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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Does Forgiving Mean Forgetting?

What is the Difference Between Forgiving and Forgetting?
Over the years, I've discovered that there seems to be a lot of confusion about the difference between forgiving and forgetting. Naturally, there are times when they go together, especially when we have a minor disagreement with someone and it's not worth it to remember what happened. But what about when there's a major betrayal or trauma? What does it mean under those circumstances to "forget"?

 Forgiveness

As with many circumstances, there's no one-size-fits-all answer. Every situation is different and no one can tell you what's right for you. But are there times when it would be beneficial not to "forget" what happened? Given the confusion that this topic seems to elicit, I think this question is worth exploring.

What Does it Mean to Forgive Someone?
First of all, let's discuss what it means to forgive someone. Forgiveness doesn't always happen all at once. Forgiveness often happens in stages. We must first have the willingness to forgive, even before we actually forgive. From that willingness usually comes the ability to forgive.

Why Forgive?
But why forgive at all? First and foremost, in my opinion, we forgive to let go of toxic feelings that only serve to eat away at us inside. Depending upon the circumstances, it might take a long time to let go of anger and resentment. When the problem involves abuse or other forms of trauma, it's not unusual for it to be a long process. This is normal, and we shouldn't feel ashamed because we or others think it should take less time.

Forgiving: Letting Go of Toxic Feelings that Eat Away at Us
When we forgive, we have a choice of whether we reconcile with the other person or not. This leads to whether or not we should forget and continue to have this person in our lives. Again, there are no hard and fast rules about this, but self preservation, emotional, physical, and spiritual, must come first. If forgetting means that this person continues to abuse or hurt us, then we owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to be aware and use good judgment, which means not forgetting the incident(s). It means keeping ourselves safe by not going into denial about what happened and that it's likely to happen again.

Now, I understand that people do change and turn their lives around. Someone who has been abusive could change and stop their abusive behavior. But it's often a long, difficult road, and often this behavior doesn't change. So, you have to evaluate your situation in as an objective way as possible before you decide to forget about the abusive behavior, especially if it's been an ongoing pattern.

Does this mean that this person isn't really sorry at the point when he or she says so? Not at all. There is often genuine remorse. The problem is that remorse alone, while important, isn't enough to change a person's behavior, especially where there are ingrained behaviors.

When Forgetting Means Putting Yourself in Harm's Way
When forgetting means keeping you in harm's way, it's a form of self destructive behavior. To get back to our original question about forgiving and forgetting, under circumstances when abusive behavior (of any kind) is likely to continue, forgiving is definitely different from forgetting. To forget what has been an ongoing pattern would lull us into a false sense of security--to our detriment.

Knowing When to Forget and When Not to Forget
Knowing when to forget as well as forgive can be tricky, especially when it involves people that we love. Our own loving feelings towards this person can cloud our judgment so that we only see what we want to see. Under those circumstances, it's usually better to seek the advice of a trusted and impartial friend or family member.

Striving to Heal and Find Meaning in Life
One thing I'd like to clarify is that by "not forgetting" I don't mean that we strive to keep our emotional wounds open and foremost in our minds. What I DO mean is that, while we don't turn a blind eye to what has happened and what might continue to occur, we strive to heal and find whatever meaning there is to find in our circumstances, and we continue to develop and grow.

Strive to Heal and Find Meaning in Life
Forgiving and forgetting is a complex topic and we've only begun to touch the surface, but I hope I've provided, at least, some food for thought and helped anyone struggling with this issue so he or she doesn't feel guilty about "not forgetting" when to do so would be self destructive.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR therapist, and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.



1st photo credit: Preconscious Eye via photopin cc

2nd photo credit: Preconscious Eye via photopin cc

3rd photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc