At some time or another we have all heard the expression “forgive and forget”. I would hazard a guess that I am not the only one who, when hearing this, thinks, “Ha, well, that’s easier said than done!”
This is particularly true if we have been the recipients of actions or behaviours at the hands of others that have deeply wounded our spirits.
So what does it really mean to “forgive and forget” anyway?
Surely we are not expected to just simply say, for instance, after we’ve been profoundly hurt by someone we love, “Oh, that’s ok! No biggy. Let’s just forget about it.” For some, that is exactly how they choose to deal, or rather to not deal, with their pain. They internalize it, at times even believing that they have actually let it go and are moving on with their lives when in actual fact they are unwittingly harbouring a heavy burden in their hearts that slowly eats away at their souls.
Sometimes, we begin to make excuses or even justify others people’s hurtful behaviour in our minds. Or worse, we take responsibility for someone’s else’s actions, causing ourselves so much needless suffering.
Our sense of self-worth is tremendously affected by turning the other cheek, thus allowing people the opportunity to slap us over and over again. Before we know it we can become proverbial punching bags for people to take advantage of — because we are so “forgiving”. That is not true forgiveness, that is denial.
So what is forgiveness? First and foremost, we must recognize that we can never experience true happiness without learning to let go of our past hurts. Forgiveness is one of the key elements in developing and cultivating a sense of inner peace and well-being. It is one of the most profound gifts we can give ourselves in order to heal our past and to truly be able to enjoy our present whilst moving towards a brighter future. It is one of the truest acts of self-love there is.
So how is forgiving someone else’s hurtful behaviour an act self-love, you might ask? Well, let’s look at some of the assumptions that we tend to make about what it means to forgive.
1. We think that by forgiving someone it somehow means we are condoning their behaviour.
2. We think forgiveness means that we have to let this person(s) back into our lives.
3. We think that by harbouring our feelings of hatred, anger and resentment that we are somehow punishing the person who hurt us, giving us a false sense of control, power and strength.
4. We feel that if we forgive we might get hurt again.
So now let’s go through each one in more detail…
1. Forgiveness in no way condones another’s behaviour. It doesn’t mean that what happened is okay; it just means that we consciously are no longer allowing it to affect and impact our lives in a negative way. It is quite simply a release of the toxic emotion which, if left trapped in our hearts to fester, will end up consuming our entire lives. What purpose does it serve us to waste so much energy on something that has already happened and we no longer have control over? After all, what is done is done. The only control we do have over our past is to choose to love ourselves enough to release ourselves from it.
2. Forgiveness does not mean we have to bring the person who hurt us back into our lives. In fact, we don’t even need to tell them that we have forgiven them in order to reap the benefits. Forgiveness is not about that other person, it is about us. It’s about freeing ourselves of the painful burdens of our pasts and giving ourselves the wonderful opportunity to experience true happiness in the now. That, of course, does not necessarily mean that in certain circumstances amends cannot be made in where people return into each others lives and start anew, so to speak.
3. Hanging on to our hatred, anger and resentment does not give us control, power and strength. It actually depletes our energy and our zest for life, and it brews so much negativity that it drastically hinders our ability to fully and completely experience the joy in our lives. In some cases, harbouring such emotional toxicity can ultimately manifest itself as illness or even disease. We make the assumption that staying angry at the person(s) who has hurt us somehow punishes “them”, when quite often they have no idea how angry or hurt we actually are. They aren’t the ones living day to day with the intensity of this anger and pain…we are. As long as we deny ourselves the gift of forgiveness we are creating our own suffering. And the person(s) we assume our anger is punishing most is most likely going on with their own lives without even being aware of it. So who do we think is actually being punished?
4. It is natural to feel that if we “forgive and forget” we might get hurt again. One of the most difficult challenges I personally struggle with is to love like I’ve never been hurt. However, I am very much aware that forgiveness does not open the door to being hurt again; it opens our hearts to be able to “love” again. It’s the “forgetting” part that can potentially lead us to future heartache.
There is also a gift in remembering our hurts — not to hang on to the pain associated with these hurts of course, but rather to learn the profound personal lessons from each of them. It is important to grow from our experiences and to recognize certain familiar warning signs, if and when they happen to crop up again. This enables us to be more in tune with our intuition. Where we do have control, power and strength is in choosing to listen to our intuition, placing ourselves in a much better position to be able to make better choices, establish healthier boundaries and ultimately live a happier and more fulfilling life.
Sometimes we may feel our pain is far too great to be able to find forgiveness in our hearts. Hanging on to traumatic events after they have long since past is no longer the doing of the original offenders. Without the gift of forgiveness, the pain that we are still currently hanging on to is of our own doing. It is our memory of the events that have hurt us and the entire story we have weaved around them over months or even years of rehashing in our minds that is the true cause of our prolonged suffering.
When this is the case, we would serve ourselves well to ask, “Who am I truly hurting by hanging on to my pain? What purpose does it serve me to prolong my own suffering?”
This leads us right into one of the most crucial aspects many of us seem to often overlook when it comes to forgiveness, and at times the most difficult to overcome, but is ultimately the greatest act of self-love — forgiving ourselves. What if we are the ones who have hurt others or even ourselves, intentional or not, and feel we are undeserving of forgiveness?
What it means to forgive — and ridding ourselves of the assumptions around it — applies to everyone and in all types of situations. We cannot change our past, we can only own up to our mistakes, learn from them, grow and choose to make better choices now. There is no sense in beating ourselves up for what has already come and gone. We must learn to love ourselves enough to offer ourselves the gift of forgiveness, make amends whenever possible, let it go and move on to bigger and better things.
Forgiveness is possible for even the most heinous of wrong doings once we recognize and accept that it has nothing to do with the perpetrator(s), whether ourselves or someone else, or erasing what has been done. Instead, it has everything to do with freeing ourselves from the life-draining shackles of anger, hatred and resentment.
Suffering is a choice. It is not a burden we are doomed to bear or fall victim to, and is certainly not a part of who we are right now in this very moment (link to my article “Living Our Best Lives Now!” for more related to this topic). You, and only you, have complete control, power and strength to choose to let it go.
All this being said, speaking from my own experience, forgiveness can definitely seem to be easier said than done. The important thing to consciously remember is that awareness is a huge stepping stone toward healing our pain. and if we combine that with love, acceptance and a shift in perspective, it CAN most definitely be done.
Happy soul searching!
“Waterfall Upstream of the Bachnagairn bridge in Upper Glen Clova.” shandchem @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.