Forgive and Forget?

A while back I gave a talk about the necessity of forgiveness if we are to live emotionally happy and spiritually healthy lives.  I said something that seemed to surprise some people and I was asked to clarify what I meant when I said, “It is not possible to forgive and forget.”  A spirited discussion followed the services, with some agreeing and some arguing that true forgiveness means you must also forget.

I told a story about a time I interviewed Dr. Wayne Dyer on my radio show “Vision for a Better World.”  The topic was forgiveness and he shared how difficult it was for him to finally forgive the father who abandoned his family while his mother was giving birth to him.  This relatively unknown father figure haunted him for much of his life and he was consumed with hatred and bitterness.  He finally tracked his dad down as he looked for some sort of closure and “magically” found him in a graveyard.  Even though he could not resolve his issues face-to-face, he experienced the miracle of forgiveness in that cemetery after a cathartic bout of cursing, crying and screaming.  When he was finally able to release his anger and resentment towards this man, he felt a freedom that had eluded him up until that moment.  He credits that moment with his success.

A listener called and asked, “Dr. Dyer, is it possible to forgive and forget?”  Without hesitation he replied, “No.  Nor is it wise.”  I was a bit surprised by his answer and the quickness of his response.  I asked him to explain and he used the example of hiking in the hills and being bitten by a poisonous snake.  He said you can forgive the snake for biting you, that’s what snakes do when they feel threatened; they instinctually strike.  Nobody ever dies of just the snake bite, it’s the poison that gets into your system that will eat you from the inside out and kill you.  You must get the poison out if you are to live, and that’s what forgiveness does.  He went on to say “Forgive the snake, but never forget that particular species’ distinctive markings, so you can recognize and avoid it’s kind if you encounter one again.”

Perhaps a better answer to the question is it possible to forgive and forget is “yes and no.”  Don’t you just love those non-answers?  The truth is we all forgive and forget the little slights, insults, and minor transgressions we endure over a lifetime as we hope others will do for us, or we would all be spending a good portion of our lives bearing grudges and seeking revenge.  (Sadly, some people do just that.)

It’s the major betrayals, maliciously inflicted injuries, and abuses that cannot be easily or completely forgotten, but must be forgiven.  Why?  If not forgiven, they will define the rest of our lives.  Forgiveness is a heroic act of self-love.  It is hard inner work, but we do it for ourselves so we are no longer psychically tied to the perpetrator or painful events.  Those who cannot or will not forgive are condemned to keep reliving that painful, unfair, tragic past over and over.

In her book, By Divine Appointment, Suzanne Joy Livingston tells the story of my late wife Faith’s early childhood which was emotionally and physically abusive in many ways.  Faith used to say that “Forgiveness means finally giving up all hope of a different past.  It just was what it was.”  That’s a good starting point.

Article contributed by Michael Moran.

Take an interactive guided journey through the imagination for healing physical and emotional issues using your own inner healing wisdom with Guided Healing Journeys.

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