We’ve all heard the admonition “you need to forgive and forget.” Many of us heard this as a child from our parents when we had been wronged by a sibling or friend. We were told to turn the other cheek and give our pals another chance.
Some of us learned the idea behind this was the golden rule — do to others what we would have them do to us. As parents can be quick to point out, we’ve certainly been guilty of committing our own transgressions and needing forgiveness.
Our parents were not wrong. Knowing how to forgive someone is an essential life skill. It serves us well in our love lives and professional relationships. It saves friendships and restores our faith in our kids. And we definitely benefit from it when those in our lives are able to forgive us when we inevitably screw up.
Forgiving and forgetting is great in theory, but in reality it’s difficult. Below are four reasons why it’s important to forgive but not forget.
- Forgiving is critical to our emotional health. By refusing to forgive someone, we’re choosing to hold on to all the anger and bitterness that their actions have created. When we choose to hold onto this anger and let it eat us up, it can make us irritable, impatient, distracted, and even physically ill.Forgiveness is all about us, and not about the other person. We don’t forgive other people because they deserve it. If that were the litmus test for when to forgive, it would rarely ever happen. Instead we choose to forgive those who have hurt us because we cannot fully let go of the destructive emotions inside of us until we do. Forgiveness is not a justice issue; it’s a heart issue.
- We can learn from past experiences. We need to take what we can learn, be mindful of the lesson, and move on. This may mean moving on with or without the person who hurt us. Even in the middle of the situation, we can learn something about ourselves — what pushes our buttons, where we might have sensitivities, and how we handle getting hurt by someone we care about. With this new knowledge, we’re better equipped for future relationships and the inevitable conflicts that will come with them.
- Forgiving can strengthen our relationships. All relationships can be restored, and even deepen and thrive, not in spite of what happened in the past but because of it. The act of forgiving strengthens people’s commitment to a healthy relationship. And they become more committed to not allowing divisive and hurtful conflicts to occur in the future.
- We safeguard ourselves from being a victim of the same offense again. It’s not OK to dwell on what happened and rehash it regularly. Instead, we need to remember what happened to us in order to avoid letting it happen again. Just because we have forgiven someone doesn’t mean that we’ll choose to keep them in our lives. Sometimes the healthiest thing we can do is forgive them and then move on without them. It’s important that we don’t allow ourselves repeatedly to be the target of the same mistreatment. Therefore, it’s absolutely essential that we learn from what happened so we set ourselves up for a better result in the future.
There is great value in mastering the skill of forgiving but not forgetting. Taking good care of ourselves requires regular forgiveness of others. Remember, we do it for us, not for them. And we don’t obsess, but we don’t forget, either, so we can take the valuable life lessons with us.