For a number of years, I had a holistic healing practice. During that time, a woman came to me looking for help to get over the emotional damage from abuse that had happened many years before. She told me that she had been working with counselors for a long time, trying to get over and forget about the trauma she incurred. Many of her therapists would have her relive the abuse in her mind, encouraging her to feel into it so that she could work through it. Even though she had relived it over and over again in therapy, it was still horribly traumatic every time she did so.
“Of course you feel traumatized,” I responded, “and you always will when revisiting that horrible experience. However, the pain of that memory will never go away, nor should it. To try to push it out or make it go away is simply trying to bury your head in the sand. It’s denial. Perhaps you can forgive the abuser, but it’s not a good idea to try to forget about it. That doesn’t mean you need to dwell on it. Sometimes reliving an experience might help you move on. Nevertheless, reliving it will always be painful. Reliving an earlier trauma can at times have some value. For example, if you try to block it out of your memory, it only stays with you longer. Reliving it in that case can help you move through it and release it. But reliving it over and over again can just perpetuate the trauma which, at some point, is self-defeating.”
We can forgive. Forgiveness is about understanding. People hurt others from a place where they have been wounded themselves. We all make mistakes and behave improperly at times. Expecting flawless behavior from our friends and loved ones is just not realistic. Forgiveness is about simply understanding the nature of life. It doesn’t make the behavior okay, but at least we can forgive and move forward.
On the other hand, it’s not wise or really possible to forget. After all, forgetting would be some sort of oblivion or denial. Remembering provides information. We come to know another person over time by remembering their behavioral patterns, their strengths, as well as their weaknesses. Not forgetting needn’t be judgment. It doesn’t mean holding a grudge or looking down upon the other person. However, it does assist us in maintaining a healthy relationship with the other person.
For example, some people are naturally passive, when instead, in some instances, they would do well to speak up and assert themselves. Then again, some people are instinctively over aggressive. They push and pound away at others, trying to force their perspective. Understanding other people’s behavioral patterns provides us with the insight needed to interact with those people wisely.
There are a lot of different techniques that can be used to help us forgive. This is a very important and huge field of knowledge, but it is not the purpose of this article. This is about the impossibility of forgetting. It’s also about the impossibility of reliving a negative experience without reliving the unpleasantness. It’s just not possible. It is important to understand that if we are trying to completely forget and be totally neutral about a bad experience, it won’t work.
So in conclusion, to forgive, we don’t have to forget. It doesn’t mean that we’re fine with what the other person did. It’s important for us to find an approach to forgiving that works for us so we can move on with our lives. The good news is that we don’t have to forget in order to be released from the chains of hurt or trauma. To let it go and move on with our lives is about forgiving, but not forgetting. Knowing that we don’t have to forget in order to forgive, frees us to forgive and then move on.
Dr. Michael Mamas is the founder of The Center of Rational Spirituality, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the betterment of humanity through the integration of ancient spiritual wisdom with modern rational thought. From personal issues to global trends, Dr. Michael Mamas helps individuals and organizations develop a deeper understanding and more comprehensive outlook by providing a 'bridge' between the abstract and concrete, the Eastern and Western, and the ancient and modern. Michael Mamas writes on a variety of subjects on his blogs, MichaelMamas.net and RationalSpirituality.org.