As we grow out of childhood, we take with us this well-known phrase: “forgive and forget.” It’s easy to learn when you are young, because the mistakes you make are mostly forgivable and you usually want to be forgiven for them. In turn, you learn how to forgive others, especially those in your age group.
The tough part comes when you realize you have to carry on that practice of forgiving and forgetting into adulthood. As we grow, mistakes become much bigger and much less forgivable; it’s not as trivial as taking your friend’s candy bar or breaking a piece of chinaware at home. Adult mistakes can be life-altering, humiliating, scary and painful.
The harm inflicted in adulthood can have a negative effect on a person’s career, reputation and more. Hurting others in adulthood can reveal that the perpetrator hasn’t learned proper boundaries or accepted the basic rules of mature adult behavior.
Harm, hurt and disrespect cause trauma. This trauma is like rust. Oxidation eats away at the metal and breaks it down, atom by atom. Injury can cause generalized anxiety and panic attacks, which can lead the victim to withdraw from the joys of life and curl up into a ball of sweating fear. Sometimes trauma presents itself physically, as in headaches, substance abuse and eating disorders. A person who has been traumatized by social and professional bullying can lose their sense of themselves and, ultimately, lose interest in life. They can have insomnia and have feelings of hopelessness, shame and mistrust. In survivors of trauma, those symptoms can be persistent. In terms of emotion, those individuals are not necessarily living, they are merely surviving. That is why it’s essential to invest in one’s resilience. The skills of resilience will make room for healing and encourage growth and continuity.
The first step toward healing is to understand that:
- Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what happened is okay. What is does mean is that the person who has been harmed makes the courageous decision to not seek revenge. By refusing to be a victim, by refusing to allow the harm-doer to take away their happiness, the person takes back power and control. Does that mean you forgive but you don’t forget? I believe so. In a way, forgiveness is not for the person who has hurt you. In fact, that person doesn’t even have to know you have forgiven them. Forgiveness happens when you work through the pain and come out the other side, freeing yourself from the grip of that suffering.
- Forgiveness is for personal peace of mind and not always for reconciliation. For reconciliation to happen, the wrongdoer must show full remorse and apologize wholeheartedly. They must explain their perspective to help you understand and then accept their remorse as a step toward healing. Merely saying ‘sorry’ in an indirector offhand way doesn’t cut it. So if you are the wrong-doer, please think about how you would like to bring about reconciliation with someone you have hurt. You can seek professional help to gain the right skills you need to achieve a successful settlement. Of course, this all depends on how much you regret what you’ve done and on how willing you are to look into yourself and be brutally honest.
- There’s a delicate balance to forgiveness. It’s not about brushing it under the carpet and pretending it never happened. It’s actually about letting it in and letting it pass through you without settling. It’s mostly about being true to your feelings and giving those hurtful experiences the attention they demand and deserve. All this may take time. It may even take years. The trick is not to feel ashamed by your need to hold on to it until it’s resolved. Others telling you or you telling yourself to “let it go” is typical self-avoiding behavior. There is no real resolution there, only feigned. It’s not a game so don’t play it. Better to let things in, analyze them, mull them over and keep doing that until you’re ready to move on. Let it transform you from a hurt and vengeful person to an improved version of yourself, who has risen above and denounced revenge. The only way to freedom is forgiveness and the only way to forgiveness is radical acceptance.
- Everyone has problems, but we must not overthink them. Dwelling on them without resolution and understanding can be counterproductive. Make an effort to give the situation enough time to heal but not too much time to fester. Going over and over the incident and asking yourself “why?” without analysis might add to your suffering. Try your best to focus on the good things in your life, practice gratitude and once you’ve resolved the issue internally, move on.
But how do you forgive but not forget? Here are a few tips from the author Mark Manson, taken from his article How to forgive but not forget:
- Separate the action from the person: see that action for what it is.
- Understand the person’s motive: why did they do what they did?
- Empathize: see them for who they truly are.
- Mark your boundaries: maintain autonomy by keeping a healthy distance.
- Express yourself clearly: don’t beat about the bush. Say it as it is. Which will ultimately eliminate any emotional attachment because you are expressing the logic behind the emotion.
- Always act with politeness and respect because that is a direct indication of who you are.
When you rekindle a relationship with someone who has hurt, harmed or disrespected you, you are showing disrespect to yourself. So be careful who you decide to forgive. Forgiveness is about setting boundaries that will not allow that person to harm you again.
There are different kinds of forgiveness because we have different types of relationships. There’s forgiving yourself, forgiving a parent, forgiving a loved one. Then there is forgiving a friend or stranger. Everything discussed here applies to all those, except forgiveness of a parent, which has an added element: showing mercy. This you must do, no matter how toxic, immature or abusive that parent is. Mercy is a step beyond kindness. It is super kindness that involves humility and high regard. So whatever you decide to do with your parents, do it with mercy.
Forgiveness is a practice like any other; it’s an emotional workout. It’s an ability that needs to be grown and strengthened over time. Just as regular exercise keeps our bodies healthy and robust, practicing forgiving thoughts can maintain our psychological health. The happiest people I know are always the ones evaluating and improving themselves. The unhappy people are the ones assessing and judging others.
We all learn gradually that acting vengefully doesn’t change anything and reacting with hate doesn’t change other people. It does not undo wrongdoing. It doesn’t make people love and respect us. Sometimes it is better just to let things be. Don’t seek closure, don’t ask for explanations, don’t chase after answers and don’t expect people to understand how you feel. So let those people go. I’m slowly learning that life is better lived when you focus on what’s happening inside you rather than on what’s happening around you.
Dr Modia Batterjee
Dr Modia Batterjee has a doctorate degree in health administration and is a Certified Resilience Practitioner who gives workshops for personal and corporate development. Modia has long provided a voice of advocacy and support in the health community. She is the author of A Fading Art. Understanding Breastfeeding in the Middle East in both English and Arabic, and Redefine your Bee-ing, a self-help book for young women. She is based in Saudi Arabia.