“Forgive and Forget” Part I
By Kiersten Williams
It’s a nice sentiment, but why is this so difficult to put into practice? I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “oh, it’s over–just forgive and forget!” When I was younger, I thought that it was a nice sentiment, and what one is supposed to do. As time passed, and life grew more complicated, I learned so quickly that there are things that a person can’t forget. Forgiveness, some might say, is a religious term and ought to stay in religion! As an autonomous human being, you have that right to choose whether or not to forgive when you have been slighted or treated unjustly. Forgiveness, however, is not just for the religious or the “uber holy.” Research on forgiveness shows that there is something to this forgiveness thing. According to one of the foremost researchers on forgiveness, Dr. Everett Worthington, who himself encountered sufficient life experiences to be allowed bitterness, resentment, and grudges, forgiveness can be an extremely liberating process–not for the executor of injustice, but for the survivor of the injustice.
The “person it [forgiveness] really frees, is you” (Matthew West, Forgiveness). When you forgive, are you expected to forget? When you put your hand on a hot stove, are you supposed to forget about the hot stove? I sure hope not! One of the reasons we have survived as a species is due to the existence of our memories, our ability to think, learn, and recall. So . . . to expect to forget a painful experience that likely warrants forgiveness is similar to forgetting a cracked rib or a broken limb. Initially, it can really, really hurt. I mean, really! Yes, it can heal, but it will never be exactly the same. It may hurt less as it heals, and if allowed to heal properly, it will be able to function as it needs to. However, when looking at X-rays, doctors will be able to tell you it’s still there. While it may not be an exact science, so too, is the process of injustice and healing.
Research shows that there is an overall health benefit to forgiveness. Not only will there be less emotional suffering, but the toll of holding on to anger and wrath is steep. Over time, that anger and rage has the potential to cause fatigue, increase risk of heart attack, increase in cholesterol levels, poorer sleep, increase in pain, increased levels of depression, anxiety, and stress (Johns Hopkins Medicine).
REACH is one of the methods Dr. Worthington, one of the foremost researchers on forgiveness and its effects, developed to flesh out the difficult but healing journey towards forgiveness. (Note – in this method there is no forgetting, nor expectation of behaving as if it never happened).
R is for “recall”—remembering the hurt that was done to you as objectively as you can.
E is for “empathize”—trying to understand the viewpoint of the person who wronged you. (This is not to justify his/hers/their actions)
A is for “altruism”—thinking about a time you hurt someone and were forgiven, then offering the gift of forgiveness to the person who hurt you.
C is for “committing”—publicly forgiving the person who wronged you (when possible)
H is for “holding on”—not forgetting the hurt, but reminding yourself that you made the choice to forgive. For a while, this conscious decision to forgive may need to occur frequently.
I realize that doing this may be easier said than done – but nothing good is ever easy. Dr. Worthington offers many worksheets that you can walk through yourself for forgiveness. However, forgiveness is a journey that can be extremely difficult and potentially triggering as well. A professor of mine stated, it “takes people to make people ill, but it takes people to make people better!” Especially if the injustice gap is great and traumatic, please don’t feel like this is a journey you must take on alone! Call us at Owens and Associates, we would love to help you process the injustice and help you on the road to forgiveness. Don’t do it for the aggressor – do it for you!