It’s hard to talk about forgiveness without someone mentioning the oft heard phrase, “forgive and forget.” If you want to spark a debate in a hurry, ask people what that phrase means to them! In fact, I’m sure what I’m about to share with you about the myths could do just that.
So let the debate begin!
Myth #1: If you truly forgive someone, then you will never think about it again.
Fact: The key word in that sentence is “think.” Even when you truly forgive someone, you will think about what happened again. Thinking and dwelling on the horrors of the event is not such a good thing. It’s not good for you because it causes you to go backwards. Remember: living in the past isn’t a good thing. It’s not good for the other person either, because it keeps that wedge in your relationship.
As the pain of the memory fades over time, thinking about the event in a positive way becomes possible. The memory becomes a springboard that allows you to see and recognize your growth. Thinking about it in a healthy way to see how far you’ve come is a positive thing!
Myth #2: If you truly forgive someone, then you will never bring it up again.
Fact: The key words in this sentence are “never bring it up.” Bringing up the incident usually stems from either pain or needing to process. When the subject is brought up from a place of pain, typically it’s during an argument and it often comes across as anger. That just seems to magnify it, and even spread the pain to others.
It’s helpful to think of anger as what I call a “mask emotion.” Anger isn’t really about being mad. It’s about frustration. It’s about pain. It’s about fear. It’s about feeling like you don’t matter to someone. The aim of anger in this situation is about trying to get reassurance or an answer when your emotions rise to that place.
Bringing up the topic from a place of pain usually means that the person is still working through the process of forgiveness or they are seeing signals and things that are making them scared that the event to be forgiven is still happening (or is happening again). At the bottom of the pain is fear and love. I love this quote about pain and love:
“Do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked, that means pain. There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill that love so that it stops hurting. But then of course parts of us dies, too. Or we can open up another route for that love to travel.” Corrie Ten Boom
The other reason why you or someone else may bring up the topic is the need to process. Processing can actually help you go forward. Processing in this context means talking about what happened in a calm, reflective way- one without all of the anger and painful emotions fueling the conversation. Processing is positive. It puts doubts to rest. It gives clarity and insight. And it allows both parties (yes, the offender and the survivor) a chance to reflect in a positive way. I’ve seen this happen so many times when there’s been infidelity or some type of abuse way in the past. Usually, the process of forgiveness has been completed when conversations like this can happen.
Myth #3: If you truly forgive someone, then you will forget what happened.
Fact: Telling yourself to forget something doesn’t work. You have to remember what you are forgetting! Think of all of the things that you can’t remember. Usually they are things you thought you’d remember without trying (like where you put your keys), or they are things that you don’t utilize and think about every day (like the Pythagorean Theorem). So making a goal, “Forget the thing I’m forgiving” just doesn’t work. It keeps it on the forefront of your mind! You have to keep reminding yourself to forget that thing!
The positive aspect of this is that you continue to gain insights and learn from the event. If you forget about it, there’s no more to be gained. No more to learn. As you grow and change over the course of your life, you will be open to gaining new insights on a deeper level. That’s why you may think of people as being, “older and wiser.” They’ve continued to learn from the events that have happened in their lives!
Tomorrow we’re going to finish up our series this week by talking about forgiving yourself. What happens when you’re on the other end of the forgiveness process? How do you know when to stop holding yourself hostage and when it’s OK to leave purgatory?
Afterthought: A comment on the post about forgiving yourself got me thinking: maybe forgiving and forgetting is more for the person who made the mistake, than the person who was hurt. It’s so hard to forgive yourself for hurting someone you love, and yet it’s so easy to keep thinking about it and to keep beating yourself up. Forgiving and forgetting can help you to find peace.