How to Forgive Without Forgetting
When justice can’t be found yet the pain is real, can we stop the suffering?
When someone has suffered an injustice, sometimes more horrendous than anything most of us are ever going to experience in our lives, then the call for justice and retribution can be as powerful as the original tragedy.
The desire for justice or retribution can create emotions as strong as the feelings experienced at the time of the event. Most people’s moral code does not allow them to seek the revenge that they feel the people responsible may deserve. This process can lock the person in to a ‘victim trap’ – the need for justice to compensate for the suffering experienced. Should the need for revenge escalate, then performing the act of retribution can bring forth even more powerful feelings of guilt which in turn could lead to self-harm.
The person suffering (and I specifically choose not to use the label ‘victim’) can then become trapped by feelings of injustice, revenge and guilt, without any internal resolution. Resolution may be sought through the judicial system – which may satisfy a need for justice ‘to be seen to be done’ – but the results of which may not meet the emotional expectations of the individual.
Freeing a person from victim status, a sense of injustice and all of its associated pain and dissatisfaction can be achieved through a raised awareness of the importance of forgiveness to self-healing.
Bad Things Happen
Tragedy has been described as “not accepting that bad things happen”. Bad things happen all of the time – and can happen to anyone at any time. There are no pre-determined rules governing this. War, poverty, tsunamis, volcanos, earthquakes, famine and economic depression thwart most of the beautiful people of this beautiful planet. Random things happen in this world and do not wait for, nor depend on, human understanding.
A person will normally develop the idea that something wrong has happened, that they have been hurt and that right needs to be done. These feelings of ‘wrong’, ‘hurt’ and ‘right’ can extend the persons experience of pain in to suffering.
Accepting that bad things happen is a step towards recovery.
The acts of humans are a description of themselves, their values and beliefs.
One human may consider another not worthy on the grounds of race, religion, nationality, sex, age, physical appearance or any other multitude of seemingly (to them) plausible explanations. Their own values, beliefs, experiences or other condition may cause them to attach negative labels to other humans.
Such labels, no matter how simple, can allow one human to effect terrible acts upon another, and to them, in a justified way (and therefore with perceived authority). These acts are a representation of all their values and beliefs and are 100% owned by them. They are 0% owned by the recipient of such acts. Whatever acts occur they occur because the perpetrator of the act chose to effect them.
To Forgive Does Not Require That You Forget
It is not remembering the event that causes suffering but what we believe to be true about the event, or more specifically, the emotions, feelings and descriptions that we have associated with the event.
A person cannot choose to forget that something happened to them when a sense of hurt and wrong, associated with the event, has lead to a grievance. This may extend to a feeling of self-sacrifice if they are asked to adopt a ‘forgive and forget approach’. Such feelings prevent the event from passing in to memory and the associated pain from subsiding.
Our aim is not to forget that bad things happened but to put such events in a place where they no longer cause pain.
Separating truth from experience
Our emotions, feelings and descriptions create our beliefs about an event. Once we believe something it becomes our truth. And so our experience (a punch perhaps) becomes governed not by the truth (we were punched) but what we believe (we are a victim requiring justice to release us from our legitimate suffering).
Justice is based on polarised beliefs – it is not truth
A call for justice is typically seen as the best way to resolve a perceived injustice. This justice often requires one or more people to agree that ‘X’ caused harm to ‘Y’. Justice may require the perpetrator to confess that they did wrong. However, accepting that the perpetrator acted according to their own beliefs and or values, and that they may feel very righteous about their actions, shows how fraught such a process can be.
Forgiveness requires healing which requires an acceptance of reality
One of the few truths that we can know is that an event happened and that certain things happened as result of the event for example, “I was punched and it hurt”. If we add other information such as “I was innocent” or “they were wrong” we are choosing to believe these statements. The statements become our truth and we have now extended the event in to suffering.
Acknowledging that the perpetrator is 100% responsible for the event, accepting that bad things happen and choosing the extent to which we will continue to suffer after the event brings us closer to healing and so closer to forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not a moral, ethical or religious obligation
To give forgiveness is an act of cleansing ourselves of the hurt and pain that is interfering with our lives today and distracting us from ‘being the best that we can be”, today, with all of our life experiences (the good and the bad).
Above all forgiveness is a choice that we consciously make to help to heal ourselves. To say to ourselves “I am not a victim – I am a beautiful and valuable person”, “I love myself and will not allow myself to suffer another moment”. When these statements become our truth we can let go of notions of revenge and move forward with our lives.
We forgive ourselves before others
Forgiving ourselves comes from the recognition that the acts, of others, we find most abhorrent are indeed the acts that we would struggle to forgive ourselves of, should we commit them.
This approach is about helping people to not let their futures be ruled by past events and choices, and the recognition that it is we who create reality and truth for ourselves.
The person’s focus becomes personal growth and living life as ‘the best that we can be’.
We cannot ask someone to forgive
To ask another to simply forgive will be met by rejection (overtly or covertly) – remembering that others have beliefs that are also their truth about their hurt, suffering and injustice. All we can do is listen and help them along their journey.
Sympathy acts like a chain and ball. Understanding a person’s self perception as a victim is one thing – actively supporting it will lock them in to victim status and perhaps lead them to dependency on ‘injections’ of sympathy and support.
In reaching high levels of self-awareness we achieve a new understanding of truth, reality and our purpose in life. In doing so we are able to forgive ourselves and others.
This forgiveness liberates us from the suffering associated with being a victim and from injustice and the need for vengeance. It enables us to take full responsibility for our own well-being and not deferring it to another’s apology, lawyers, court rooms, or the sympathy of our family and peers.