Forgive and Forget?
by Teresia Smith
Many times when we seek advice from someone about dealing with the wounds in our life, we are given well-meaning but often misdirected advice: forgive and forget. We hear that term, forgive and forget, often but how can we just forget things? I am sure many wish there was a delete button for our brains like on a keyboard. But there’s not. Many people experience great hurt in their life and eventually they realize that the key to moving forward is through forgiveness but the concept is confusing and difficult to grasp.
Does forgiveness mean I don’t hold that person accountable for the pain they caused? Does forgiveness mean we act like it never happened and they are free to do it again? Does forgiveness mean that it didn’t really hurt me or maybe what they did wasn’t as bad as I feel? No, no, and no. Forgiveness means we release our desire to seek revenge and we stop trying to force that person to pay for what they did. Holding onto anger will never hold that person accountable for their actions.
Your anger will never make them sorry for what they did to you. Your anger will never make them pay for their wrongdoings. However, your anger can damage you. It can consume your life, causing you to spend all of your energy and time focusing on the person who hurt you rather than focusing on your recovery. You deserve more. While we cannot truly forget the wounds of our past, we can choose not to act on them. We can choose to not allow the bad memories to continue to control our lives.
In that sense, we can forgive and forget. What we are really doing is making a conscious choice to not allow the past to absorb us and impede our future. We release the anger and pain, realizing we cannot flourish if we are constantly seeking vengeance. Until we allow ourselves to forgive, we are basically paralyzed and cutting off the potential of our future.
Will you still remember the wounds from the past? Absolutely you will. However, you can choose to not act on those feelings and not to make current choices based on past feelings. You can choose to release the resentment, bitterness, and shame that have festered inside of you. Past trauma may color your present, but it does not have to control it. When you reach a point where the memories don’t hold power over you anymore, they will not affect your actions or emotions and they will not surface as frequently. At that point, that is as close to forgetting as you may come and your worst experiences have a chance to become your greatest victories.
Forgiveness actually has nothing to do with the person who abused you. It has everything to do with healing yourself. You never have to cross paths with your abuser ever again. You do not have to confront them or try to make them apologize. Releasing your anger and hurt only means you are choosing to focus on you. You are choosing to spend your time, strength and mental energy on yourself. You are no longer allowing your abuser to hold your mind, emotions and life as hostage. You acknowledge that you are more important and you deserve to heal and be happy again.
To forgive or not is highly personal and individual. There is no wrong way or right way. There is no one-size-fits-all. Not everyone wishes to walk down the forgiveness pathway and that is okay. Clients are fully supported in coming to terms with what makes sense in their lives. Making peace with yourself, finding a way to live with your trauma and creating the type of life you desire in the future is worth focusing on. Perhaps this is the most important thing to take away: focus on your healing first. You deserve more.
If you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault or domestic violence and you are struggling with memories, emotions, and trying to move forward and rebuild your life, advocates at Crisis Services of North Alabama are here to help. You may contact us at 256.574.5826 or our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000. You are not alone.