The sky was overcast and my mood matched the weather. It was an anniversary. I was replaying events in my head. I couldn’t shake the memories.
When we’re taken advantage of, when we’re made to feel foolish, when we have every reasonable expectation of trusting but our trust is shattered by damaging words and actions, forgiveness has little to do with dispelling sadness or repairing relationships.
Although some insist forgiveness is necessary to accomplishing a meaningful end – or a new start – I disagree.
“Get over it” is a common theme in the annals of Life After Divorce… Pop Culture Advice Chapters I, II, III, and more. It is generally paired with a somewhat more palatable version of the same sentiment – “Move on.” We’re all supposed to magically “move on after divorce.”
I don’t happen to be a believer, as it doesn’t apply for many of us, and it certainly doesn’t apply in general to all sorts of relationships or situations that are more complex than any cliché can accommodate.
Are We Crazy to Forget?
Some say forgiveness is a choice, an explicit decision to let go of resentment or anger. I think that’s an oversimplification.
What if we deem certain behaviors unforgivable? Don’t we do exactly that, as a society?
What if we’re dealing with a toxic relationship? What if we’re trapped in codependent cycle, accepting the word of someone who promises to change but does not or cannot, even if the offending actions are the result of illness or addiction?
In that case, we may indeed find forgiveness, but isn’t forgetting a bit much?
Isn’t the definition of “crazy” repeating the same behavior and expecting a different result? Aren’t we crazy to deny what’s right in front of us, no matter how much we may want to believe?
Are some misdeeds, especially if they occur over and over, simply too much to tolerate? In certain circumstances, isn’t forgiveness nonsense?
The Unforgiveable or At Least, Unforgettable?
What about the notion of forgive and forget for transgressions other than big ticket romantic items?
What about friends or close family members who trample your trust and offer no avenues for redemption of your belief in them? Try these examples: the co-worker who claims credit for your ideas and nudges you out of your job; the best friend who sides with your ex in a bitter custody dispute; the parent who abandons the child; the abusive parent; the child who turns his back on his mother or father for no reason other than selfishness.
What about betrayals that are more complex as infidelity? And yes, there are some. But on the subject of infidelity, generally it’s the first thing that pops into one’s mind when discussing relationship betrayals. So just how much do you forgive, and can you ever forget?
Pop Culture Peace Pipe
To the extent that forgiveness helps the individual who feels anger or pain, I’m all for whatever eases suffering, and sets you on a more peaceful path.
But I don’t buy the pop culture peace pipe that instructs us to let go of anger, and in its place, requires us to forgive those who have repeatedly done us harm.
We may come to understand their motivations or we may never understand them. We may open our eyes to others who are like them (and thus protect ourselves and those we love), or we may remain blind and vulnerable until eventually, we begin to see. We may take distance as the only way to survive, and we may get on with our lives in as much fullness as possible. As we move forward, we don’t necessarily smoke the pipe of forgiveness, and nor do we forget.
How to Forgive and Forget
Cruise the Internet and you’ll find tips on how to forgive and forget, how to let go of grudges, how to “heal yourself” from hurts in the process. Everyone from Oprah to the Mayo Clinic has a hand in that game.
For myself, I make no bones about the fact that I am not able to forgive certain behaviors. Others, however painful and frequent, I can forgive to a degree, knowing the intent was misguided or, simply put, these were the words and actions of someone under stress, duress, or out of control.
When forgiveness isn’t in the cards, learning from the past certainly is. In fact, learning is always an option, with or without dismissing or denying those events that shape us, even the most painful. And understanding – to the extent that it is possible – is its own mechanism for achieving inner peace. This is my path to dealing with ghosts, and more importantly, to forging new relationships that are strong, forthright, and reliable.
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