When someone wrongs you, should you just forgive and forget? Jo Seagar offers some advice for how to make peace with your foes.
on forgiving and forgetting
Forgive and remember – that has always been my family’s motto. I know “forgive and forget” is the traditionally prescribed way to run, but I just don’t get that. Of course, I understand the theory, but in practice I’m not so sure.
After the initial wave of emotion has passed (and this may take some time), you face the challenge of whether you can forgive the person for what they’ve done. Through forgiveness, you let go of your grievances and your judgement of the situation and consequently allow yourself to heal. Great theory, right? But how do you actually achieve it?
For me, understanding came when I realised that forgiveness isn’t something you do for the other person, but something you do for yourself. It doesn’t mean you’re pardoning or excusing the other person’s behaviour – you don’t even have to tell them they’re forgiven. Nor do you have to forget what happened or how you feel about the situation. And it doesn’t mean it’s all okay in the relationship – maybe you don’t even need that person in your life any more. But by forgiving them, you accept the reality of what happened and find a way to live with it and move forward.
It’s a powerful feeling when you choose to forgive. Forgiveness allows you to take command of the situation – it means you stop letting this person have so much effect on you. By being in control you actually take away their power.
You know forgiveness has begun when you think of those who hurt you and are able to wish them well. It’s certainly not an easy shift and it doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. My theory on forgiveness and other life processes – grief, for example – is that it takes the same time as from conception to birth. It takes me about nine months, and that’s not to get over it, but to start to cope through it.
Initially when someone has wronged you, you’re filled with thoughts of getting even – revenge and retribution. You’re holding a big grudge and I think you’re allowed to wallow in that a bit. You certainly need to acknowledge and explore your anger. Feel free to adopt my “nine months” approach – a certain amount of time needs to pass before you start to think about step two.
That’s when you’re faced with the big question: “Do I want to forgive?” This is the tricky bit – you do have to be willing for forgiveness to work.
Perhaps writing it all down in a letter to yourself or a letter that never needs to be sent is a helpful process.
It is sometimes the word forgiveness you get stuck on – it can sound a bit therapistspeak – but if you redefine it as “processing the emotional trauma” it simply means letting go of the hurt and your judgement of the other person.
Forgiveness puts the final seal on what happened. You don’t need to forget, and you’re certainly not letting them off easy, but you are no longer defined and bound by their action. By forgiving someone, you lessen their grip, and it helps you find spiritual and psychological wellbeing. Forgiveness is a wonderful way to honour yourself and it affirms that you deserve to be happy and you deserve the best.
So on that note, while you’re celebrating the forgiveness with a glass of Champagne, here’s a recipe for a tasty little nibble to accompany it.
Forgiveness isn’t something you do for the other person, but something you do for yourself.