I have an insane memory for people. Having this memory thing is both a blessing when it comes to knowing who is who but a total nightmare when it comes to letting things go. Which has been a struggle for me for the longest time. I mean how do you forgive if you can’t forget? Likewise, in forgiveness there always seems to be this expectation of reconciliation. Lately, I’ve really been examining forgiveness in my life and this has brought up many questions…
Does forgiveness mean letting go of the past? Does letting go of the past mean you need to forget what’s happened to you? What if you can’t forget? What then? What if you can forgive? What happens next?
Let’s talk about forgiving another person like an abuser per se. Does forgiving an abuser mean that when the inevitable honeymoon period crops back up and those promises of change and “trying” that you should be allow this person back into your life because you’ve FORGIVEN them?
Then again, what if you’re the abuser? Does it mean that you can’t forgive yourself until you’ve reconciled with the person you’ve been abusive towards? Does that mean that forgiveness for you is only given to you by the person that was the receiver of your abuse?
And this right here marks the difference between forgiveness, forgetting and reconciliation.
It’s easy to confuse forgiveness with reconciliation. I mean when you were a kid, how many times did you forgive a friend for doing something mean towards you only to be best friends right after the forgiveness. The forgiveness and the reconciliation were actually two entirely separate events.
Forgiveness only occurs when you stop resenting, feeling bitter, feeling indignant, angry, or seeking retribution for a perceived wrong. Now by forgetting the incident that is one means to forgiveness as you won’t feel or carry any emotion for something you don’t remember.
Now I’m not advising mass “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” for humankind. If you forget what happened, you’re also forgetting any lesson you may have come out of the situation with. Likewise by trying to forget you actually cram that memory in further to your mind through repeatedly thinking about not thinking about it but that’s a whole other post.
Anyways… back to reconciliation…
Reconciliation only is one possible outcome of forgiveness — it’s not a given. We see reconciliation as the only outcome of conflict resolution but this isn’t correct — it’s limiting the possibility.
Let’s examine this in the context of romantic relationships. Let’s say you’re dating a wonderful human being but before you started dating you harboured resentment towards your ex for a number of perceived “wrongs” they committed against you. Now if you don’t forgive your ex you will likely be distrustful of your new love interest and you know this so you incorporate forgiving meditations into your practise, maybe you see a therapist or read some books on forgiveness. One day after all this time and energy you remember all the things that you thought were “shitty” about them but somehow when you remember those “shitty” things you can laugh about them with your new partner, or talk about them without getting all riled up. That’s forgiveness. Now because you can remember them and talk about them without getting all riled up you immediately seek out your ex and dump your current partner even though they are the one that you did all the work for initially. That’s about as much logical sense it makes to think that reconciliation is the only outcome of forgiveness.
Is it ok that you’re ex did a bunch of “shitty” things to you? Of course not. But just because it isn’t or wasn’t ok doesn’t mean that it needs to affect you emotionally or limit your possibilities for life.
Let’s say you’re the “shitty” ex. Forgiveness for you has to come from yourself. If you feel remorse for what you’ve done you have the option to apologize, you have the option to not apologize and move forward making different choices than what you’ve made in the past but by no stretch of the imagination should there be any expectation of validation by the person you feel you’ve done wrong.
Whether or not you choose to apologize or just move on, you have to understand that because you were playing a role of a “shitty” partner, does not mean that’s your identity. It is not cast in stone that forever you will only be a “shitty” partner. If you remember all the actions you took that you believe were shitty and can look at them without harbouring resentment or guilt towards yourself then you have forgiven yourself. If you move forward making the same mistakes that you will forever create your own hell on earth. Use you mistakes to build your compassion for others who have walked in similar paths to you, compassion for yourself for understanding that at the time your capacity was limited, and to live at a higher level than you did previously learning what you’ve now learned.
So from questioning the roles in forgiving, forgetting, and reconciling I’ve come to three conclusions:
There’s no point in trying to forget the past, because if you do you’ll forget what you needed to learn for the future.
There’s no point in carrying forward guilt, resentment, anger, bitterness or indignation. If you bring this to the table it’ll rot your reality and limit your ability to enjoy life. Practise forgiving yourself, detaching from painful experiences and live in observation. You’ll suffer a lot less.
Don’t expect reconciliation. If you limit yourself to reconciliation, you don’t open yourself up to all beautiful opportunities out there. Reconciliation is one great possibility of many.