What’s the difference between forgiving and forgetting?

I’ve noticed some people seem to recall the past with vivid detail, typically a resentment that has mounted for years, perhaps even since childhood. They say they have forgiven something, but they will not forget. I, on the other hand, seem to have lived a much more peaceful existence and believed there are many things I had forgiven. Then I came to realize there are many things I did indeed forget, or at least denied for the time being. This is a well-recognized coping mechanism, but is it truly forgiving?

I think it’s pretty evident when we haven’t forgiven. There is a deep-seated anger within our stomachs that mobilizes when we think of a person that we haven’t forgiven. Typically, the mention of their name or the thought of a specific incident is enough to stir the gastrointestinal juices. Others may seem to have endured unbelievable trauma and have the grace to forgive and let things go. Their jaws don’t clench and their hands don’t form into fists. They have compassion for others and there is no ill will, no secret wishes for vengeance, just acceptance and a calm presence. There has been a clear acknowledgment of what occurred and what the consequences were, with no need to retaliate. Forgetting, however, is a lack of acknowledgment of the situation and its consequences. It is as though it didn’t occur at all and doesn’t cloud any future interactions. Often this is surrounded by a desire to avoid discussions and thoughts related to that event. Denial requires energy and resources to pretend things didn’t occur. It requires energy and resources to avoid uncomfortable conversations and topics. It requires energy and resources to attend selectively to only positive situations. True forgiveness doesn’t require energy and resources. There is no escape, there is no avoidance, and there is no denial. Forgiveness just is!

About the author

Robin Lavitch, MA, CPC, is the founder of Surpass Your Goals, a coaching practice for entrepreneurs, executives, tweens, school administrators, and more. Her capacity to connect with audiences, elicit thought-provoking ideas and clarify personal ambitions prepares people to apply that knowledge instantaneously to accelerate their own results in leadership, sales, and time management.

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