By Patricia: Forgiveness is an important part of life. Without forgiveness, we would live a life of bitterness, either unforgiven for something we did long ago, or wallowing in our anger about something someone did to us. There are many articles on this site about forgiveness, including the one I posted in July 2019, so I am not going to review the need for forgiveness, or how one goes about finding forgiveness in our own hearts or from others. I do want to address what happens after the process of forgiveness. Many people will ask you to ‘forgive and forget’. I agree with half of this statement.
Forgiveness is a positive action that will improve both your life and, with luck, the lives of the other people involved. However, asking me to forget what someone did to me is asking me to be stupid.
Remembering what happened after I have forgiven is not the same as carrying a grudge, or remaining bitter and angry. If I have truly forgiven, then those negative emotions are no longer attached to what happened. However, it’s well known that if we “forget the past, we are doomed to repeat it”. That applies to our personal pasts just as much as it does to our history as a people. I may well forgive the friend who spread my secrets to everyone they knew, but I will not ever tell my secrets to them again. I do this not out of anger, not out of bitterness, but simply out of common sense.
Forgiving and forgetting brings to mind the situation Charlie Brown found himself in every fall. Over and over, Lucy held the ball so he could kick it. Over and over, Charlie chose to ignore what had happened to him as Lucy pulled the ball away at the last second. Over and over, Charlie ended up flat on his back. This is what happens when you forget. Just because you forgive someone for ‘pulling the football away’ doesn’t mean they won’t do it again. It just means you choose not to carry anger or bitterness around against the person who did it. Nothing says you have to let them hold the football again.
And in that same line, nothing says you have to let a toxic person back into your life after you have forgiven them. Whatever they have done, they are likely to continue to do. You can forgive them for what they have done. That forgiveness will clear the bitterness and anger out of you so you can move forward. With luck, that forgiveness will help the person who wronged you see how what they did affected you. If they continue their toxic behavior, you are under no obligation to keep them in your life. In fact, you would be working against your own best interests to keep them around.
Often people justify keeping toxic people in their lives by saying that the other person doesn’t mean to do harm, they are just misunderstood. That may be true. But if harm keeps happening, then misunderstood or not, you have the right to protect yourself from them. My policy is that, if they continue their harmful behavior after I have told them that their behavior is harmful, have listened to their justifications of that behavior and have done my best to be sure they are heard and understood, then I am not required to let them keep harming me. At some point, I have to believe they are doing the harm willfully no matter how they deny it.
However, if the person you have forgiven has acknowledged their fault, apologized, and appears to be making an effort to be sure it doesn’t happen again, then you can keep them in your life and will usually find that the friendship is stronger for what you went through together and because of the effort you both have put into making things right again. The process of making a mistake, seeing the mistake, fixing the mistake and forgiving the mistake all work together to improve communication and trust, which can only build a stronger bond between the two (or more) involved.
Bottom line, no one gets everything right. When it goes wrong, it is up to the people involved to decide what they want to do about it. Whatever happens afterward, forgiveness makes the situation less stressful for everyone. However, what you choose to do after forgiveness depends on the behavior of everyone else involved. A mistake should not end a friendship. A pattern of hurtful ‘mistakes’ does not have to be tolerated. Learning the difference can save you a lot of future heartache. Remember always, you are responsible for choosing what people you allow in your life, and those who do harm have no right to ask you to keep them in your life. You have the right to prevent them from harming you again in the future. Being strong in protecting yourself will enable you to live a happier life, and to be able to extend a loving hand to those who will benefit by it, while not wasting time and effort on those who choose not to return the love and support you offer them.
Love and Light,