Why You Should Forgive But ‘Never’ Forget

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Why You Should Forgive But ‘Never’ Forget

Why You Should Forgive But ‘Never’ Forget

Forgiveness is a crucial skill, but can you also forget what you’re forgiving — and should you?

We’ve all heard the adage “forgive and forget” when someone has wronged us. The idea is that this will keep the peace, preserve relationships, and maintain a calm mind.

Sounds good, but can you really do that — forgive an offense and then forget about it? And is that the best action to take?

Because this advice has been handed out for ages, you might think it’s rooted in deep wisdom, and it must be easy to do.

Wisdom? Yes, in part. Easy? No, definitely not.

This adage that we’re all so familiar with might be more properly phrased as, “forgive, but don’t forget.”

What does it mean to forgive but not forget?

Knowing how to forgive someone can be an essential life skill. It can save friendships, restore faith in our kids, and keep romantic relationships intact.

2015 studyTrusted Source suggests that there are two types of forgiveness:

  • decisional forgiveness: making a conscious decision to let go of hurt feelings, such as anger and resentment, putting them in the past, and moving forward free of the effects those feelings can bring
  • emotional forgiveness: replacing negative emotions toward the person who has wronged you with positive ones such as sympathy, compassion, or empathy

Experts in this study suggest that emotional forgiveness can lead to higher levels of forgetting than decisional forgiveness or no forgiveness.

2021 study also suggests that forgetting is easier with emotional forgiveness than decisional forgiveness or no forgiveness.

But does forgiving someone require that you forget what they’ve done? Not necessarily.

“Forgiving and forgetting” implies that you’ve moved on and no longer think about the offensive act. But forgiving an offense can be hard to do.

2011 studyTrusted Source suggests that forgiveness may give the person permission to continue the offense. In some cases, people who hurt others can manipulate the forgiveness process.

When “forgetting” what has been forgiven is challenging, learning from the experience may help some people cope if they encounter that behavior in the future.

Still, “forgiving and forgetting” isn’t always possible in every situation. While some can learn from the experience, others may forgive to release the past and accept that what happened wasn’t their fault and that no behavior could have changed it.

A word of caution

The concept of “forgive and forget” can be a complex and delicate topic to discuss, particularly for survivors of abuse or trauma.

Misconceptions about this topic can lead to:

  • prolonged or continuation of abuse
  • guilt and shame
  • feelings of helplessness
  • revictimization
  • isolation and social distancing

If you’re a survivor of abuse or trauma and want to discuss how this concept fits with your situation, consider reaching out to a mental health professional.

They can help guide you on the next steps as they relate to you and your unique circumstances.

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