‘Forgive and forget’ the familiar and memorable saying holds a should implication within its message, implying that for the benefit of others, we should offer our compassion to those who have wronged us.
We have all experienced someone acting against our best interests. Whether it is consciously done or not, it is a natural human response to have feelings of resentment and often deep rooted anger towards the perpetrator. It’s what we do next that I would like to focus on here.
The school bully probably intends to undermine and humiliate – mine set my shoes alight! Nice touch. With decades between myself and the experience I feel sure I could forgive her (were I required to do so). In truth its not something I’ve consciously done, I have a sense of letting go of the feelings the experience left in its wake – perhaps because it happened several decades ago now and they are simply dimmed. Thinking about it as a parent, I can see how the experience has been of some value to me; I understand more about the dynamics of bullying and I’m curious about why I let myself be bullied, apparently experiencing myself as defenceless. Why did I not tell anyone until I had no choice but to reveal what was going on?
Parenting is a minefield of rights and wrongs; if we are really honest most of us feel messed up by something our parents did. Granted, some are abusive, knowingly cruel and that’s much tougher to get past, let alone forgive. Most, simply get it wrong in some way, unable to balance their own needs along with their children’s, which inevitably clash. If you are a parent, then you probably recognise that pull – to put to one side your own desires. If you are an expat reader then you will be aware of the potential for resentments inherent in your lifestyle; children who have moved and resettled, family left to ‘keep the home fires burning’ and spouses with stalled careers, to mention but a few! There are many positives of course to expat life too… For inspiration on sustaining a career whilst mobile checkout A Career in Your Suitcase by Jo Parfitt and Colleen Reichrath-Smith.
Looking back at my own childhood, I know there were challenges and yet holding resentment feels a waste of my own good energy. Forgetting however, is not an option; my life experiences and my very significant relationship with my mother are integral to my story and in part made me the person I have become. I don’t want to wallow in the difficulties, nor should I deny they happened.
For me, finding the line somewhere between recognising when I am holding on to anger that diminishes my life and forcing myself to forgive everything because it is part of my belief system, is the way to go. I don’t believe you can make yourself forgive anyway, more of which below.
I hope these thoughts, tips and resources are useful to you. Please share your own experiences and opinions:
Benefits to Forgiving Ones-self
– We all get things wrong and make mistakes; whether they are large or small it is important for our psychological well being to forgive ourselves. That is not to say we should be completely devoid of feelings of guilt, as remorse and a desire to put things right can galvanise us to change our behaviour, thus benefiting ourselves and others.
– Shame however, and feeling a bad person, serves little use and often leads to denial, undermining our ability to make positive changes.
– Taking responsibility, accepting and recognising what we have done wrong, when combined with forgiveness, has been shown in research to be the most effective way forward.
– In order to make changes we need to take risks; mistakes are often risks taken that didn’t work out.
– Interestingly you may or may not receive forgiveness from others, but if you are unable to forgive yourself it is of no value to receive.
– Give yourself time to let go; forgiveness rarely takes effect straight away.
On Forgiving Others
– Consider offering forgiveness to others as research implies those who can manage it, live longer. In research, people who could only offer conditional forgiveness did not live as long as those who made no conditions!
– Harbouring negative feelings is bad for you health and likely to be an unhappy emotional experience, again research indicates it can lead to incidences of depression.
– Forgiveness can be problematic; consider what you get from the feelings of resentment towards the person who has wronged you and be aware of the negative stress it is causing you.
– Revenge solves nothing and will probably leave you feeling guilty as well as angry.
– The same universe that offers all our positive experiences also gives us some negative ones. Acceptance gives up on comparisons, expectations and manipulation.
– Robin Pascoe in her book aimed at expatriates ‘A Moveable Marriage’ recommends couples make a ‘repair effort’. She refers to Dr John Gottman, author of ‘The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work’, “A repair attempt refers to any statement or action – silly or otherwise – that prevents negativity from escalating out of control”. He describes the ‘repair attempt’ as “the secret weapon of emotionally intelligent couples who are first and foremost friends”.
– Adult relationships without equal power usually involve shame. Redefining an unbalanced relationship can allow you to gain control of your half of it, acknowledging past wrong doings may be the start of that process.
Resources and Books:
Forgiveness: How to make Peace with your Past and get on with your Life by Dr Sidney B Simon and Suzanne Simon
Children of the Self-Absorbed, A Grown up Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents by Nina W Brown, Ed.D., LPC
After the Affair, How to Build Trust and Love Again, Julia Cole