I have a fantastic capacity to forget all kinds of things…my keys, my glasses, to get meat out for dinner. My day is staccato-ed by panicked thoughts of…Where did I put my phone? What was the name of the person I just talked to. Did I lock that door?
I’ve wandered through parking lots having forgot where I parked. I forget friend’s birthdays, (Sorry!) That is unless I knew you as a teenager, then I magically remember, even though we haven’t had contact in 35 years! And if I do remember your birthday, it is usually at 5am the day before when you don’t want to hear from me. I forget what I just spent time reading. Sometimes I forget what I went upstairs for. More embarrassing forgetful moment include getting out of my car and forgetting to shut it off. Or the roast I forgot to cook and take to the school potluck…oops!
When I am able to forget so much on a regular basis, why is it not so easy to forget those things I desperately want to forget?
Forgive and forget? Whoever put those 2 words together?
Forgive and Forget. It is a beautiful and idyllic ideal, but is it reality?
Like the bullying incident mentioned in Pt 1, I can forget for lengthy periods of time but in a slow moment the memory comes flooding back. It rips off the bandage revealing a bloody wound where I thought a scar would have developed by now. It appears I’m more adept at burying things under busyness as opposed to forgetting them completely. Unfortunately those things that get buried under busyness and distraction get buried alive and usually manage to dig their way out.
Anyone who has lived through physical, emotional, or sexual abuse knows you never really forget. Ever.
Nor should you. Your brain tagged the event as significant for a reason. It is a design mechanism to protect you from similar situations recurring in the future. The pain may become less but moments seared on our consciences become part of our neural topography that make it impossible to forget. Intrusive memories rear their ugly heads when you least expect it and the flood of memories doesn’t seem to respect any wall you put around them.
Forgetting May Seem Impossible; Moving on is Always Possible
In Part 1, I relayed a story from my own adolescent years that still worms it’s way into my thoughts, uninvited and unrelentingly. We discussed forgiveness and I offered some suggestions to help you move ahead in your ability to forgive. If you need to catch up, you’ll find the post here: http://trishwhite.ca/forgive
If you are struggling to forgive and forget you’ll be happy to know the inability to forget does not forestall the ability to move on. Your body and brain can remember what has happened without holding you back in your goals, your purpose, or your relationships.
Releasing the expectation to forget what happened does need to eventually be replaced by not letting that event have a stranglehold on your present moments. To gain traction on that releasing, here are a few things to practice forgetting as you wrestle with forgiveness:
1. Forget Perfection and Embrace Improvement.
When you live in the world of perfection, you will always be wrestling with feeling like a failure. Perfection tells us that if we have forgiven, we will never be bothered by it again. That is just not true. Forgiveness is like an onion with layer after layer. Occasionally we are blessed with a clear slice to the core but usually it is a removing of layer after layer of how it has affected you. Perfection is a joy stealer. It constantly reminds you of how you don’t measure up. Adopting an improving and growing mindset allows you to acknowledge when more work needs to be done.
Shifting your focus from perfection to improvement opens the door to joy in every day. Instead of focussing on what you haven’t accomplished it shines a spotlight on what you have managed to move the needle on. Instead of forestalling any enjoyment until you are done and there are no bad feelings left, embracing improvement gives you permission to celebrate your smallest victories. Embrace the fact that forgiveness is a choice and may need to be revisited in the future.
2. Forget your Timelines but Don’t Forget Your Dreams
If you have been significantly hurt, chances are it has had a derailing effect in your life. Our minds and hearts churn and we are unable to meet deadlines and goals are often put on hold. Traumatic events take time to recover from. More time than you think. More time than you want to give them. You need time to retrain your brain to focus again. A traumatized brain becomes scattered. You may decide to read and you find your eyes are skimming the words and none of them are registering in your brain. This is normal. It takes time to heal.
