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Handling Forgiving and Forgetting

Chapter 13: Handling Forgiving and Forgetting

Tools for Relationships

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


What is forgiving and forgetting in a relationship?


Forgiving is allowing another person to be human for faults, mistakes, or misdeeds.

Forgetting is putting these behind you; they are no longer brought up and no longer remain a barrier to your relationship.


Forgiving is letting another know that there is no grudge, hard feelings, or animosity for any wrongdoing.

Forgetting is the lack of further discussion, with no ongoing negative references to the event.


Forgiving is letting the other person know that you accept as genuine the remorse and sorrow for actions or words that hurt or disappointed you.

Forgetting is promising that this deed, whether of omission or commission, will not be brought up again.


Forgiving is accepting the sincerity of penance, sorrow, and regret expressed over a grievous personal offense; making it sufficient to clear the air.

Forgetting is your commitment to let go of anger, hurt, and pain over this offense.


Forgiving is giving a sign that a person's explanation or acceptance of blame for a destructive, hurtful, or painful act is fully accepted.

Forgetting is the development of a plan of action between the two of you to heal the scars resulting from the behavior.


Forgiving is the highest form of human behavior that can be shown to another person. It is the opening up of yourself to that person to be vulnerable to being hurt or offended in the future, yet setting aside this in order to reopen and heal the channels of communication.

Forgetting is equally as high a human behavior; it is letting go of the need to seek revenge for past offenses.


Forgiving is the act of love between you and a person who has hurt you; the bandage that holds the wound together long enough to heal.

Forgetting is also an act of love; in rehabilitation therapy, helping the wounded return to a full, functional, living reality.


Forgiving is the God-like gift of spiritually connecting with others, touching their hearts to calm the fear of rejection, quiet the sense of failure, and lighten the burden of guilt.

Forgetting is the God-like gift of spiritually touching others' hearts with the reassurance of a happy and full life with no fear of recrimination, remonstrations, or reminding of past offenses.


Forgiving is the act of letting go of temporary ill will, disappointment, or the disgust that arises from the break in your relationship.

Forgetting is bridging this gap in the relationship, eventually strengthening it against such a break in the future.


Forgiving is an act of compassion, humanity, and gentleness by which you let another know that she/he is indeed a child of the universe upon whom a variety of graces and blessings have been showered and that current or past offenses need not be a barrier preventing goodness and worth to shine through.

Forgetting is the act of encouragement, support, and reinforcement by which you assist the other person to rebuild, reconnect and re-establish a loving, caring, healthy relationship with you, others, and the world whereby gifts, talents, and skills are freely appreciated and shared.

What negative consequences can occur in the absence of forgiving and forgetting?

In the absence of forgiving and forgetting, the partners in a relationship run the risk of:

  • Continuously being hurt with pain and suffering going unresolved.
  • Unresolved guilt and remorse for offenses committed.
  • Chronically seeking revenge and paybacks from one another.
  • Being caught up in unresolved anger, animosity, and bitterness.
  • Defensive, self-protective, and distant behavior.
  • Blaming, negative and nongrowth oriented behavior.
  • Being stuck in a battlefield stockpiled for future offensive attacks.
  • Being lost in a festering wound that never realizes the revitalization of healing.
  • Secretive and noncommunicative behavior.
  • Fear over making a mistake or of having the mistake revealed.
  • Being overwhelmed by fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of nonapproval, low self-esteem, fear of conflict.
  • High stress.


What are some signs of the absence of forgiving and forgetting in a relationship?

Lack of forgiving and forgetting in a relationship can result in:

  • Irreconcilable differences between people
  • Indifference toward one another
  • An emotional vacuum in which little or no emotions are shown or shared
  • Chronic attacks or angry outbursts
  • Addressing or interacting with one another disrespectfully
  • One-upmanship: competition as to who can out do whom in terms of eliciting sympathy, compassion, or understanding from outsiders
  • Seeking revenge from one another
  • Pitting the parties in the relationship against one another through coalitions and taking sides
  • Chronic recalling and reminding of past hurts and offenses
  • Suspicions about the others' motives, behavior, attitudes, beliefs
  • Chronic depression
  • Chronic hostility
  • Name calling, belittling and demeaning one another
  • Responding to present behavior as if they were past behavior
  • Unwillingness to change and/or unwillingness to seek the help necessary to change

What beliefs are shared by people who refuse to forgive or forget?

  • I was hurt so much; how could you ever expect me to forgive and forget that.
  • I never deserved the treatment I received, and I do not believe that forgiving and forgetting is deserved in this situation.
  • I am sick because of that treatment; how can I ever forgive or forget that?
  • There are people who are inherently evil, and they are despicable. No forgiving or forgetting will ever change that.
  • People are vicious and cruel, and you always need to protect yourself because of that; so why try to forgive and forget what they have done.
  • It is a sign of weakness to forgive and forget.
  • It is just giving in to the others' power and control to forgive and forget.
  • There are some things you can never forgive and forget.
  • I never forgive, I just get even.
  • Revenge is the best way to heal wounds.
  • Don't cross me and I won't cross you; but if you do cross me, watch out!
  • Only God can forgive and forget, though at times I don't believe He does either.
  • What has happened in my life is God's seeking revenge for all the evil I have done in the past.
  • I have done nothing for which I need to be forgiven.
  • It is easy to say, I'm sorry. You can never trust anyone who says, I'm sorry.
  • You are just seeking my forgiveness so that you can come back and hurt me again.
  • You do not deserve any kindness, compassion or forgiveness for what you have done to me; I'll see to it that you are never able to forget it!
  • All people who do wrong deserve the worst life has to dish out.
  • I resent everyone who has hurt me, and I believe that this makes me a stronger person so that I will not be hurt again.
  • Anyone who could treat another person that way is undeserving of being forgiven, loved, or cared for.


