How To Forgive And Forget

Dr Thanh-Tam Pham - 11/7/2020


Everyone in their life has experienced hurt caused by another person. It could be something small like being teased or being lied to by a friend or something more substantial like having a cheating spouse or being dumped by a partner or being sexually or physically or mentally abused.

It seems sometimes impossible to forgive those who have wronged you and by hanging on to resentment, the pain and mental distress will destroy your quality of life and you cannot enjoy your life to the full capacity.  Ongoing anger will make you to be stuck to the past and it can lead to stress related diseases such as post traumatic stress disorder.

Your brain has the tendency to remember things that caused the most impact emotionally. That is why your mind keeps ruminating about the painful event and it stimulates and feeds the anger, the shame and reinforces the feeling of being a victim.  The less you mentally elaborate on your anger and what happened to you, the less frequently your mind will remind you of what happened.

1-   Forgiveness does not mean forgetting.

You cannot erase any memory but you can control your attention, your focus and your reaction when the painful memories surge up.

When you notice yourself feeling angry, acknowledge the depth of your anger and the right for you to be angry about the event. But you can ask yourself: “ will continuing to elaborate on what happened does anything good to you in the long run or you just give the other person the power to hurt you again and again now and into the future”? Just because you have ground to be angry, it does not mean it is helpful to you or it will cause any harm to the other person.

2-   Forgiveness does not mean justification of the wrongful act done to you.

Many people who suffer from domestic violence are further victimised by being manipulated into believing that they were somehow at fault or deserve the abuse. They may feel they are not good enough, or they are unlovable and they are helpless and do not dare to get out of the situation.

You have to accept that you do not have any power or control over the past. The past cannot be undone but you have a life to live Now.

3-   Forgiveness does not require reconciliation.

Many people who have been wronged assume that they must achieve reconciliation with the person who wronged them especially if the other person is a close relative or a partner.

You do not need to make excuses for the person who hurt you. You may not even want to face or be in contact with that person again in your life.

You can forgive someone and still know that you cannot trust them. You do not need to believe the person deserves your forgiveness in order to forgive them. The act is more about helping yourself to recover from your past hurtful experience.

4-   Forgiveness is an ongoing journey.

You have to make the decision and commitment to forgive but you have to be prepared to continue to forgive in the long run. You may experience anger when you face with the other person and all the emotions will rise up again.  It is natural to feel that way and it takes time to be completely free of the anger.

It may help to think that the other person is a human as you are. We all have bad and good seeds in ourselves. They may experience a rough life in their past being abused and they are living in a dark world and may not ever know love and compassion. This bad past may drive them to act so badly and they may enjoy hurting other people. Some people with low self esteem want to hurt other people to give them a boost in their ego.

Forgiveness instead is letting go of your anger and instead choosing compassion to forget about the desire to punish the other person for revenge.

You can practice mindfulness, being aware of the present and letting go of the past and of the future. When an unpleasant feeling or memory comes up in your mind you are aware and acknowledge it but accept it happened in the past and refocus yourself to the present moment, to the task that you are doing at the time or return to be aware or your breath to let go of the negative feelings.

When you are in distress or cannot shake the anger, just go for a walk and only be aware of your foot moving forward and let go of the thought. This is the basis of walking meditation, a very easy and powerful practice.

If you can do meditation, it will help you to achieve peacefulness in your mind and achieve freedom from the past.

5-   Moving forward.

By letting go of the past you can move forward and be free of the other person. The benefit of forgiveness is yours and not for the other person. They do not need to know that you forgive them.  Let the past be where it belongs. You live only at the present moment.