Forgive and Forget?

Probably not.

Many of us have talked to someone about our painful past. Most likely you have heard the advice, “you can forgive (with help) but you probably will never forget’. This is generally good advice and is given when people ask, “how am I supposed to forget what he/she has done?” In cases of violence against persons, hurt, or abuse, unfortunately forgetting is rarely an option. Even years of intense counselling cannot erase some memories. Anyone who says otherwise is probably selling something.

But what about forgiving? We have all been taught in church or school or by a guardian that we need to forgive those who have harmed us. There are a plethora of stories of individuals who have chosen to forgive the person who has murdered a family member, or done egregious harm. Let me make this perfectly clear so there is no misunderstanding of where I am headed with this. In my experience this is the EXCEPTION, not the rule. Most of us in similar situations spend our entire lives seeking to work through such pain. There is counseling and prayer and screaming and tears and more counseling. We are taught to move forward, and many of us do. It takes time and tears and work to loosen the grip such experiences have had on our lives.

Most of us have been taught that moving forward is primarily a matter of forgiveness. This is not always good advice. Telling a patient that he or she must eventually forgive their rapist, for example, is overwhelming and inconceivable at the beginning of the journey. It may be possible for some to eventually forgive after working through much of the pain, but is this the only option?

Let me suggest a third option (as opposed to bitterness or forgiveness). Many of us will never be able to fully forgive those who have injured us. Common wisdom dictates, therefore, that we will never “truly be able to move forward.” As a result, even with counseling or prayer or whatever floats your boat, we remain in bondage to that trauma for the rest of our lives. This often has catastrophic ramifications. Untreated trauma can lead to all manner of mental health issues from depression to hoarding to constantly painting our front room, to being unable to commit to a healthy relationship, or have an orgasm, or cope with catastrophic shame and pain. “Trauma trumps all” as the saying goes and leaving it untreated is often a prescription for a haunted life.

So what is the answer?

Over the years I have worked through hurtful memories with hundreds, even thousands of people. We are taught in school that tools such as Exposure Therapy help clients to deal with such issues. Clients are often encouraged to tell their stories over and over again until they can do so without the emotional discharge. There is some wisdom in this, in spite of the fact that Exposure Therapy no longer enjoys the popularity it once did. What is good about such methodologies is that contained within is a nugget of dynamic truth.

Here’s what I often tell clients. Sometimes moving forward is more about boredom than forgiveness. Let me put this another way – Let’s deal with you story until it bores you (figuratively speaking). Let’s work through your stuff until you learn enough, hurt enough, think and feel enough, that the tragic parts of your story lose their power… until one day you realize that you want to talk about something else.

And therein, as the bard said, lies the rub. There is real power in teaching your heart to listen more to your head. Most of us are a raging bundle of hormones and emotion and tend to make decisions and have opinions based on how it “feels”. Therapy will help you gain perspective. The real message of counselling is, “change your mind and your ass will follow”. You are hurt. It often becomes virtually impossible to see beyond the pain. I often tell clients, “when you are really hurting it can feel like you are insane. You think and do things that are born out of that pain and it is almost impossible to be objective. You may not understand, in such times, what is the best for you. You may not care. Movement involves wrestling with the demons until you are able to loosen the emotional hold such memories can have on you. Until your story becomes less interesting to you. Until you are able to push ahead without being ambushed by the pain. It still hurts, but you are on the move.”

15 thoughts on “Forgive and Forget?

  1. A psychiatrist I truly respect told me he hates the tendency so many have to say “your past makes you who you are today,” as if we should be grateful for the traumas that shape us. He cried bullshit. “Your choices — the things YOU decide for yourself — and the consequences of those choices (whether good or bad) are the events that change you, and your future choices.” He believed that the things forced upon us by the choices of others (rape, for example) are NOT a part of who we are. They certainly affect our choices, but we can end the influence of trauma and abuse in our lives. It’s not fair to say that I have to be what someone else decided for me, that gives them too much power, even years later. Forgiveness is the first step for me in taking away the power part trauma holds in my life. Forgiveness is MY choice, and what I get from it will affect who I am and shape my future choices.

  2. That makes perfect sense. I’m going to share the link to this on my blog because I believe it is such an important message. I’d rather do it that way than reblog as my experience is that many people don’t read reblogged posts. I hope that is ok with you.

  3. I like this…Went through EMDR and that helped tremendously. My support people get a bit tired of hearing the story. That prompted me to write about it…and write…and write. It is working👍

  4. Wow, I think I like reading this and looking from your perspective:oops:. Thanks so much! I read articles and the posts on here many times daily just to help me make it one more second, minute, hour, and day. I needed this tonight, and I thank you sincerely..

  5. Reblogged this on rougedmount and commented:
    You are hurt. It often becomes virtually impossible to see beyond the pain. I often tell clients, “when you are really hurting it can feel like you are insane. You think and do things that are born out of that pain and it is almost impossible to be objective. You may not understand, in such times, what is the best for you. You may not care. Movement involved wrestling with the emotional demons until you are able to loosen the emotional hold such memories can have on you. Until your story becomes less interesting to you. Until you are able to push ahead without being ambushed by the pain. It still hurts, but you are on the move.

  6. Great post thanks. Boredom is a real option that is somehow easier to wrap our mind around than “forgiveness”. Boredom and replacing and rewriting the story of one’s own life is more personally empowering.

  7. Reblogged this on Narc Raiders and commented:
    Scott Williams shares: “Over the years I have worked through hurtful memories with hundreds, even thousands of people. We are taught in school that tools such as Exposure Therapy help clients to deal with such issues. Clients are often encouraged to tell their stories over and over again until they can do so without the emotional discharge. There is some wisdom in this, in spite of the fact that Exposure Therapy no longer enjoys the popularity it once did. What is good about such methodologies is that contained within is a nugget of dynamic truth.

    Here’s what I often tell clients. Sometimes moving forward is more about boredom than forgiveness. Let me put this another way – Let’s deal with you story until it bores you (figuratively speaking). Let’s work through your stuff until you learn enough, hurt enough, think and feel enough, that the tragic parts of your story lose their power… until one day you realize that you want to talk about something else.” That has been my experience. Definitely worth the read…

  8. Thanks for the third choice. I’ve actually found that one (I’m bored with it; I want to talk about something else) to be a great stepping stone and incredibly freeing.

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