I Can Forgive, But I Can’t Forget

Angry Woman by Vera Kratochvil
Public domain image courtesy of http://www.publicdomainpictures.net

Have you ever heard someone say, “I can forgive, but I can’t forget”? Perhaps you’ve said it yourself.

I know I’ve heard people say that and it makes me wonder: What’s forgiveness all about if it’s not about forgetting?

We’ve all had people do or say things to us that got our hackles up. It may have even made us angry and resentful, perhaps even hateful and vengeful.

The problem with this is that it has a deleterious effect on our bodies and our psyches. The longer we hang onto these feelings, the more of a negative effect they have on us.

If we say we forgive a person or persons for whatever they did or said, but we don’t forget, then we are only fooling ourselves. Our minds may say we indeed forgive, but our bodies, which hold onto the old negative feelings, continue to remember. And that’s not good.

Here’s the thing: In continuing to remember, those negative feelings continue to affect our bodies and our psyches.

On the other hand, the forgiven but unforgotten goes on his or her way completely unaffected by whatever we are experiencing. They’ve probably even forgotten whatever it was he or she said or did that affected us in a negative way. Thus, the only person who is likely hurt by our forgiving but not forgetting attitude is us.

Here’s what dictionary.com says about the verb forgive:

  1. to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.
  2. to give up all claim on account of; remit (a debt, obligation, etc.).
  3. to grant pardon to (a person).
  4. to cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one’s enemies (emphasis mine).
  5. to cancel an indebtedness or liability of: to forgive the interest owed on a loan.

Without getting religious, I wish to quote one scripture that illustrates what I’m talking about.

“And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34.)

While we say we forgive but can’t forget, our subconscious behavior will betray us every time. It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, but sometime in the future, all will come out. It may come out in a sudden burst of temper or outrage against the person we had supposedly forgiven or a snub or whatever. We may not even know what caused our sudden behavior. But our bodies know.

What it all boils down to is this: Where there is no forgetting, there is no forgiveness. We can lie to ourselves to comfort our ego, but we can’t lie to our bodies. They remember everything.

If we say we forgive, then we need to forget, as though the thing never happened. There is no other way.

But remember this one thing: When I say forget, I am not talking about mental forgetting, for we will remember things in our minds. I’m talking about releasing the feelings that cause our bodies to remember in very unhealthy ways. Releasing those feelings will cause our bodies to forget, which will allow our psyches to heal.

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kristin Barton Cuthriell
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 18:06:15

    Maybe instead of the term forgiveness, we should say letting go. This way the one who hurts us does not keep us bound to him or her. You are correct, the body does not forget. It is so important to move past the offense if we are to truly live and not allow the past to wreck our future.


    • Cris
      Mar 23, 2012 @ 00:19:17

      Thank you for your comment.

      In my view, “letting go” is the same thing as forgetting. On the other hand, we might say that forgiving and forgetting and “letting go” are one and the same thing.


  2. kovid
    Mar 23, 2012 @ 10:38:19

    Insightful. I can forgive but I can’t forget. Nicely done.


  3. orples
    Apr 17, 2012 @ 18:59:26

    Forgiveness is something you should do for yourself as much as for the person who wronged you. You never walk free with anger sitting on your shoulder. However, I agree, you should always remember their actions, lest you get burned twice. That goes back to the old addage…fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.


    • Cris
      Apr 17, 2012 @ 22:29:54

      Well said.

      I don’t honestly believe one CAN forgive another without first forgiving oneself. I think it falls into the same category as what Jesus said about loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. Well, we can’t really love our neighbor unless we first love ourselves.

      What do you think?


  4. V.E.G.
    Dec 04, 2012 @ 14:52:33

    A man with a blue turban forgave the gunman who killed 6 people.


    • Cris
      Dec 04, 2012 @ 18:10:59

      I’m unfamiliar with the event you speak of, but it sounds like a horrific situation. There’s so much of this kind of madness going on these days all over the world. It’s just crazy. Respect for life seems to be fading.

      I have found that those with an eternal perspective on life matters find it easier to both forgive AND forget. If life doesn’t end here with death, as the scientists with their test tubes say it does, then death, no matter how horrific, can better be coped with. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, however.

      Thanks for dropping by. I hope you’ll come back soon.


