Forgiving and Forgetting are Not the Same.
When I talk about forgiveness, publicly from stage, or privately in a one-to-one conversation, the questions I hear are often the same.
“Why should I bother to forgive, when I have forgotten all of it long ago?” “I haven’t even thought about the past in years. Why should I open that cesspool, drag it all back up, get upset all over again just so I can now forgive…????”
"Forgive??? Who should I start with? It took too long to just forget it all. There is no way I am going back to even thinking about this person!" Here is my response: If the first thing that came to mind when you thought about who and what to forgive was one particular person, pay attention.
This is where you need to start. An example from my own life. Years ago, at a time of my divorce from my then husband, I was taking a close look at all the men in my life and how they had affected me. I met the man I was now divorcing when I was 17, so there hadn’t been that many “men” to go through. One was my father. Another one - my step-father. The step-father used to be the bane of my adolescence. I hated him with passion and when I was 19, old enough to stand up to him, I simply stopped talking to him. I hadn’t spoken to him since and by the time of my divorce the man had been long dead. Never underestimate the power of denial.
I shoved the memories of my step-father so far down that I honestly could not remember a thing about what once had caused me many a sleepless night. There is nothing to look at, I said to myself, trying to avoid “opening that cesspool” for a bit longer. But I knew better by then. And so I called my high school girlfriend who used to be around our family a lot and knew that abusive man well. “What did he used to do?” I asked her. “Help me remember.” She paused, thought about it and then she quoted him. Who could ever forget his insidious, demeaning words? I did. Because I had to. So I could survive the insult and humiliation and move on. Cutting him out of my life by refusing to speak with him was brilliant. He backed off and left me alone.
Forgetting it all for a long, long, long time had "worked" as well. I wasn't ready to deal with it and didn't have the necessary understanding. Except that unresolved memory, that anger and pain, combined with other things “men-related” and also “forgotten” had landed me in a marriage that was now falling apart, for which I was just as responsible as my soon to be ex-husband.
So did my step-father's impact on me really end when I was 19 and had finally stopped talking to him? Or did it end for real when, after my girlfriend had helped me remember, and I, an adult woman and a mother, was finally ready to go back to that memory, feel it, understand it, and - forgive?
Forgive that lost, crazy man, an alcoholic, whose abusive mother was born in a Siberian prison. Forgive that angry, raging World War II veteran who in turn became my own domestic horror.
And so I forgave him for what he had become as a result of whatever it was that had happened to him in his past.
No, I didn’t make what he did OK, but it helped me to let go, that’s all.
And I also forgave ME - for all the doubt, all the “if only-s”, all the excuses and blame, for not wanting to deal with this for so long, and telling myself that I didn't need to and that I was OK.
And guess what? If you ask me now to recount what was it that I forgave him for, I still won’t remember much. Only this time it is not out of denial. This time it is truly gone. I have long been free of all that past. With that healing came many gifts. Greater success, deeper peace, and eventually, happiness in love. Had I not forgiven all those “other men” starting with father and moving down the line, I would not have been able to create the relationship I have now. I would still be looking, still repeating the same mistakes. And oh yes, one more thing. My health now is a hundred percent better than it was 20 years ago. Think about it. Forgetting and forgiving are not the same. Denying the pain and pushing it deep down is very different from letting go and walking away free. Denial is a powerful mechanism and it helped us survive a lot of things. But it doesn’t work long term. It can’t. What we have not healed and released sits deep inside us and continues its destructive work. It becomes our internal terrorist. Why? Because you never know when and where it will strike. What else will it destroy, as we act unconsciously, out of habit and impulse? Another relationship? Another job? Another dream? Or will it be our health this time? The pain of the heart surfacing as a stroke? A heart attack? A damaged liver or cancer?
Here is a good tip.
If you get upset and angry just remembering something, or if you find yourself suddenly getting sleepy, lethargic, uninterested or defensive when someone suggests to you that perhaps there are things you need to forgive – pay attention. It is your first clue. Watch the video where I talk about why we should forgive. It is on my website http://PowerOfThePossible.com and also on YouTube. It covers a lot: The Controversy of Forgiveness, the difference between Forgiveness and Reconciliation, and much more.
You can also download the 2 Forgiveness meditations I have recorded. They too are on my website.
They are my gift to you that I am passing forward because I too have received them as a gift.