Mental Health Monday, writing, Yoga

Forgive, But Don’t Forget

Whoops. Controversial statement over here. There’s a reason for it, I swear. Let’s think. How often have you heard the term forgive and forget? How many times have you yourself thought it? How many times have you tried to forgive and forget? How many of those times were successful? We are instructed by habits and age-old advice to forgive and forget but the problem is those two things are very contradictory to each other.

Before I dive in I’ll say this. When I say don’t forget I don’t mean dwell. I mean that if I dog growled at you and you kept poking it then it bit you, don’t forget that when a dog growls you need to back off. Keep the theme in your head, not the whole dialogue of the story.

Let’s break down what it means to forgive.

It may come as a shock, but you aren’t pardoning someone. You aren’t canceling out what they did. No. According to Merriam-Webster to forgive means “to cease to feel resentment against (an offender)“. Go ahead and check out the link there if you don’t believe me. I know when I first realized that it really was me centered, I about lost it.

Forgiveness is about you.

It’s about moving past whatever happened. It’s about working through whatever trauma, turmoil, or turbulence arose from the incident or person that needs forgiving. Saying that we forgive someone puts the emphasis on the someone when really, the ball is on our court and forgiveness is about us. I don’t care what anyone else says, to forgive someone for any other purpose than releasing your own upset isn’t forgiveness. It’s a lie. It’s trying to force ourselves through an emotional state we aren’t finished with yet.

Forgiveness isn’t about fixing the situation. It’s not about erasing damage. It’s not about pretending you’re okay. I will continue to say this. Forgiveness is about not being angry. Not being upset. Finally being okay again.

And that’s a benefit to us.

We, as a group, shouldn’t be begging for forgiveness from people to find redemption. When someone forgives you, we shouldn’t be feeling relief for ourselves like we haven’t done something. Because we did. We should feel relief for the person we hurt because forgiveness means they are no longer hurting or angry from our mistake. Right? To be all right with whatever occurred, we need to forgive ourselves and that takes a lot of work.

A lot.

So that’s forgiveness in a nutshell. Before we move forward, it’s important that we continue to remember that forgiveness by definition and by practice is for our own personal benefit. Keep that at the front of your mind.

photo of a woman sitting on the ground covered with dried leaves
Photo by Min An on

Now, what about forgetting? How does that benefit us, the victim of whatever has happened? Whether it is cheating, abuse, a small lie, a nasty phrase, or something else, how does forgetting that help us, the hurt party? Does it even help us?

Well let’s think critically about this. If we do successfully push an event out of our minds, it’ll certainly help us from dwelling on and reliving it. We won’t have to deal with it on a daily basis. We won’t have to continue to remember what hurt us. Great! In theory, and in theory only.

If we do this before we work through forgiveness, all we are doing is causing further grief to ourselves. We are missing an opportunity to learn about life and ourselves. As well, we aren’t being truthful to ourselves. If we are hurt enough to have to work through forgiveness, there’s something we need to remember. It could be a simple thing to figure out or it could be complex but there’s something there.

The second thing about forgetting is this:

It benefits whoever hurt you.

That sure is cynical, I know. But if someone screamed profanities at you and threatened your life, what good is forgetting that doing you? If anything it’s putting you in a significantly more dangerous position. That person was able to do that to you. They were able to hurt you. Forgetting that only lets them off the hook. If you tell them it’s water under a bridge, it’s not emphasizing to them how much they hurt you. Not that this will change behaviors and not that it’s your job to fix a bad situation, but communication is important.

Letting someone off the hook does nothing for you if you were hurt. And that’s a rough opinion to work with. If you aren’t hurt, trying to get someone to understand it means nothing is important to you because you don’t want them feeling bad for something that didn’t upset you. But when you are hurt, trying to let someone off the hook is (to me) a way to avoid validating what you are feeling.

If I let this person off the hook, then I’m not really hurt. I don’t really feel this bad. It’s just in my head, see? I’m telling them it’s no big deal and I already forgot about it.

This is in part why problems that “weren’t problems three months ago” suddenly become problems. They never went away in the first place.

So forgiving and forgetting aren’t compatible then. We cannot simultaneously work through something while completely pushing it out of our minds. That means that you have to pick one and that you probably do without realizing it. And it’s probably forgetting.

Forgetting seems easier. It seems healthier. Let it go! Forget about it! It’s no big deal! It gives off the impression that you’ve already moved beyond and an incident and have accepted it as it is. It’s not being truthful to your journey and it in fact holds you back. Ever have something you try, and try, and try to forget but it keeps popping into your head? It’s because you need to address it.

Addressing an issue is hard. It is not easy. It is not pain-free. It’s really, really hard to take something that hurt you, look it dead in the eyes, and say “I’m going to get over this. I am” because you’re telling yourself two things. One: It really hurt you and you are damaged from it. Two: You are stronger than the thing that hurt you. And that’s hard to believe.

When you’ve been hurt, it feels like a lie to say that you’re stronger than that pain that you are currently feeling. At that moment, you might not be. But by working through forgiveness, you will be.

So you can’t forgive and forget. But that’s okay isn’t it? You can learn from your mistakes. You can learn from others. You can learn! And with forgiveness, you can get stronger. So it is okay to forgive but not forget. Right?


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