forgive? Ah. That’s lovely. It frees one. Someone wrote or said to me some time in the past: “Holding a grudge is letting the perpetrator be in your head or life. You may not physically ever see them again, but there they are, taking up YOUR space.” (it’s paraphrased and I wish I could recall the exact quote). After I read that, I mentally forgave someone whom I’ve despised for years and years. Ironically I ran into that person again, and they were still a nasty asshole, so forgetting about their character? Ain’t gonna happen. But I don’t feel any malice towards them any more. They got their eviction notice and I got closure. It’s great!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Sight11 August 17, 2018 / 7:44 pm

    I remember my fight with Marilyn, hey that means I didn’t forget. Huh! She wouldn’t even remember it, and here I’m that remember it like it was yesterday. I believe, my apologies for taking your space Sensei, is that people those who initiate the ‘hurt’ process are infact, not aware of the damage that they incur on those who they hurt. And their lies the problem, first you become exposed, unnecessarily, unwillingly, to that kind of hate/abuse. Next it is downright expected for you to forget it, and forgive the person in question. H***hit, if you ask me. But it’s my opinion.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fandango August 17, 2018 / 8:23 pm

      I only have the a vague recollection that you and Marilyn had an issue. In fact, until you brought it up, I forgot about it, and I don’t even remember what it was about. But that’s probably because I wasn’t directly involved.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Marilyn Armstrong August 17, 2018 / 9:01 pm

    Letting it go isn’t the same as remaking a friendship. Sometimes you can rebuild a friendship, but sometimes, you can’t. Some things — you can let them go, let go of the anger and the rage — but you don’t want to hang out. You don’t want the friendship anymore. It happens. Kind of like divorce, without the paperwork.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. leigha66 August 19, 2018 / 11:08 pm

    “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana … we can forgive but if we forget it can all happen again.

    Liked by 2 people

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