The frustration of not being able to accomplish your goals though doesn’t mean you should throw out your goals. You just need to adjust the timeline you had set up. I hear many twenty-somethings begin to panic because their education has been delayed. They are not where they thought they’d be. Anxiety, depression, addiction, grief, and family issues have all stepped in and waylaid the graduation date. Letting go of what you thought you’d have accomplished at a certain age is important. Holding forth the vision of what you want to become though is equally important.
Sometimes delays make us want to throw our hands up and quit. That is like setting out for the grocery store and giving up when you hit the third red light. Don’t give up, just adjust the timeline. You’ll get there. You haven’t stopped learning. The school of life sometimes momentarily derails us. You are still learning sometimes even more important lessons than if you had accomplished your goals. Give yourself time to get on track and focus on small steps in that direction.
3. Forget the Words of the Bully in your Head and Focus on Encouraging Relationships.
The worst part of being bullied is that the voice of the bully can move into your head and becomes your own inner critic of everything you do. Learning to recognize that voice. Realize it has a noble albeit misguided agenda to keep you from being hurt.
Learn to listen to the encouragers and inspirers around you instead. I recognize that it a lot harder. We can have 10 people cheering us on but if one person criticizes us all our energies get focused on that one.
Sometimes the biggest gift of difficulties is the realization that you need to develop a better circle of support. Limit that which sucks the life out of you and spend time with those that bring joy. That’s right, if your social media feed drags you down, either don’t go there or block and limit and adjust what you’re seeing. You are in control of that. Consistently shift your focus from the debilitating inner critic to voices of encouragement.
“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people.” Brene Brown
4. Forget the Lies. Remember the Truth.
When negative circumstances take place in our life, we often pull meaning from the events. We let the event tell us something negative about ourselves. That we don’t matter. That we are unlovable. That we don’t belong. There are a host of lies that get reinforced day after day. You need to recognize these as lies and refresh yourself regularly with the truth.
I recently had the joy of holding my first grand baby. She’s an adorable, cuddly bundle of flesh. She is loved and valued by a whole community of people and yet, the dear thing, all she ever does is eat and poop and cry and sleep. That’s it. And I have to wonder when will she lose that and become less valuable, less lovable, less worthy of just being held? The answer is Never. Ever.
And so it is with you. At what point in your life did you become less valuable? Truth is, you haven’t. Don’t let the negative circumstances define who you are.
You need to forget those nasty labels and remind yourself that you are loved. That you have a right to belong. You need to remember that you and your voice and your gifts and your energy matter. You matter way more than you can ever know.
Forgiving is a Choice. Forgetting will Follow.
Whether it’s a moment or lifetime of moments that need your forgiveness, be assured that being attentive to the process will result in this memory not having a stranglehold on you. Hours, days, and eventually weeks will go by without the memory flooding in on you. And when it arises again, you can confidently see it as another invitation for deeper healing.
A beautiful outcropping of practicing forgetting these 5 things is that what you offer yourself, you can then offer to others. Your entire circle of friends will benefit when you begin noticing and celebrating the progress you see in others. The world is made a better place when you pursue the dreams that are placed in your heart. You become a gentler, kinder person when the bully in your own head is quieted. You start to stand up and be heard when you stop letting negative circumstances define you.
So that gorgeous fall morning that was hijacked by a nasty childhood memory actually gave me an invitation to develop my thoughts around forgiving and forgetting. Triggers like that signal a need for more space in life. Time spent in silence. A setting aside of distractions. It has allowed me to offer myself more self-compassion and wrestle with the parts of me that I’ve hidden away in response.
I’ve heard from a few of you who have wrestled with forgiveness in your own life. Thank you for sharing your stories. We always learn more about ourselves when we see honest sharing from others.
When that hurtful memory comes flooding in, instead of pushing it away, ask yourself:
What is the next step in forgiveness?
What do I need to work on forgetting?
What part of me still lies buried alive and is asking to be brought to life?
Trish White is a counsellor in Saskatoon, SK, Canada who daily wrestles with the joy made possible when she remembers to forget and forgive.
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