What new behavior can be developed in order to forgive and forget?

In order to forgive and forget, you need to practice:

  • Letting go of past hurt and pain
  • Trusting in the goodness of mankind
  • Trusting in the goodness and mercy of God to take over for you
  • Letting go and letting God lead you during a hurtful time
  • Believing in God's infinite justice and wisdom
  • Letting go of fears for the future
  • Allowing yourself to be vulnerable to growth
  • Taking a risk
  • Letting go of hostility and resentment
  • Working out your anger
  • Reducing competition
  • Overlooking slight relapses or steps backward
  • Developing a personal spirituality
  • Developing an openness to the belief that people can change
  • Developing trust in others
  • Facing conflict head on, resolving it on the spot
  • Open, honest and assertive communication with others concerning hurts, pains, and offenses experienced
  • Seeking professional help when necessary to resolve the distance and coldness in a relationship
  • Recognizing your part or role in setting up hurtful experiences
  • Identifying and replacing the irrational beliefs that block your ability to forgive and forget

What steps can be taken to develop forgiving and forgetting in a relationship?


Step 1: In order to increase your ability to forgive and forget, you need to recognize what this behavior involves. Answer the following questions in your journal:

  • What do you mean by forgiving and forgetting in a relationship?
  • Have you ever been forgiven in a relationship? How did it feel?
  • Has anyone ever brought up something from the past to remind you how you hurt a person? How did that make you feel?
  • What role do you feel forgiving and forgetting has in your relationships? How could you improve?
  • How has the absence of forgiving and forgetting affected your current relationships?
  • What are the signs of the absence of forgiving and forgetting in your relationship with your: (1) family of origin, (2) current family, (3) significant others, (4) spouse, (5) children, (6) parents, (7) relatives, (8) friends, (9) coworkers?
  • What beliefs block your ability to forgive and forget? What would be necessary to change these beliefs?
  • What new behavior do you need to develop in order to increase your ability to forgive and forget?
  • What role does the existence of spirituality play in your ability to forgive and forget? The lack of it?
  • Who do you need to forgive? What do you need to forget?


Step 2: Now that you have a better picture of what is involved in forgiving and forgetting, you are ready to extinguish blaming behavior.

Letting Go of Blaming

It is easy to point the finger of blame at others for the pain you have suffered. This activity is intended to get you to point the finger of responsibility at yourself, to be better able to forgive and forget when you feel hurt by another's behavior. Answer the following questions in your journal:

  • List an incident for which you are unable to forgive a person(s), and therefore are unable to forget.
  • How much energy, creativity, problem-solving capability, and focus on growth is sapped from you whenever you recall this hurt?
  • What feelings come to your mind and body as you recall this hurt?
  • How would you describe your role in this event? In what ways were you the victim, perpetrator, enabler, martyr, bystander, instigator, target, scapegoat, distractor, peacemaker, people pleaser, or rescuer?
  • Why do you feel strongly over what happened and how you were treated?
  • What did this event or happening do to your self-esteem?
  • How dependent on others were you (or are you) to help you feel good about yourself? How positively self-affirming were or are you? Why do you need this person's affirmation to make you feel good about yourself? What beliefs about yourself were threatened by what happened to you? Reinforced?
  • How willing are you to declare yourself independent of the need for others to reinforce you and make you feel good about yourself? What blocks you from declaring this independence? What fears do you have of letting go of the need for others to make you feel good about yourself? How does this relate to your inability to forgive or forget in the incident listed here?
  • What value is there in blaming the person(s) listed here for the hurt and pain experienced? How responsible are you for the feelings of hurt and pain? How do these feelings relate to your dependence on others to make you feel good about yourself? How do you control your feelings of pain and hurt? What would change in your feelings about this past incident if you accepted the responsibility for your own feelings and perceptions? How do your irrational beliefs interfere in your ability to resist blaming others for pain and hurt you experience?

Look back at the past incident and the person(s) involved; reframe your thinking and feelings about it:

  • Who was responsible for my reaction to the incident?
  • Who was responsible for my feelings about the incident?
  • Who was responsible for my inability to forgive the person(s) involved?
  • Who is responsible for my inability to forget this incident?
  • How can I forgive the person(s) involved?
  • How can I put this incident behind me?
  • How can I forgive myself for being dependent on others for feelings of being worthwhile and good?
  • How can I avoid being so hurt when something like this happens again?
  • What do I gain by blaming others for my feelings?
  • What can I do when I feel hurt and pain? Where does the finger of responsibility need to be pointed?


Step 3:  Once you have learned how to let go of blaming in that one incident, repeat Step 2 addressing all the past or present incidents of hurt in which you need to forgive the people and forget the incidents.


Step 4:  When you have exhausted your list of people you need to forgive and events you need to forget, you will be on the road to forgiving and forgetting in relationships. If you have problems in the future, return to Step 1 and begin again.