Written by Paoula Saoud, Clinical Psychologist at the Valens Clinic.
What is that one memory that you try very hard to forget? and what is that pain that you think you can never forgive? Life is a journey filled with joy, happiness, love, and experiences that shape us into who we are. On our journey, many of us have encountered moments of pain, hurt, betrayal, and disappointment.
When you experience a traumatic event, or when someone has really hurt you, you find yourself feeling sad, angry, or bitter. Every time that you are exposed to a trigger or that person, and every time that you sit by yourself and close your eyes, you find yourself replaying what happened to you and dive into an ocean of negative feelings. How many times, when facing these challenges, have we been told to forgive and forget? To let go and move on? How many times have we felt that it is easier said than done?
Let’s explore forgiveness:
“Forgive and forget’’ is a piece of advice with biblical origin we constantly hear. Forgiveness means different things to different people. Many people view forgiveness as a gift of love, a virtue. In general, forgiveness is an intentional decision and act of compassion that liberate us from anger, bitterness, resentment and sometimes even hatred.
To forgive does not mean that what happened to us is okay. It doesn’t excuse the actions of the people who hurt you, but it helps to free yourself from the emotional prison that hinders your progress. Therefore, the act of harm might always be with you, but working on forgiveness can help you lessen that act’s grip on you. It is a process that helps you acknowledge and work through the pain while letting go of the negative emotions associated with the offense. Forgiveness is not something we do for others; it is something we do for ourselves.
Benefits of forgiveness:
Improved emotional wellbeing: reduced feelings of sadness, anger, and resentment. Therefore, reduced risk of symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post traumatic disorder.
Better self-esteem and personal growth: as Gandhi said ‘’the weak can never forgive, forgiveness is the attribute of the strong’’. Forgiving oneself or others can boost self-esteem and self-worth as it requires letting go of negative criticism and cultivating a healthier self-image.
Improved relationships: forgiving does not necessarily mean that you have to hold on to the person who caused you harm, however it helps with developing feelings of compassion, empathy, and understanding which can promote healthier future relationships.
Resilience: by cultivating forgiveness, you can develop better coping mechanisms, and move on from setbacks more effectively.
What about this pain that is too deep, that have shattered your images and your trust? While forgiveness is a powerful tool, it can be perceived as impossible in some situations. Therefore, remembering and recovering are essential for the healing process.
Remember and recover:
Remembering our experiences can be very valuable. It reminds us of the lessons learnt and helps us identify unhealthy patterns in order not to leave ourselves open for emotional harm again. By acknowledging the pain and its impact on our lives, we gain insights into our vulnerabilities and take protective measures regarding ourselves in the future.
Recovery on the other hand requires a lot of effort to heal and rebuild ourselves after a traumatic experience. It involves various aspects, including self-care, therapy, seeking support from loved ones and engaging in activities that promote psychological wellbeing.
Recovery allows us to regain our strength, love ourselves again, express love, rebuild our self-esteem and reclaim our sense of identity. While forgive and forget and remember and recover seem to be contradicting approaches, they can coexist and complement each other on the path of healing.
In fact, if you reverse the order, first you remember, process, work through the pain, let go of its hold on you, forgive, recover, and forget; you can learn from the harmful experiences, undo patterns, accept mistakes and move on.
Each individual and situation is unique, and the choice between these two approaches ultimately lies within us. It is essential to accept our emotions, evaluate the circumstances and prioritize our wellbeing. Both paths, separately or combined, offer opportunities for transformation and growth.
We understand that these experiences are emotionally challenging and that working towards forgiveness and recovery is not easy. If you feel stuck during the healing process, don’t hesitate to seek professional support to help you navigate these emotional difficulties.