  5. Cris
    Feb 13, 2013 @ 09:11:40

    Thank you for your question. I’m assuming you’re being serious. Even if you’re not, I will answer it as if you were serious.

    Hurting in a relationship is not fun. Been there, done that. I’ve been on the receiving end of much worse than kissing “drunken mistakes.”

    In any event, I didn’t say it was easy to forgive and forget. It’s a tough call. But the first thing you might want to consider is the trust issue.

    Trust is something that is earned and is not an entitlement. Trust is one of the most important aspects in any relationship.

    As I am not familiar with the circumstances of her ‘drunken mistake’, I can only throw out a few things against the wall and hope some of it sticks.

    The first thing you need to ask yourself is, “Is trust important to me?”

    If it is, you might need to investigate the trust factor in your relationship. Is this “drunken mistake” a one-time thing or is there a long line of drunken and/or serious mistakes that have occurred in the past?

    If there are, or even if there are not, 1) you need to discuss the matter with her; or 2) as the Rolling Stones once sang, “You can’t always get what you want.”

    If trust is a real issue with her; that is, she has a history of trust issues, you might want to separate for awhile.

    You never said whether or not you were married. If she is a girl friend, it might be easier to separate for awhile than if you are married, if that becomes necessary.

    Nevertheless, you need to decide where you stand on the trust issue, how important it is to you, and how pervasive the problem may or not be in your relationship.

    In any event, you need to discuss the trust issue with her.

    Real communication is not something that exists in many relationships, yet it is probably the most important aspect of any relationship right along side of non-judgmental love. If there’s a problem, it needs to be discussed—non-judgmentally, without emotional attachment to the problem.

    The next thing you might want to consider is the use of alcohol, both yours and hers. Obviously, continued use of alcohol could lead to other ‘drunken mistakes.’

    While alcohol is portrayed in commercials as for the young and fun crowd, I don’t think you’re going to see too many situations in real life that is anything like what you see on television—no clever, funny dialogs; no svelt models; no consequences.

    Real life has consequences, and so does drinking alcohol. You need to decide how much of a factor alcohol is in your lives lives, as alcohol can devastate relationships.

    How important is alcohol in your relationship? If you both drink more than you communicate, you have a definite problem.

    Drinking often serves as a substitute for many things, including communication. Television is another substitute for communication.

    I’m not a drinker myself, but I’ve seen its effects in the lives of various members of my extended family, as well as people outside of my family.

    Remember, people get together because: 1) they generally find each other attractive; 2) they like each other; 3) they share likes; 4) they share thoughts, dreams and ideas; and, hopefully, 4) they communicate with each other.

    If they get together because they like to drink together and/or share sex together, that is not enough to sustain any sort of meaningful relationship.

    People also get together because they share a loneliness that can only be quenched, if for only a time, by companionship.

    Loneliness and empty feelings inside will not sustain an ongoing relationship. When needs aren’t met, relationships suffer and often end.

    This is undoubtedly more than you asked for, but, as I said, I’m just throwing stuff against the wall. You need to decide how important your relationship to her is. You need to decide if this ‘drunken mistake’ is a one-time thing or only one in a long line of various ‘mistakes.’

    As I said, I know this kind of hurt and more, and any decision is not an easy one. Yet, some decision must be made and decided upon, especially the decision to communicate your hurt, but without accusation or emotional attachment to the problem.

    I just hope I’ve given you something to think about, as how to have successful relationships is not generally taught in schools nor even in the home, except through example.

    You might consider reading a good book on creating and maintaining relationships. Anything by Dr. John Gray is a good start, particularly “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.”

    Best wishes to you and her.


  6. R
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 05:49:07

    I feel if we forget completely, there is every possibility for us to face the same thing. I think, it is good to forgive but maintain safe distance with the person.


    • Cris
      Jun 24, 2013 @ 05:58:06

      Perhaps I didn’t explain it adequately.

      What I meant by “forgetting” is that the emotions associated with whatever was forgiven are no longer present. That is the real forgetting.

      You’ll never likely forget the incident, but you don’t want to keep around the emotions associated with it, for if you do, then forgiveness has never been effected. That is what I meant.

      Thanks for your comment. I’m going to have to go back and see if I can make things more clear. 🙂 And thanks for stopping by. I hope you come back.


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